This Sustainable Life: The zine paradox

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By Anne-Marie Vettorel

I’ve got a confession to make: even though I’m usually on the calm and collected side, I can get pretty scatter-brained. The jumble of thoughts, images, bolded words and little jokes that flit through my brain, if put to paper, would look more like a zine than a structured newspaper. Maybe that’s why I like them so much.

According to Merriam-Webster, a zine is a “magazine, especially a noncommercial, often homemade or online publication, usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter (punk zine, feminist zine).” To me, zines are part of the underground press, and typically have low circ numbers. They’re independent, creative and they break the rules. And I like them this way.

But like all hardcopy publications, zines have the potential to leave a huge environmental footprint, since paper makes up 40 per cent of waste.

So why would an environmentally-minded person advocate so strongly for these bundles of paper? For me, it’s actually a question of life and death.

Not my life and death, but the life and death of a zine. Because a truly good zine, like a truly good book, or article of clothing, or piece of furniture or art, never dies. With so few copies available, and so much work and soul-bearing behind each one, zines and recycling bins are like two matching magnetic poles.

The zine-making process is rooted in repurposing and using the simplest construction materials at hand. This is what green living is all about. The entire culture of zines is rooted in sharing and spreading ideas, in being thoughtful and creative, and in slower, more local ways of life and expression. These are exactly the values that will get us out of our many global crises, the environmental one included.

In a way, zines teach us to treat all our printed materials with respect. Leave your newspaper at a coffee shop, your finished magazines at the doctor’s office. Swap books with friends, use envelopes as scrap paper. Re-imagine your materials and life becomes not only more artistic, but less wasteful.


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