Zero Waste Men


When Zero Waste Toronto invited Bea Johnson to speak in their city, I wasn’t surprised by how packed the auditorium was. What shocked me was how many men attended or were involved in planning the event. Even though No Impact Man was one of the first things I read when going zero waste- I didn’t read Zero Waste Home until several years later, after moving to Paris- before then, I was only dimly aware of the presence of men in the circular economy conversation. “Where are all the zero waste guys?” one friend lamented. “Don’t question it,” my colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, warned. “White men get everything- let us have this,” she said. 

I can't tell if she was joking, but since my presumed relatives aren’t taking US recyclables anymore, there's a pressing need for as many people as possible to adopt reusables. This post isn’t meant to be exclusionary by any means. However, as @mariagomezdeleon points out, one perception fostered by online communities is ecofriendly behaviors are typically feminine. “I think this is an issue worth looking into,” she writes. “Why is zero waste primarily [portrayed as] female?” According to marketing professor Aaron Brough, “There is this gender gap in environmentalism... men are sometimes reluctant to go green because they want to maintain their gender identity.”

One causal theory I just made up is that historically, women are more affected by the consequences of environmental degradation than men, so they are more likely to be aware of environmental issues and take action. “Zero waste is often associated with home making skills, traditional female roles, etc. I think this is limiting in terms of representation. There is so much, albeit mostly not about home making, but more about frugality and thinking through decisions,” wrote Marie of fresh.open.air, whose husband @trail.to.sky is zero waste. "It seems a lot of things that create waste are marketed towards women," one Canadian, who is not my friend, pointed out, particularly when it comes to cosmetics, clothing, or hygiene. "You don't see dads carrying wipes or snack packs with them at all times. When my dad took me out as a kid, if I got hungry, I ate when I got home. He was more likely to have me blow my nose on a washable t-shirt than be 'ready' with Kleenex." "There's more pressure for women to get new clothes every season to fit in with the latest trends," one commenter said. "I've worn the same sweats since college, and nobody cares." 

Similarly, a Canadian photojournalist told me when he buys something, he buys it for life. However, he suggested the way women present themselves on social media could be different. One woman noted of her husband, "He never felt the need to show his followers his closet or our refrigerator. I want affirmation and support, but he doesn't need to be recognized that way... when his food comes at a restaurant, he doesn't like waiting for me to take a picture of it with our reusable napkins and straws. All he wants to do is eat." An eco-friendly engineer who made his own essential oils said something similar that he probably did not expect me to include in a blog post. "I don't see the need to make a big deal of how a person eats or lives. I’ll never feel the need to tell someone I'm vegan. If I'm ordering at a restaurant and someone asks why I'm not eating meat or dairy, I tell them I don't feel like it."  When Justin- one half of a zero waste power couple (TM Sophi) with Tori- goes to the co-op for bulk staples, he doesn’t post a picture of Tori refilling jars on Instagram. Rather, he sends me one via direct message. 

We all know Instagram isn’t real life. Is social media a microcosm of the circular economy in general? Could the disproportionate number of female voices online skew its representation of the zero waste population offline? As it turns out, many women messaged me that their boyfriends/husbands were eco conscious, they just didn’t post about it on social media (four guys messaged me, and the other messages were either suggestions of male zero waste Instagram accounts or pleas to find more). The way they approach zero waste is different, in terms of research and practice. "My partner had no intention before I mentioned it, and still I've done mostly all the leg work: finding bulk stores, getting groceries, encouraging new habits. I have more hype in general about it," wrote Phil. "I see it as a challenge. I like the sense of accomplishment when I make something myself instead of buying it,” one Canadian says. "We started the zero waste journey together," wrote 12stielen. "I was the one reading all the books and articles on the topic, but he immediately took the practical things, like taking containers, into his life."

"Guys totally nerd out about it," said Meredith, whose husband bikes to work year round and keeps reusables in his office and backpack (he even likes Meow Meow Tweet). "Justin was always really conscious," Kathryn of Going Zero Waste said. "He brought his own bags and water bottle everywhere, but he definitely... worked to eliminate a lot before meeting me. He accredits a lot of his mindset to growing up in a culture that was full of people using reusables. When I first told Justin I wanted to go zero waste, he said, 'But we already do so much!' But it was important to him."

“I mentioned it to [my partner] and expressed an interest. He was the the one who bought me Bea Johnson’s book! I think we were both open to ways of improving. He resisted the tooth powder and deodorant at first. Now he loves it, talks about it, shows off," Zoe from @aintnoplanetb wrote. “He always has a backpack or we have a reusable bag with mesh bags in the car for produce and the like,” said Sophi of her husband. “I go to zero waste places and he supports me. He talks about it with a lot of people he meets. He often comes home saying, 'Did so and so start following you?' He picks up litter a lot... he’s thoughtful in that way. He didn’t want to support zoos or aquariums- that’s before me doing zero waste.”  

“Fernando usually carries a backpack with his water bottle or hand carries it," Monica@girlforacleanworld, said of her husband. "He takes his lunch with reusable spork in a reusable bag to work. He found out about zero waste through me, but he was already half way there. When we met he was making his own deodorant and toothpaste, was conscious about litter, but he would use plastic bags and make waste out of habit. He’s very conscious now, and goes above and beyond to refuse bags, cups, straws, etc. but there are some areas where he still creates waste. For example, his hair product comes in plastic (he tried making his own and didn’t like it). He prefers a plastic toothbrush. He went back to buying Tom's deodorant, but after a beach clean up we did where we picked up 900 lbs of plastic, he was shocked and went back to making his own because he didn't want to buy plastic." Several women wrote that their partners were shocked by imagery of the Pacific garbage patch. The piece de resistance of this paragraph was going to be what Amanda from Mama Eats Plants had to say about her vegan husband, who is instituting composting measures and diverting waste in the restaurants he manages. I accidentally deleted it when I was trying to copy and paste her message into this post, but I love when she wrote, "I don't know how eating meat became equated with being strong, masculine, etc. but it's pretty ridiculous. We've got to empower men to eat better, regardless of veganism. I want my husband to live a long and healthy life with me that's not cut short by a heart attack or disease from a lifetime of unhealthy habits." I think the same could be said for zero waste.

For some, the motivations for men and women to reduce waste seem to differ slightly. “Mine comes out of a need to nurture and care for things,” says one woman, whereas her husband does so because “it doesn’t make sense to extract resources and put so much energy into something that’s going to thrown away.” "My motivations are mostly environmental but also I think it’s just a healthy way to live in general,” said Jason. My ex appreciated the aesthetics of zero waste (and liked his bamboo toothbrush and homemade mouthwash), whereas Archana once wrote her husband found zero waste economical, a sentiment many shared. "Since he's already from the PNW, he already had a bit of a green heart," wrote Rachel. "Certainly outdoorsy and did his recycling and all that. I've been more of an influence on what sort of belongings come into our apartment and how we minimize stuff." One Parisian, who bikes instead of taking the metro, uses an unpackaged alum stone instead of Axe body spray, grows his own food, washed his hair with Castile soap, and reduces leftovers, simply says he “hates waste." "I think our motivations are the same," wrote Olivia, @ofbranchandbone. "I tend to want to do more to impact others to change habits, and he is fine just focusing on what he personally can do."

I wish I could have included everyone's comments and insights into this post, but here are some zero waste men to follow on Instagram. Please comment if you know any more, and thank you to everyone who responded so thoughtfully! I hope I did your comments justice.

Zero Waste Guy
Sustainable Joes
Zerowasteguru
Rob Greenfield
Sougowei
Eating With Max
Isaac Kramer
Tidy Guy
Semisustman

Paris to Go

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I always wonder too !

    Most men in my life don't buy much to trash it out. They are happy accepting and wearing the free tshirts from coffee shops and corporate events. The buy for life mentality is certainly there. The tolerance to wasting usable things is low. A frugal mindset can be a low waste mindset. While most of them don't think of their trash cans, once the awareness sets in, it seems to stay and grow with a few of them.

    I get messages when ever i post a picture of compost or a utensil with bulk produce. They ask why I am showing something as mundane on social media. I sometimes feel that outside this bubble of the folk who do social media for fame, 'look at how I live' is still a new concept. Nobody I know in real life show themselves this way. Or maybe I live in a bubble where folks don't take social media that seriously. They write code to build it but don't post on it.


    In my home, I am the one reading blogs & books about minimalism. He is not. He is frugal and that leads to buying less. But there are exceptions. Its hard to get the frugal men to spend more for ethically made stuff. We are in the real estate market. I want the smallest home in which I can fit. He wants the most real estate per dollar. The frugal men in my life take his side. Actually, everyone takes his side. Voluntary simplicity sometimes fails when the frugal mindset kicks in. The middle class mindset of save everything sometimes leads to hoarding unused items. It seems to go both ways from my experience.

    I cant wait to check out all the instagram accounts you shared. Zero waste men, please show yourselves. I have always wondered if it's a women only concept and if the domestic chores are still predominantly women's area. Or maybe the hashtag hasn't caught their notice. I learnt of the word through your blog.

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    1. Your comments... are always a million times better than my posts. It’s interesting what you said about building code for social media but not using it- but your photos, no matter the subject, could never be mundane, it doesn’t matter if you take a picture of socks or a toothbrush, I’m biased but they are inspiring to so many people. I think frugality is one of the most powerful motivators for any person- one of my coworkers, who grew up on a Navajo reservation, said his grandparents had a Depression era mindset to reuse and eliminate waste. And that stuck with him as an adult.

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  2. I’ve wondered about this too. Interestingly, I find more opposition to adopting zero waste behaviors from women. The men in my life don’t see the harm in trying something different but there is something inherently threatening to the women I know (family members, former classmates) when I choose to bring my own jars and bags to the grocery store, or make my own mascara instead of purchasing it. While I agree that women are the majority on social media, I turned to social media because the women I know were not as supportive as the community I found online.

    I also think men are more affected visually, so the plastic garbage image being a primary motivator makes sense. Sometimes I wonder, if a French woman had not written about zero waste, would it have taken off the way it did in America? Amy Korst wrote another excellent guide a year before Bea Johnson’s book, but it does not seem to have captured imaginations in quite the same way.

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    1. This is interesting! It’s funny, I don’t typically find men questioning zero waste methods quite as much either but I didn’t notice until you mentioned it. The men I know are more likely to just try something once and then ask for further clarification or refinement after. I understand this more to be true of vegan alternatives than zero waste ones however. I’ve wondered the same thing- I read Amy Korst’s book before I read Zero Waste Home actually!

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    2. I find bits of both to be true. Men seem to be more inquisitive about zero waste out of pure curiosity, whereas when I get questioned by fellow women I feel more attacked somehow. But, while women seem more reticent to adopt zero waste behaviors, when they do, they seem more altruistic overall.

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    3. I agree with all of this- I don’t necessarily feel attacked by women but I feel their questions are more suspicious and less driven by pure curiosity as you pointed out... and studies frequently cite a femal tendency towards altruism as one possible reason for female prominence in environmental arenas.

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  3. “'White men get everything- let us have this,' she said." Oh man, I struggle with this so much. Can you imagine the difference - better and worse - if the ZW movement had been started by white men?

    I recently shared this post on my personal page and the men commenting on it were equal turns offended and in agreement. It's a weird conundrum that somehow the most basic shit - like, you know, breathing and having clean water- has become 'feminized' in a way that make many men unwilling to participate: https://www.thecut.com/2017/12/men-worry-being-eco-friendly-will-make-them-seem-feminine.html

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    1. Ahhh I hadn’t even thought of that! Thank you for sharing this article, I wish I’d read it before writing this post lol. Dying at the last line about Leonardo DiCaprio and the Gothic font. It’s so insidious that marketing has conditioned people to push these basic rights to the backburner.

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  4. Also, on a personal note, I am humbled and honored to have made your list of zero waste guys. We need to make sure being "green" doesn't have the same stigma as wearing pink. LOL

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  5. Ariana, this is not related to the post but how do you freeze tortillas without plastic? I realize you might not eat them because you’re gluten free but I was hoping you could help.

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  6. I freeze them in cloth- either a drawstring bag or bento bag or wrapped in a flour sack towel in a Ball jar or stainless container. Kathryn from Going Zero Waste has an excellent guide on freezing items and if you search zero waste fod storage or refrigerator in the search bar above, I have a post on freezing and storing items without plastic or paper. You can find it under the archive tab above as well (title listed on the archive page)

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  7. Guys totally nerd about it? Wow, this one surprised me a lot. In a good way.

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  8. I think I am one of the few married with children people that follows your blog? Though you are at a totally different season of your life from mine, you are so relatable. We currently live in Italy (but we are Americans- we made the move last year after a certain even in the USA ;)). My struggles with zero waste are 1. Make up 2. beauty 3. Shampoo 4. eating animal products. I was that person who lived in NYC, worked in fashion and had over 200 pairs of designer shoes. Now I have about 20- still a lot but way less. For my husband, going zero waste has been super easy. My husband is from Armenia, as am I. So Idk if we fall under the "white" category! In our house, I started the zero waste movement and my husband just followed my move. I would argue that 0 waste is correlated with knowledge and being educated about the facts of what is happening to our world/ environment. My post is all over the place since it took me an 1 hour to write it along with numerous questions about Trolls, the movie.

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    1. Hi Mari! Thank you for sharing this! Wow, how did you manage to downsize so much? Makeup is a tough one, I give it up for a short while but then I miss it again. Are there a lot of zero waste shops in Italy? I only know of you and Zero Waste Path from Italy (but not living in Italy anymore). Do you follow Clare from The Hive Bulk Foods in Kuala Lumpur? She used to live in NYC and had a Carrie Bradshaw worthy closet as well. Now she's started several zero waste businesses! I don't consider myself or the Kardashians white lol. I know I would love to visit Armenia though.

      Animal products is a personal decision and I don't think you have to be vegan to be zero waste- at the same time you can be vegan and be very wasteful. I wear secondhand animal products myself because I can't find a vegan alternative that works for the harsh winters here.

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  10. Ah the Kardashians!
    Italy, is a hit or miss. They LOVE their plastic and plastic gloves. You have to wear them when "handling" fruits and veggies. I used to take my own bags but the store I shop (in front of my house and super cheap!) made a new policy that everyone MUST use bio bags for the fruits/veggies. Apparently is a new EU law... I call BS. We have a local farmer's market but with the younger one, I tend to remember it when it is over.
    You should've seen what I had and where I am today. My husband is a pure minimalist and I was all about the more and more. Of course, that lifestyle leads to depression, exhaustion, and an unsatisfactory existence. What helped my journey was getting pregnant, gaining, weight, losing weight, and realizing a nursing stay at home mom does not wear a silk D&G dress while tending to her flock. I got to the point this summer that I donated my almost brand new Choos, Chole's, and so much more. I made a thrift shop in Italy very happy. Downsizing was easy at first but became a little more difficult. I got or am at the point where I realized I wear the same crap all the time. I dont work but rather stay home... why have all these work clothes?
    Another off topic to this post- HOW DID YOU do no shampoo?? The hard water is killing me and our clothes. I have to use a machine to wash my husband's uniform and esp the kid's clothes. I have yet to discover a detergent that actually cleans- that is'nt tide (blah).

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  11. As a woman, I feel there is more pressure for women to engage in wasteful activities, such as shopping, at least where I live. The men I know...I mean, no waste is simply a no brainer. I feel like there's no movement because there's really no revelation there.

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    1. I mostly agree with that- it’s definitely a no brainer, especially now that people will have no choice but to reduce plastic use and adopt more reusables. Unfortunately people feel so threatened by anything different from how they live. I never even tell prople gluten free or vegan but if I don’t eat bread at the table watch out!

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  12. I think women are doing a better job than men in making zero waste fun. All the social media posts on people's bento boxes and excessively curated wardrobes are what got me into it! In fact, I found out about zero waste when I typed "thrifted capsule" into Pinterest and your blog was the first to pop up. Since then, I've branched out to other zero waste themed blogs. I've learned a lot and reduced my waste substantially.

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  13. As a guy, I would agree that people find different motivations for zero waste. For me, it started a long time ago with shaving, and it has slowly evolved into other areas of my life like home brewing where I try to find ways to reuse and recycle. I personally think it helps to have a partner or friend along the journey because there are often topics my wife discovers that I would never had found on my own.

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  14. I 100% disagree that men are "less wasteful" or "less pressured to engage in wastefulness". This is ONLY true if you only count clothes/makeup - women are clearly more pressured into shopping for clothes and beauty products. However, men buy all kinds of things - electronics, tools, cars, motorcycles, records, synthesizers, amps, stupid little plastic figurines, etc. There are tons of things men buy. It's just not demonized as "wasteful" in the same way clothes and beauty products are because of misogyny.

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    1. I don’t think anyone’s saying men are less wasteful- that’s a very good point that there’s a ton of stuff men buy- I think the “less pressure” comment expresses the same sentiment as you however. A woman with a small wardrobe is seen as a threat or weird and tons of people say, unsolicited, that she needs more. Yet many men have smaller wardrobes and nobody gives them any grief for it. Conversely, women with lots of clothes and beauty products are called vain or indulgent, but a man wouldn’t be criticized in the same way. The point of this post was looking at the gender gap in environmentalism and why so many more women are visible in zero waste initiatives, not saying women are more wasteful.

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    2. Yep, I understand, was responding to some comments, not the main article. I agree, women are judged for consumption in ways that men are not.

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