Zero Waste or Veganism? Do Both

Not too long ago I had reoccurring nightmares about thousands of bits of plastic clogging my throat and stomach.

This nightmare was brought on by a horrible and true story of a young girl who was held captive in her home in a closet and forced to eat carpet and wooden chunks she carved from the walls with her fingernails. She was discovered by authorities eventually, and her entire digestive system was clogged with indigestible wood and plastic carpet fibers.

While my nightmares have mostly disappeared, the reality of actual plastic pollution haunts me daily. I now know that for hundreds of millions of seabirds, sea creatures, and now even people, the consumption of plastic is a reality.

A deceased juvenile seabird, starved on plastic pollution.

Seabirds and animals that live in or near the ocean must battle plastic pollution daily, usually mistaking our plastic waste for food. Plastic pollution is so prolific that, according to Dr Sylvia Earle, we can see plastic bags floating in the lower water column thousands of feet below the surface.

Researchers have determined that over 90% of seabirds are now found with plastic in their stomachs, and nearly 100,000 marine mammals die every year due to entanglement or strangulation in discarded fishing gear.


A gray whale entangled in fishing gear. Photo by Bob Talbot via Monofilament Recovery Recycling Program

I could easily make the case for veganism on its own about now. Abolishing fishing would help end all the accidental deaths of other animals caused by fishing gear—however, it’s high-time we make the case for zero waste veganism. These two eco-friendly lifestyles are two sides of the same coin, grounded in ethics and rooted in science.

In a recent video, zero waster Gittemary Johansen made the ethical case for refusing plastic bags altogether. She says, “I don’t recommend reusing your plastic bags as then others will see you using them and think that it is ‘OK’ to use plastic, which it is not.”

Her reasoning is spot on. It is simply not OK to use plastic bags any longer because we understand that plastic is harmful, and we do not want to cause harm.

Sea turtle eats a plastic bag. Photo via One Green Planet

In other words, Johansen understands that using plastic bags, and creating non-biodegradable waste in general, are wrong due to the guaranteed negative outcomes of those activities. Most zero wasters inherently understand that waste is linked to suffering—be that ocean animals, land animals, or people who consume food laced with microplastics and drink water loaded with chemicals caused by plastic leeching into our water system. And their going #zerowaste is a response to wanting to stop causing that harm.

Lauren Singer, creator and founder of Trash is for Tossers and The Simply Co, writes on her blog that going zero waste for her came down to witnessing a classmate in one of her environmental studies classes choosing single-use plastic bags and plastic to-go containers every single week, day in, day out. Singer recalls, “I would sit there and think, we are supposed to be the future of this planet and here we are with our trash, messing it up.”

Lauren Singer shares an inside look at her zero waste kitchen with Photo credit: Margaret Badore

Messing up the planet is a friendly way of saying we have an ethical obligation to do everything in our power not to destroy the earth and ecosystems we all depend on, and we have the power to affect that change today.

In the same way that zero wasters can zero-wasterize pretty much anything from laundry detergent to menstrual cycles, vegans can veganize anything from a double cheeseburger to your fall wardrobe. And that’s because we always have a choice.

For every choice of food, clothing, entertainment, or consumer item we always have a healthier, more sustainable, less harmful, and zero waste version. And zero waste, when it comes to animals, means leaving them off your plate entirely–with the same fervor you would apply to eschewing plastic bags or  plastic to-go containers–because it is wrong to support wasteful industries that also harm animals.

Every day millions of baby boy chicks are suffocated in enormous plastic bags or sent into a “macerator” to be ground into pet food and fertilizer because they do not lay eggs. Male cows are taken from their mothers at birth and packed into veal crates because males cannot make milk. When milk production drops for female cows, they too are sent to slaughter—deemed wasteful and bad for profits if kept alive. Entire lives are turned into commodities in the meat, dairy, and egg industries because we consistently choose to allow this to happen.

Male chicks are suffocated in plastic bags or ground alive in a macerator because they are “waste products” to the egg industry.

Naturally, veganism is a response to these atrocities because we understand that purchasing animal products causes harm, is therefore wrong; so we choose to stop supporting it by buying and eating something else.

It is in this sense that Zero Waste and veganism need to join forces, align ethics, and spread far and wide. Zero wasters who are not vegan yet are perfectly primed to eliminate animal death from their lives because using animals is wasteful and inherently harmful to the animals, the planet, and people. Vegans who are not yet zero wasters are equally ready with their ethics loaded, ready to aim and fire point blank at plastic pollution, which is inherently harmful to people, animals, and the planet.

With the results of the US election leering over everyone, now more than ever consumers must wield their lifestyles as weapons of mass compassion, mass consciousness. Going vegan, going zero waste, and helping others do the same are a great start.

Are you a vegan interested in going zero waste? Are you a zero waster hoping to make the transition to veganism? Let us know what you think and be sure to check out the links below for some helpful tips to get started going vegan or zero waste.

How to Go Vegan Overnight by the Vegan Activist on YouTube

101 Reasons to Go Vegan

Best Speech You Will Ever Hear by Gary Yourofsky

Seaspiracy by the Friendly Activist

Quick Zero Waste Alternatives by Lauren Singer, Trash is for Tossers

Two Steps to Zero Waste by Lauren Singer, Trash is for Tossers

Vegan and zero waster: Wasteland Rebel, also on Instagram 


4 thoughts on “Zero Waste or Veganism? Do Both

  1. I don’t agree with the implication of the American election being a bad choice. The American people voted against globalism and no one wants globalism. Here’s a quote:

    If one understands that Socialism is not a “share the wealth” program but is in reality a method to consolidate and control the wealth, then the seeming paradox of super rich men promoting Socialism becomes no paradox at all. Instead it becomes logical, even the perfect tool of power-seeking megalomaniacs. Communism, or more accurately Socialism, is not a movement of the down-trodden masses but of the economic elite. – Gary Allen

    But we all just need to come to the truth ourselves (like with everything) and stop fighting, just accept our fond ideologies being challenged. Here’s why:

    Capital must protect itself in every possible way, both by combination and legislation. Debts must be collected, mortgages foreclosed as rapidly as possible. When through the process of law the common people lose their homes, they will become more docile and more easily governed through the strong arm of government applied by a central power of wealth under leading financiers. These truths are well known among our principal men who are now engaged in forming an imperialism to govern the world. By dividing the voter through the political party system we can get them to expend their energies in fighting for
    questions of no importance. It is thus by discreet action we can secure for ourselves that which has been so
    well planned and so successfully accomplished. – 1924 US Banker’s Association Magazine

    Apart from that, I agree with the rest of the article. I need to sort my shit out and get on the zero waste, because any waste – if it unnecessarily harms someone – isn’t Vegan.

    Thanks for the article Athena – well-written.


    Vegan at Uni

    1. Hi James, thanks so much for your insightful feedback. I am actually thinking that the US election will eventually be a positive thing simply because people will invest more in independent and NGO causes to fight for issues that the government may very well be ignoring. Grass roots efforts will prevail, and that was my main message in this post. Also, the US election wouldn’t be nearly as bad if Trump weren’t spouting racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, etc etc etc comments. Because his being elected with behavior like that validates all the people who already lean towards those awful prejudices. And that stands alone from whatever Trump’s policies are because we haven’t even seen those yet.

      Thank you again so much for your feedback. Looking forward to helping you with the zero waste if you need it! I’m a work in progress myself.


      1. Can give examples of these “racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, etc etc etc comments”? It seems to me that many people, including Vegans, chose (or would choose if they’re not American citizens) Hilary Clinton over Trump because of the huge bias message proliferated through media which is controlled to propagandise voters rather than give them the untainted information. Trump has never been sexist, homophobic, racist or sexist – that doesn’t mean to say he’s good; he’s a climate change denier, the dude’s stupid in that respect – he has just said things which are politically incorrect; politically incorrect statements are not discriminatory, they can just be taken as offensive. Let’s not forget the massive amounts of corruption unveiled by the wikileaks to do with Hillary Clinton. I do, however, agree this election has resulted in unnecessarily extreme groups spewing hateful rhetoric from their mindless little brains. This is always going to happen in elections as there are few times when everyone has been happy. This is because not everyone is on the same page. We get on the same page by distancing ourselves from mainstream media (those who propagate agenda, rather than inform) and inform ourselves with the information.

        Trump is better than Hillary. Trump is stupid in regards to climate science. American has avoided, for now, a politician bought out by the central bank and with connections (and her right-hand woman) to terrorists in the middle-east.

        Trump is good, though. All politicians, if not now, will eventually be bought out. We need good people in power with common decency; Hillary is so far from that, American voted for Trump.


      2. I don’t think Hillary or Trump are good choices. Both of them are presented to the American people as if they are the only options we have. Americans need to vote for whom they actually want to win instead of believing they have to pick the lesser of two evils.

        Trump’s comments about women needing to be punished for having abortions or his comments about “grabbing a woman by the pussy”, his comments about building a wall and calling Mexicans rapists, his comments about plans to register Muslims in the USA–google that one, it just came out about 4 hours ago–all that language encourages discrimination. There have been hundreds of incidents since T was elected of racial and religious and sexist discrimination, like you said. That’s not Trump himself doing it of course, that’s his supporters choosing to act that way.

        I think Trump is an accurate reflection of our country. We have always been a racist, Islamophobic, sexist country so now we have a president who reflects who we actually are. We cannot hide behind our first-ever black president anymore and think we have made progress.

        I’m not sure about Trump being the people’s choice, at least not by numbers. Hillary won the popular vote and has about 2 million more votes from the people than Trump. Doesn’t mean she is better than Trump but she is certainly not any worse and, as she is a woman, she would definitely not endanger women’s rights the way Trump is threatening to.

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