Reduce, reuse, and recycle. When it comes to zero waste, the first step is to refuse all things that are not needed.
I say no way more than I say yes. It is something I have always had a sense for and was reinforced by zero waste pioneer Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home. The first step to reducing waste in your life is to prevent the waste from entering your life. Seems easy, right? In theory, sure, but in reality, taking freebies is tempting.
Free isn’t really free.
People love free stuff. They LOVE it. It is so easy to take something that costs you nothing. Clearly marketers have figured out how to trigger that chemical reaction to getting excited about cost-free stuff.
It is common for my running clubs to offer shoe demos. At a recent meetup I tried Altra Instinct 3.5 neutral running shoes. I am usually leery of demoing shoes because I can’t stand the discomfort of a 6+ mile run with shoes that don’t fit properly. Anyway, as a thank you for trying out these shoes the vendor offered, as a promotion (that should have been the first “no” indicator) to swap out the pair of socks I was wearing for a pretty expensive pair of running socks, brand new.
When I finished running, I thanked the vendor for letting me try out the shoes and handed them back to him. He asked if I wanted to participate in the sock swap. I told him I was, but did not want to toss the perfectly good pair of socks I was already wearing. I asked if I could take the new pair of socks (since I burn through socks pretty quickly, it’s not like these would be wasted), but he said no. In fact, he had to physically present one stinky, sweaty, just worn pair of socks for each pair he handed out.
I took a few moments to explain to him why I was unwilling to part ways with my current socks, even at the opportunity cost of receiving a newer and better quality pair. I asked that he explain to the people at Altra why I refused to participate, but who knows if he actually will.
My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, which was a time of extreme scarcity. Most people who are from their generation really appreciate and are grateful for what they have. My parents are from the Baby Boomer generation, which seems to be hit-or-miss when it comes to how they value possessions. Fortunately, my parents both seem to appreciate what they have, passing on those values to me.
Although this sock swap means well, there is a disconnect between marketing shoes and valuing resources. This is something I think about and struggle with as I choose to live an active lifestyle. Sure, there are more and more programs that aim to prevent my running clothes and accessories from spending eternity in a landfill, but ultimately, much of that material will turn into waste…my waste.
Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the shoe demo and appreciate functional swag (aka, socks). Obviously I would have benefitted from owning a pair, but not at the expense of the ones I already had.
This article was originally published on Zero Waste Guy.