Low waste living mistakes I wish I could take back

Listen. We all make mistakes. And here’s one I made this week. I bought a $15 jar of hummus.

Here’s how it happened. I like hummus. I like hummus but I don’t want to make hummus, which poses a problem as I’m on this low waste lifestyle experiment. Ready-made hummus comes in a plastic tub with a plastic seal and a plastic film. It’s a lot of plastic and I don’t want it in my life. So I thought I’d game the system—have my hummus and eat it, too—by bringing my own jar to the Whole Foods salad bar, where I could fill it with hummus and go on my low-waste little way. And then I got to the cash register where I realized I’d made a terrible mistake and jacked up the price on myself five times over by buying hummus in bulk.

Here’s the thing. If you accidentally take too many plastic tubs of hummus off the shelf, you can always put one back. You put too much hummus in your glass jar, what are you going to do—scoop it out? That’s not how this works (and thankfully, for the salad bar buying public). There’s no solution. You eat your pride, fork over the cash, pretend it was all part of the plan and then berate yourself on the way home because the cashier was not fooled and knew this was not at all part of the plan. So you vow that next time you will call ahead to a Jordanian restaurant and ask if they’ll fill your jar so you can take it to go.

The hummus was a silly mistake. But the kitty litter mistake makes me feel a little duped.

I adopted a senior cat, Milo, last month. He’s a funny little creature, and like most cats he uses a litter box. I thought briefly about toilet training him because it’s a litter-free endeavor, but this was only so I could say I’d considered it if anyone holier than me inquired why I was still buying litter. Now, it’s not an entirely unreasonable thing to do, nor is it the purview of the chronically crunchy alone; a friend who’s not pursuing low waste living swears by toilet training cats and says it’s improved her life and home. But Milo’s an older cat and I don’t know if he can be persuaded to change his ways this late in the game. I don’t know if I can either; coaxing a cat to use the water closet wasn’t in my five year plan. So for the moment, I buy litter.

When I heard that Petco sells bulk litter, I stopped by. If I could get the litter without the plastic jug, it would be a win. I brought my own container but was told that’s not allowed. Okay, fine. So I’d have to get a plastic tub. I was feeling okay about my purchase, if a little disappointed, until I read something on a zero waste forum: Apparently that bulk litter comes in small plastic bags, which are dumped into the bulk bin. So I’m generating more plastic waste than I realized going in, and probably more than if I’d gone the usual route.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course the bulk litter is transported to the store in plastic. Of course this is greenwashing. But call me Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe. So, now I’m not sure what to do. I could throw caution to the wind and toilet train my cat, but I probably won’t; I’ll just switch to buying cardboard boxes of litter.

I guess cats throw a wrench in efforts to reduce waste output. And then there’s hummus. Hummus causes a lot of problems, too.

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