What is zero-waste?
There is both a simple short answer and a more complex longer one. In short: zero waste is a set of principles aiming to redesign products life cycle in the way that they are made, used, and ultimately discarded. Furthermore, this means that the goal is for no trash or “waste” to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean.
Zero-waste = no stuff in landfills
Zero wasters (what people are called in this community) often do four main things:
1)Refuse single use plastic and items that have a short lifespan
2) Reuse items to prolong their life
3) Send little recycling (to learn more about why our recycling system is broken click here)
4)Compost/ Rot organic matter
This can best be described using this triangle
Trash is due to poor design; it CAN be designed out of the system. That is one of the goals of zero-waste is to push for a circular economy that mimics natures “no waste” concept. For example, everything is used in nature, when a tree dies it is broken down and consumed by something else, another way to say this is that there is no such thing as trash in nature, trash is an entirely human concept.
To understand the WHY behind zero-waste check out my post detailing why go zero-waste
What was the Start of Zero-Waste?
Zero-waste has always been a concept. In fact, up until the 1950’s zero-waste was just…life. Many of the zero-waste tips and tricks are from the great depression! This seems to have been forgotten as single use convenience items made their way into the market and thus our culture, lessons on using up everything fell wayside. Although the term “zero-waste” was founded in the 70’s by Paul Palmer as an industrial term used in a paint company to resell chemicals that were going to be wasted, after that the “zero-waste” movement can be seen beginning in New Zealand as a grassroots movement to redesign our disposable life. Though much credit is given to Bea Johnson from Zero-Waste Home for sharing her family’s unconventional near zero waste lifestyle, the term/ movement has since exploded into mainstream.
Zero-Waste is Not Perfect and Here’s Why…
Zero-waste is by no means perfect nor is it the solve-all-be-all to our problems. Truth be told, we live in a capitalist, hyper-consumerist, liner economy. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try you WILL create waste in some way, shape, or form. The GOAL here is to be aware, be intentional, and be responsible. As a consumer you have a lot of power, if enough people stand up and create a demand for circular systems more businesses are going to offer that, create the demand and they will try and fill it.Zero- Waste is not perfect because many of us do not have access to it, our society does not support these systems and so we are basically setting our self-up to fail. What zero-waste IS doing is challenging the “norm”, it is being creative, thrifty, and most times choosing to do without.
I don’t say this to discourage you, but as a reminder that if you cannot create “zero-waste” or fit all your trash for a year in a jar that is OKAY. We do not live in a society that is set up for you to do so- the fact that you ARE doing what you can is phenomenal.
What is included in Zero-Waste
Additionally, zero-waste can be so much more then just not trying to produce trash, it encompasses many larger topics such as environmental injustice, climate change, carbon footprints, modern slavery, and so much more. Aiming to live zero-waste often intertwines and addresses many of these larger issues that you otherwise would have never had any awareness too. For example, I had no previous knowledge about the harsh treatment of garment workers overseas used to quench the worlds lust for fast affordable fashion even at the cost of poor living conditions, abuse, child labor and many other injustices. With this awareness which was brought by me doing research into zero-waste fashion. Point is, it is all connected, the more you learn about zero-waste and how to incorporate better practices into your life, the more you will learn about other important issues.
How You Can Start
If you want a picture guide of 30 changes to make in 30 days click here
Here are a couple things you can do RIGHT now to get started on your zero-waste journey,
1) Get Inspired
What sparked your interest into zero-waste? Social/ environmental justice, modern slavery, animal welfare, minimalism, single use plastic in the ocean, sustainability, health effects of plastic, whatever it may be I recommend picking just one issue that interests you or that you are passionate about and learn, which leads me to number two…
2) Educate yourself
Read blogs, books, watch videos, documentaries, and listen to podcasts about zero-waste, it’s a big topic with a lot of information!
3) Do a trash audit
I have a blog post about my experience with trash audits, click here to learn more. In short, collecting your garbage for 30 days (or even one week) can tell you a lot of information. It will give you insight to exactly what you are tossing away in the first place and will show you what change you need to make next. For example, when I did my audit during collage, I learned that because I didn’t have a lot of time to eat, I would throw away a lot of snack bars. With that realization I made the change to plan my snacks ahead and always carry a zero-waste snack such as fruit, nuts, or pack a meal in reusable containers so I wouldn’t have to resort to be a hangery mess and eat snack bars.
4) One thing at a time
Pick one change and focuses on that habit until you master it. After that more on to the next!
If you use plastic water bottles-------------------------Bring a reusable water bottle with you
Single use grocery bags---------------------------------Make a habit to get some (or take your) reusable bags
Use a plastic straw----------------------------------------Practices saying “no straw please” every time you’re at a restaurant (you can also bring your own)
5) Use what you have, go without, or invest in quality
Please do not throw away every plastic item you own, it is counterproductive! I know you’re going to get all excited with this newfound knowledge and inspiration but resist the urge to purge all plastic from our life at once and remember that it is a process that takes time. I have a rule where when something runs out or breaks only then am I allowed to swap it for a sustainable alternative. That means that I am stuck using the same bright blue plastic hair comb I’ve had for nine years until it breaks and then I can swap it for those trendy wood combs or bamboo brushes.
Using what you already have is an important step in zero-waste because the goal is to prolong items lives so they do not end up in the landfill. Many times if I cant find zero-waste alternative and I am able to, I will go without- on the flip side there are some items such as paper towels for example that I completely do without, to learn more about living without paper towels click here. If you are going to buy something go for quality. These items may be more money upfront but are an investment because they will last much longer then their cheap counterparts. Let’s say you need a pair of shoes, investing a pair that is high quality will cost you a couple hundred dollars but can last you 10+ years compared to a cheap pair that you will have to continually replace.
6)Pick Local When You Can
Always support your local business and farmers first! When we have to ship things from all around the world that leaves a heavy carbon footprint. Choosing goods and food closer to your location significantly reduces that impact, also it keeps supporting other members in your community!
7)Spread the message
Lastly, share what you are learning to others! Share our tips, tricks, information, and resources on social media. Get involved in groups, clubs, organizations, local politics, business get that message out!
Once you start making changes join community for support and advice! You can see if there is an existing one in your location, or create your own group (you can join our Facebook Community group Here)
Remember this: your journey will be an ongoing one full of trial and error, wins and fails, not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something!