I always considered myself an eco-minded person. I recycle, conserve water, frequent the library, drink from a reusable water bottle, and eat a plant based diet. It didn’t occur to me that more could be done without moving to a commune, until I discovered the idea of Zero Waste.
A short while back, I stumbled upon the blog Trash is for Tossers. I had never heard of “Zero Waste” but was immediately intrigued by the concept. And after sifting through other Zero Waste blogs as well as a few books about consumption, I’ve decided to make this my New Years resolution.
So, what is Zero Waste?
A zero waste lifestyle is exactly what it implies, a life producing as little waste as possible. This means only purchasing or bringing things home that will not end up in the garbage.
Why Zero Waste?
Earth is not only being quickly drained of it’s precious natural resources, it is being buried under our waste. We are obsessed with stuff to the point where the number one activity that people do on their free time is shop. And it is a toxic process every step of the way. The short video “The Story of Stuff”, which was later turned into a book, breaks it down even further, you can check it out here. The cheap items that we buy or just end up with usually don’t last very long and soon end up in the trash. Plastic toothbrushes, paper napkins, plastic utensils, paper plates, single use condiments, soup cartons, plastic bags and packaging, and food wrappers are just a few of the many common products of our disposable lifestyle.
All of this stuff and waste are putting tremendous strain on the planet and destroying ecosystems. And for me, aligning my values with my lifestyle is an important step in being true to myself and doing the best I can for what I believe in.
How does one go Zero Waste?
The pioneer of the zero waste lifestyle, Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home, breaks it down into what she calls the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.
- Refuse: Saying “no” to stuff that we don’t really need is the biggest part of this lifestyle. Do we really need another tube of lip balm? Is another tchotchke for our shelf necessary? Do any of us actually need more clothes? When we learn to shift our focus onto what we really need, which isn’t very much, there’s a ton of room left for the more important things, like experiences.
- Reduce: Reducing the amount of stuff that we bring home reduces the amount of stuff that will later end up in the landfill.
- Reuse: There are plenty of items that we throw away that can be saved. Whether it’s mending our clothing or reusing a mason jar for food storage, prolonging the life of an object prevents us from buying more and putting more waste into the system.
- Recycle: There are some things that are just going to produce waste. Whether it’s paper from a child’s school or an empty wine bottle, some things are just going to end up being tossed. By recycling, although it is not a truly green process, it helps to keep trash out of landfills and reduces the amount of raw material needed for extraction. However, recycling should be a last resort.
- Rot: This means to compost. Food waste makes up a crazy volume of our trash. Onion skins, apple cores, banana peels…it adds up quickly. In the landfill, food waste releases the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere as well as adding to the “toxic soup” that drains from our landfills into the soil and groundwater. By composting, we are returning vital nutrients to the soil and keeping waste out of the garbage.
More specifically, going “Zero Waste” is actually pretty simple. We have a farmer’s market on the weekends just down the street from our house that offers local and package free produce. I take reusable cloth bags that I made to my local health food store and fill them up with bulk items such as pasta, rice, quinoa, beans, trail mix, oats, flour, spices, and more. My local store has a place I can fill up my own jar with fresh peanut butter and almond butter too. I’ve also opted for a compostable bamboo toothbrush and homemade toothpaste and deodorant. I even found a local store that will refill my Dr. Bronner’s soap as well as shampoo and conditioner.
My Zero Waste New Year:
Is all of this going to happen overnight? No, absolutely not. This has already been a long process and I’ve spent the past month or so using up things I already have that are not zero waste and prepping to go zero waste. I’ve been saving jars and using them to store bulk goods in my kitchen as well as making some of my personal care products. Also, I know that this
I’m not going to aim for perfection, I know that especially with a child, there will be some trash. There are definitely a few kinks to work out, such as what to do about dog food, but I’m confident that I can dramatically reduce my waste this year and do my very small part to help with a very large problem.