What is Zero Waste?
Zero Waste is a philosophy of reduction and recycling that leads to the production of no (or very little) garbage. It is a way of living that changes how much garbage you produce, but doesn’t have to change everything about you. You can still be yourself, but a more resourceful version of yourself that is kinder to the planet and your wallet. There’s a graphic that I think is really helpful in explaining what zero waste is all about that I’ve pulled from our department’s main website.
The top portion is a traditional waste stream that puts most items directly into the landfill while using lots of natural resources and energy to get them there.
The second graphic however, is a cycle that continues to reuse the same resources over and over again, with very little or nothing headed to the landfill. This cycle not only uses fewer natural resources, but also saves energy in production through reusing materials many times before recycling. Using recycled materials also reduces energy and cost for manufacturers.
What does this look like in reality?
At first, this may seem impossible. Living a life without garbage? I’ll admit I was a bit incredulous the first time I heard about it too. It seems like a nice idea, theory, or philosophy, but is it really practical or even possible? Two blogs, Trash is for tossers and Zero Waste Home, that have both been highlights on my social media feed in the past are examples of people who are actually doing it. They produce no waste or almost none, which is drastically different than the average American who produces 4.4 pounds of trash every single day. What are some of the solutions that these people use to fight the common pitfalls of our culture that creates so much waste? Both women list some key tips on working towards a zero waste lifestyle.
1. Use durables like glass or stainless steel:
Using durables helps cut back on disposables. This means thinking ahead and planning to bring your own set of silverware with you to work at the office, or when you pack a lunch for the day in a container instead of a plastic baggy. When using items that can be washed and then used again, you can drastically reduce waste over time. This is especially important when our current waste continues to pile creating large landfills, and now even islands of garbage floating around in the ocean.
It’s important not to just use durables when out and about, but at home as well. Not just in the kitchen, but in the bathroom and laundry room as well.
2. Make it from scratch:
Making cleaners, beauty products, and meals from scratch are all great ways to reduce waste down to zilch. From deodorant and shampoo to glass cleaner and laundry soap, these ladies suggest that you can make it from simple and safe ingredients. This not only helps to cut down on waste from containers and small batch products, but allows you to get crafty and have peace of mind about how many toxic chemicals aren’t in your house anymore.
3. Start small or big:
Okay, so this is my tip (and I’m not a guru) and I know this tip seems like a contradiction. The point is however if you want to live a zero waste life you have to do it at your pace. For some people, that means slowly phasing out their garbage and phasing in all of the durables and homemade products so they don’t get overwhelmed. Some people need to do it all at once and start fresh; otherwise they’ll never do it. Lauren Singer’s advice is to “Transition” and each person’s transition speed will be different. I personally am starting small and taking some of my previous advice to get rid of clothing and use up all the beauty products and cleaners in my apartment before I make my own. Bea Johnson suggests “Get your 5Rs right: Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you consume, Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse, and Rot (Compost) the rest.”
I hope some of this inspires you, even if you don’t make changes now. It has been really exciting for me to research and learn from this way of life. Comment with questions or follow the links to find out more!