Is Zero Waste Unfair to Low Income or Disabled Persons?


I hate lumping this into one post, but people have written quite a bit recently about their frustration with zero waste and how discriminatory and ableist it can seem. To hear some describe it, it's the "You can't sit with us!" of the environment. I'm definitely guilty of saying anybody can be zero waste, and I'm sorry for that, because it isn't practical for everyone and not always appropriate. Judging by the comments on most articles about zero waste bloggers, many feel disproportionately represented by young, affluent women who can afford pricey stainless steel containers and have the time / ability to run all over town for ingredients before investing the labor necessary to make vegan food and natural beauty products. What about people suffering arthritis, or those using wheelchairs? How about those who are on food stamps or rely on food pantries? Shaming people for buying plastic or pre-peeled fruits and vegetables isn't an effective motivator towards environmental change. Nobody should feel obligated to lead a zero waste life- being conscious and aware of our environmental impact is good, but people shouldn't be judged for their personal choices, which vary by circumstance.

It's important to realize that until hemp, cellulose, and chitin packaging becomes the norm, plastic packaging and convenience foods have their place. Those who can may drive consumer demand for biodegradable materials on the retail end, and those who can't shouldn't feel bad about using products that improve their quality of life. There are many disabled or low income people who are naturally environmentally conscious; here are some things they do to save money or strength while still lessening their carbon footprint.

Going Zero Waste (Without Spending a Lot of Money or Energy)

  1. Eat less meat and dairy. Lentils and beans are cheap in bulk, and homemade plant based milks are less expensive than cow's milk (this obviously doesn't apply to everyone, but my neighbor, who is over 70, makes one tiny bag of garbage per week, and has arthritis along with other health problems, says putting ingredients in her blender is easier than opening a Tetrapak). If you don't have access to bulk bins, don't worry about bags or cans. Eating vegan just one day a week saves so much oil, energy, carbon, and water! In Paris, there's a vegan, gluten-free delivery service called Funky Veggie that contains everything you need for one vegan night per week, all in recyclable packaging, so people don't have to run all over town sourcing ingredients for a healthy meal- perfect for a city with limited handicap accessibility. Just remember that your health and well being comes first. I know frugal people who used their food stamps to shop at Whole Foods, they just skipped the fancy stuff and focused on bulk, frozen, or canned items. In Ohio, many farmer's markets will accept food stamps or SNAP cards.
  2. Shop secondhand / reuse. Saves money, saves resources, and, at least in Paris, spares people with limited mobility running around because it's one stop shopping for household goods, clothing, etc., instead of heading to the little specialized shops favored by the French :) I noticed many Emmaus shops around here are handicap accessible, whereas some of the more expensive places are too crowded and lack ramps or elevator-equipped Metro stops. Also, I feel like a jerk for saying this because I recommend Weck jars all the time, but don't feel like you need a matching set of Weck jars or the same "zero waste essentials" another zero waste blogger uses. Reusing the bottles you already have is beautiful too! Before I moved here, I didn't even have a mason jar. I reused all my mom's old stuff and only bought jars and bags secondhand when I moved and couldn't take it all with me.
  3. Grow your own / make it yourself. This applies more to people with low incomes than with disabilities, although when I worked with disabled and terminally ill children, they found gardening and making seed balls easy and therapeutic. Freecycle or Craigslist often has listings for free seeds, clippings, or even mulch, and sometimes people give away canning equipment (which you can often buy secondhand). Making your own condiments and preserving your own fruits and vegetables can cut down on expenses, depending on where you live. Growing your own herbs or re-growing from food scraps saves a lot of money, and composting means free fertilizer! 
  4. Clean naturally. I know people with ALS, MS, arthritis, and lupus that love their Brush with Bamboo toothbrushes because of the easily openable, plant based packaging- remember the plastic toothbrush packaging you had to struggle to cut open? Using baking soda is also easier for some people than dealing with a twist up deodorant or squeezing toothpaste from a tube, not to mention cheaper. Save money by cleaning with plain soap and vinegar from an easy-to-use spray bottle, instead of harsh, expensive industrial cleaners and detergents with child-proof packaging. Switch to rags instead of paper towels and try water only or no poo to slash expenses.
  5. Incorporate reusables judiciously. Safety razor shaving, menstrual cups, and cloth diapers save so much money. I was amazed at how much my monthly expenses went down just by switching to a safety razor and Mooncup alone. Using cloth napkins and real silverware is a one time investment, and sometimes shops give a discount if you bring reusable bags (Target still does this, and all the family run groceries in my hometown).

Volunteer run community garden in Paris, filling reused jars at zero waste shop Day by Day

Also, I hope it's okay that I write this, but one of the ladies suffering from ALS loves bulk wine in swing top bottles- maybe for some people it might be easier than using a corkscrew? I was also thinking that eating bulk snacks from drawstring bags can be more convenient for some handicapped people than struggling with plastic bags you need to cut open and reseal. I can't imagine what it's like to suffer from daily pain and still carry the weight of the world's environmental problems around with you, and I feel bad that people feel that way. These people should be proud of doing the best they can without sacrificing their health or their dignity. Those of us who do not suffer from a chronic illness or who have more income at our disposal can work to make zero waste more inclusive. For instance, in Paris and in Cleveland there are programs that turn brownfields or abandoned / unused space into community gardens, to give people in food deserts access to fresh, free fruits and vegetables. On Rue Leopold Bellan, there is even a free herb garden one resident started (pictured above), inspired by the movie Demain. Paris also has some shops with bulk bins situated low to the ground, so people in wheelchairs can use them. Could you volunteer to collect food that would otherwise go to waste and redistribute them to the needy? Ask local shops for more accessible bulk bins? Or assist handicapped or elderly persons in your community with the grocery shopping? The point is to be balanced- obviously there are more important things in life, and you can't spend all your time and energy on zero waste. Anyway, I tried to avoid using insensitive or ableist language here, but I don't always know what's politically incorrect anymore, so please tell me if any of the suggestions seems unrealistic or offensive. I believe zero waste shouldn't be solely a function of privilege, but maybe, as things stand now, it actually is.

Paris to Go

Simone Lemon


When Chiara, the super sweet blogger and tireless advocate behind Baci di Dama Living Gluten Free, invited me to Simone Lemon, I had no idea what an amazing afternoon I was in for. After reading about the colorful, eminently Instagrammable restaurant in our beautiful friend Soraya's guide, Paris Sans Gluten, she asked if we could test it together. Simone Lemon takes unsold produce from the best quality local producers, transforming perfectly imperfect fruits and vegetables into tasty dishes for a gluten free, vegan, and omnivore friendly buffet. As soon as I walked in, the friendly, model-gorgeous staff greeted me and explained the concept: Weigh your plate and bowl, paying just for what you eat, with no food waste. Any leftover food is composted in clearly marked receptacles, and real china plates and utensils sit alongside eco-friendly takeaway containers, in case you're in a rush. Ten euro will get you a plateful of filling, flavorful dishes, including gluten free options like beetroot carpaccio, tomato risotto, two types of salad, and roast aubergine and sweet potato, not to mention a heaping bowl of rich chocolate mousse and giant mug of organic sencha. 

Google describes the atmosphere as "cozy, local crowd," which couldn't be more apt- office workers and businessmen sit alongside 9ème residents and ladies who lunch. It's busy during the day, but the organized, attentive staff somehow help everybody. The young co-founders, Elodie Le Boucher and Shehrazade Schneider (ESCP graduates) were so nice, I immediately wanted to be friends with them, and I'm a misanthropic recluse. Everything from the smartly designed interior to the impeccable cleanliness bespoke brilliance, delicious food notwithstanding. I know I'm gushing. I just really loved Simone Lemon, and all the food comes within 25-200 kilometers of Paris! It's a favorite among other zero wasters too, like Elif and Allegra.

I immediately told my husband we have to go there for lunch sometime. It's hard because I'm celiac and my diet is restricted, but he wants to be able to go to the same restaurants as me without being given food that his food eats. Places like Simone Lemon (which had several meat dishes people were raving about) allow us to share the dining experience so neither one ends up feeling like an outcast. Chiara told me a beautiful story about being able to eat a delicious gluten free pizza with her mother- finally, they could share a meal they both enjoyed. It was a wonderful bonding moment. She made me realize that in my family, food always glued us together, so it's important that I enjoy good, healthy cuisine as I start my own cat family with my husband. I stuck around while Chiara took beautiful portraits of Shehrazade and Elodie and when we left, they blew us kisses :) I was touched. J'ai hâte de revenir pour une prochaine repas sans gluten et anti gaspillage!

Simone Lemon

30 Rue le Peletier, 75009 Paris
Paris to Go

Two and a Half Years of No Shampoo

Day 1 after washing, air-dried, un-brushed. First picture taken against the sunlight - most realistic depiction of hair color

Audley writes:

I started no-poo two and a half years ago with one baking soda wash to remove all styling products and to make the change easier. Since then, I wash water only, once a week. The biggest difference between shampoo and water only was, and still is, that my hair is more voluminous, thicker, and stronger. I think it's because of the sebum left over when you wash water only. I don't have to worry about my hair. I wash it, and if the ends are dry, I use a bit of oil- that's it. I noticed the first results after one or two weeks, but I've often read it can take 6-8 weeks.

Before, with “normal” shampoo, I had to wash my hair every other day. Despite frequent washing, the skin and roots were oily, my hair looked straggly, and the lengths and ends were too dry. I lost lots of hair (saw it in my brush) and it seemed to not grow at all. My hair looked dead regardless of which shampoo I tried, and I didn’t like this look. Years before no-poo, I gave up shower gel because of my dry skin, with good results. So I thought water only would be worth a shot.

Day 3 after washing, still unbrushed 

Before no-poo, I used normal drugstore shampoo. At first, I bought conventional ones; later greenwashed or natural ones, but the results were always the same. I used a wooden hairbrush with boar bristles (still use it), and sometimes hair spray. I hardly ever applied conditioner because it made my hair silky but totally lifeless. I never could tolerate the noise of the hairdryer (same with the vacuum), nor its heat in my face, so I almost never used it. Then, I used baking soda to start no-poo to remove all leftover styling products, especially silicone. I think if I were to use hair spray for a special occasion today, I would remove it with baking soda again.

After one or two weeks of no poo, my skin and roots were no longer that oily. My hair became shinier and silkier, stronger and more voluminous. It also became heavier and took longer to air-dry. One thing that didn’t change or improve after several months are broken hairs. They still break, unless I constantly pin up my hair with a hair stick, which helps a bit. Since I prefer my hair loose, I obviously have to accept it.

Wooden boar bristle brush

Wooden hair stick

There wasn’t really a transition period, probably because I started with baking soda, which cleans more than everything else I tried. The only issue that occurred was some flaking I discovered after a few weeks. It wasn't so bad that I could see it on dark clothes, and they disappeared after a few weeks.

People in my life know about my no poo routine because I told them- otherwise nobody notices- and they don’t care. Some wonder how my hair doesn't stink and can become clean with water only. Then they say they can't imagine this could work for them too, and that is why they don’t try it. Sounds like a circular argument. Only my mom tried it once or twice- she didn’t like the remaining sebum in her hair. She felt it wasn't clean enough, so she went back to “normal” shampoo, although I told her that she didn't try it long enough. Still, she couldn’t tolerate the “messy feeling.”

Thank you Audley!
Paris to Go

My Year Round Zero Waste Wardrobe

Au bureau, je porte une robe, parfois un jean, un t-shirt blanc (lin ou coton), et un manteau oversized. J’enfile un jean près du corps, un t-shirt col v et des talons hauts ou des baskets pour un dîner ou le weekend, avec leggings et un t-shirt (bien évidemment du sweat dans l’hiver) chez moi. D’habitude, je porte un slip soie La Perla (un cadeau de mes meilleurs amis aux Etats-Unis) pour pyjama. Et un soir de gala? Une robe rouge de Dior.

How to make your wardrobe work year round? By choosing temperature regulating, all season fabrics, like woven wool, thick linens, and waxed cotton in muted or jewel tones. Layering is easier when items already have some structure, so material doesn't cling or form unforgiving wrinkles. I also like to have all the hardware in my wardrobe match, which is probably crazy- gold everything from zippers to my two pieces of jewelry (wedding ring and a gift from my sister). Not only does gold suit my skin tone, but I remember watching an episode of Clueless where they said silver was tacky, and it always stuck with me.

You don't need a huge accessories collection to mix things up. Shoes or creative layers add variety, giving me practically endless combinations. For instance, the black jacket, heels, and boots go with everything, the sneakers match all my casual clothes, and I wear the shirt and sweaters over dresses and skirts sometimes.

The additions

Since this post, I've made a few changes. I haven't bought a new pair of jeans since middle school- it's one of the easiest things to buy at thrift stores- and for the first time in years, I have two pairs. My previous jeans didn't fit anymore; now that Vetements made flares cool again, I'm taking it back to 2014 with skinnies. I should have switched long ago, but I'm sartorially self flagellating. The Maria jean is true blue, the 811 indigo. Buying used meant no color bleeding, though I still wash them inside out with a capful of vinegar to fix the dye. This denim is less dense than my last pair, so I could wear them in a humid desert and feel fine. Conversely, they were warm enough for freezing Cleveland, easily tucked into boots, substantial enough not to rip or tear. Best of all, the fabrics don't attract or show much cat hair.

I usually shy away from collared shirts, but some corporate settings require them. All the Paris Vogue women wear checked shirts- this Etoile Isabel Marant shirt felt like the perfect nod to both my Ohio roots and new French home. It came with a weird pleat that formed a big bubble down my back, which I stitched flat to look better. Again, linen-cotton blend is great on hot days, yet cozy enough for winter. In Cleveland, I wore this with high waist jeans and boots and never felt chilly at bonfires or shoveling snow outside. If you can't thrift or purchase an ethical, sustainable collared shirt, consider custom made options to wear forever.

I got the white t-shirts in Cleveland and the tank top in Paris, naively imagining the ribbed tank would make me look like Emily Ratajkowski at Coachella (Fun fact: We were both photographed by the same person, obviously with very different outcomes). I don't care if I look like everyone's great uncle at the Fourth of July family reunion, it's comfortable, isn't sheer, doesn't shrink when washed, and is perfect for la canicule.

Winter is coming

Everyone worries about me being cold, but I'm from Cleveland, so I'm practically viking. If it's freezing, I add tights and a coat to my regular outfit; if it's raining I carry an umbrella and wear boots or patent leather shoes. I spend a lot of time outside in business attire, and this formula works well. Thanks to climate change and the small size of my wardrobe, I don't keep anything in storage. Everything can be washed or hand washed except the down coat. I air dry (no ironing!) before hanging them in the closet. Shoes stay in their original dustbags and shoeboxes where possible. Also, ever since I got multiple t-shirts, tank tops, and jeans I feel like I'm constantly doing laundry. I'm actually still doing all of our household washing only weekly but it seems like there's way more and it takes longer.

Note: Normally I hang the cashmere sweater in the shower so it's unwrinkled when I wear it. Kar's been climbing up on the closet shelf to sleep on it for two weeks so I wasn't going to bother getting the creases out for a few pictures. I'm not smiling and I'm clutching my stomach in a bunch of photos because I took these when I was sick... I don't know why I'm hunched over on one side in most of them though. This is a new level of awkward, even for me! P.S. I was sneezing in many pictures.

Not pictured: Eight pairs of socks, grey tshirt and leggings for exercise, wool tights. Stockings (Elin nude and Stefanie seam) and sunglasses purchased new


I. Navy wool Dior dress, Ferragamo Vara shoes in nude bisque, black H&M cotton jacket, Christian Louboutin Simple pumps, Louis Vuitton wool skirt, organic cotton Nuria Couturiere espadrilles, grey wool Dior dress
II. LK Bennett Marina dress in natural barley, grey angora cat
III. Prada shirtdress, cashmere J Crew sweater in heather acorn (worn over navy dress), J Brand Photo Ready 811 jeans in Bluebell
IV. Red Dior dress
VII. J Brand Maria high rise jeans in Storm, Etoile Isabel Marant Keiran linen t-shirt
VIII. American Apparel 2x1 u-neck tank top, Etoile Isabel Marant Tom cotton linen shirt
IX. DIY t-shirt (based on Isabel Marant Felipe), Nike Sky High dunks
X. Dior down coat, Louis Vuitton trench coat, Celine cashgora coat, Alisa Design sharp shoulder handknit alpaca sweater, Lomaki handknit alpaca hat and mittens, Geox boots

Most items secondhand except espadrilles and handknits ethically made from sustainably sourced wool.
Paris to Go