Most people think of eco-conscious eating and zero waste as hippie ideals. However, sustainable living has come a long way in recent years.
Sure, zero waste isn’t possible, and in a way, this term is quite misleading.
We live in a linear society that is built on consumerism and consumption. The more we buy, the better off we are; at least, we are told.
But what about the planet’s natural environment and the future we leave for our kids?
When I started my zero waste four years ago, I didn’t think I would ever succeed. Spoiler alert, I am still not 100% zero waste.
The zero-waste journey is not one to never achieve fully but more to improve as we go, and in this article, I want to share what I learned from attempting a zero-waste lifestyle and what positively surprised me.
Zero waste as a goal
zero waste an s a goal is honorable; some may even say it makes you a better human. At least, that’s kind of what I wanted to do. Create this zero waste blog and spread the word to millions who don’t even question how we live.
The definition of zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
Cities and countries are pledging to become zero waste by a specific timeframe. This sounds all good, but is it attainable?
The EPA has guidelines for states and cities to become zero waste, and many of them are aiming for a 90% waste reduction by 2040.
This is hopeful news and, to some degree, achievable if we have a recycling center that recycles and if we slow the production of virgin plastic down by a lot.
Diverting trash from landfills is the ultimate goal, but the infrastructure needs to change in many places.
My suggestion is: if recycling becomes cheaper than producing virgin materials we can make big changes.
Imagine what power this would bring to developing countries. They could turn the trash littering the beaches and forests into a currency that has value.
Plasticbank is an excellent example of a way forward where vulnerable communities get a chance by turning plastic waste into social plastic that can be reused, resold, and paid for.
Is zero waste possible?
The short answer is no. By definition, zero waste means:
“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” source
“Zero Waste” has become a catchphrase or at least an influential meme. But how many people are zero waste? I am not completely zero waste.
It means not creating any waste that doesn’t either biodegrade and turn back into soil or can be recycled without losing value.
When I started this endeavor four years ago, I was interested in living zero waste. My main goal was to reduce single-use plastic and replace it with high-quality items we can pass down to our kids.
And, of course, produce as little waste as possible and live more healthily.
As I was learning more about plastic and the dangers lurking in the chemicals shaping plastic and giving it the needed characteristics. I quickly realized this is a massive problem affecting everyone on this planet.
However, in reality, we can’t ultimately be zero waste. How our system is set up isn’t sustainable, and it takes much more than changing how we consume.
Indeed, joining the zero-waste lifestyle has excellent benefits for your and the planet’s health, but it isn’t accessible to all of us.
Here are some of the benefits that the zero waste lifestyle brings along.
Zero waste Benefits
1. Zero waste saved us money
While many people see zero waste as an expensive lifestyle, this doesn’t need to be the case. Often it can save you money.
Consider the example of the razor model.
This is a marketing strategy used in many products we are buying today. The idea is to sell you a product almost for free, and often at a loss for the company, like the Gillette razor or the Keurig Coffee machines, but then you have to buy the blades that cost three times the price or more. I will break it down more in this zero-waste razor article.
2. Stop impulse shopping.
Don’t we all get triggered when black Friday or similar events come around?
I still have to hold myself back and listen to the little voice inside that wants to buy it all. Thankfully, I have learned that this is just a big marketing scam.
Products are often hiked up in price before Black Friday comes around and then sold to you at a discount which equals the price three months ago.
3. Reduce consumption
One of the significant impacts you can have is reducing the amount of meat you eat; we all know it is one of the most significant contributors to climate change.
This doesn’t mean you need to become vegan, and cutting out some of the meat we consume can have a big impact.
4. Buy high-quality products
I love my zero waste products. They are well made and made of high-quality materials such as steel, stone, or other natural materials. They are often more expensive than their plastic counterparts but stand the test of time.
5. Zero waste community
Joining or starting a zero waste community can be a great way to share tools and exchange compost. We don’t all need a lawn mower in the same street?
6. Create more jobs.
Recyclable materials need to be sorted, cleaned and turned into new products. Waste management or waste prevention can create thousands of new jobs.
7. Lower carbon emission
The zero waste lifestyle can contribute to lower carbon emissions as we use fewer natural resources and create products that last longer.
As you can see, there are quite a few benefits to living sustainably, and if you want to dive even more profound, check out this article.
There is too much stuff that we don’t need.
We have an overabundance of items. The average American produces over 2.5 million pounds of garbage annually, equivalent to the waste of over 1,500 Empire State Buildings.
Becoming truly zero waste would mean living in small towns and communities where each individual has specific skills shared between the community.
Food growing and raising. Cooking. Weeding. Woodworking. Gardening. All these skills can create a more circular economy.
Living with less waste is an individual journey, but many things can be collective.
When I think about buying something new,
I first check if I need it or if it is just an egoic want.
Can I get it secondhand or used?
Can I make it myself if it is in my range of skills?
Is it high quality, and could I sell it again or hand it down?
The whole structure needs to change:
We live in a linear society, meaning a finish line and an end goal are impossible. Such as an economy that produces endless exponential growth.
From a make-take-dispose structure, we need to move to a more sustainable circular economy.
Just like mother nature sets the example of one that dies becoming the food of another.
The way a business is set up needs to change.
The main goal of any business is to make a profit, and this often overlooks the environmental impact a company has. Although there is a big trend toward businesses going green, I still think simply buying carbon credits isn’t enough.
I am looking at your amazon and google.
According to their sustainability report, Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions went up by 18% from 2020 to 2021, even though they are trying hard to be green by 2040. They still have a long way to go.
Zero Waste International, an organization committed to zero waste, recently completed a discard study.
The average American discards over 3.2 pounds of material every day. These include plastic, glass, aluminum, and fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, and these materials contribute heavily to our global warming problem and unsustainable consumption.
We create waste even when we shop in so-called zero-waste stores.
Every item we purchase has some form of carbon footprint. Even in a zero-waste store. How do you think things got here in the first place?
Everything arrives in packaging, even if it is displayed to you in a nice bulk bin later on.
It often feels like we are only sold a feeling, and the plastic waste created gets washed under the rug.
Is a zero-waste society possible?
As I mentioned above, to become a zero-waste society, we need to change how we produce fundamentally, reuse, recycle, and more. Is the question whether we are willing to address our waste habits and whether we want to change them?
The way the world is currently set up, I don’t think it is possible to live in a zero-waste society. However, as we are depleting our natural resources and more and more people and businesses are waking up to the reality that consumption impacts the future, we can begin to make the change. It’s hard, but by making small incremental changes in our daily routines and activities, we can reduce our harmful use of the world around us.
Simply starting to compost your food waste is a step towards a better future, where waste isn’t just discarded but has a purpose again by adding back to the circular chain. Collecting rainwater and reusing or repurposing materials is another.
Taking small imperfect action
The zero waste movement isn’t about perfection.
If your daily aim is to reduce plastic packaging, that is one small step with a more significant impact.
Just think about sharing this with your friends and family, as they may start to question their actions. It can be beneficial in that it may make them want to do something to reduce waste.
Remember the 5 Rs? Remember to Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. It will make you a much more mindful consumer.
We go to the farmers market weekly to get organic and healthy fresh produce. All you need to do is bring some reusable bags or empty glass jars. If you don’t have access to a farmers’ market, there is plenty of other places for the same or better results. More and more supermarkets in Canada have added a zero waste section to their aisle.
That is one place where you can get bulk bins and a large variety of things.
Less contact with potentially harmful chemicals.
I have no numbers to back this claim up but think about it. You are using more naturally made products to store your food, and perhaps you are changing your eating habits by reducing meat.
This alone has health benefits. Avoiding cling wrap and another plastic packaging reduces the microplastic absorbed from your body.
Simply having your bedroom set up with cotton sheets and a good mattress makes a significant difference in the air you breathe. Check your curtains and sheets for material, and you can learn more about creating a zero-waste bathroom here.