Zero Waste Lifestyle is a way of life that focuses on reducing consumption and increasing recycling. It also includes composting, reusing, and repurposing items.
There are several reasons why adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is important. First, it helps us reduce our environmental impact by conserving natural resources. Second, it reduces the amount of trash produced by making people think twice before throwing something away. Third, it saves money because it requires less energy to produce goods and services. Fourth, it makes us feel good because it gives us a sense of accomplishment. Finally, it promotes healthy living because it encourages us to eat better and exercise more often.
Adopting a Zero Waste Lifestyle – Some Whys and a Few Hows
Waste management is a worldwide crisis that needs public attention. But simple lifestyle adjustments can contribute to the solution of this global issue.
Plastic has become a worldwide major crisis and we can all make a difference to resolve this problem. This is fairly simple.
A study, released in 2015, estimates that “2.5 billion MT of municipal solid waste was generated in 2010 by 6.4 billion people living in 192 coastal countries (93% of the global population)”. Of this number, 275 million metric tons (MT) was of plastic waste, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Just to give you a little perspective, a metric ton is equivalent to 1000 kilograms, so 8.8 million tons of American plastic waste was disposed of in the ocean in 2010.
The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) reported that “in 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate”. Still according to EPA, by diverting these materials from landfills we have prevented the release of approximately 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to taking over 39 million cars off the road for a year.
Local recycling programs, such as the one created by Recology in San Francisco, have shown great results as it has been able to either recycle, reuse or compost 80% of the 4 to 5 thousand tons of garbage generated per day in the city. Recology’s spokesperson, Robert Reed, says the company’s goal is to achieve ‘zero waste’, but he acknowledges that they still have another 20% of waste that can not be recycled from items such as plastic straws, styrofoam, and synthetic rubber. And we now see more initiatives been taken locally to create better waste management solutions.
Plastic is not and was never designed to be disposable because it’s indestructible…this habit that we have is starting to threaten human health. Jo Ruxton, Plastic Oceans Foundation
Although recycling and waste management programs have shown positive results to reduce our waste disposal in landfills and the ocean, they do not provide a long-term sustainable solution to all the waste that is generated. Waste prevention discussions are gaining more emphasis as we, as a society, realize that recycling and composting, although offering an alternative to solid waste reduction, is not the real solution to the estimated 2.2 billion tons of trash to be disposed per year by 2025. The same goes for sitting back and drinking soda in a disposable plastic cup while acknowledging the issues but not taking action.
That’s where leading a ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle comes in. Leading a ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle requires some careful consideration, research, and inspiration, but with just a few small adjustments you can start making an impact immediately. I have curated a list of practical steps to help you find inspiration on how to start this life change now.
Zero Waste At Home
Shop Second Hand Clothes
Although this sound unappealing and impractical to many, you’d be surprised by the gems you can find in thrift shops. You can bring that pile of clothes you haven’t worn in years, swap them, and leave the store with a lighter conscience. Other than the common ‘guilt’ resulting from shopping binges.
Replace Those Plastic Containers and Disposable Items
Due to the widespread awareness of conscious consumption and waste disposal, it is now easier to find companies such as Fillgood that offer alternatives to plastic containers by offering weekly local delivery in reusable glass containers for skincare and cleaning products. Remember that ‘Milk in the Glass’ weekly delivery model? They have a similar model, but for natural cleaning and skincare products! It doesn’t get much easier than that!
Replacing paper towels with reusable rags, packing to-go meals in glassware, bringing your own cloth shopping bags to stores, getting rid of those Ziploc bags and using reusable sandwich bags; are also all great alternatives to avoid plastic waste at home.
Buy in Bulk
The immediate benefit of buying in bulk is the reduction in disposable packaging waste. Bringing your own glass containers to grocery stores is becoming more common now, and by doing so, you are ditching those unnecessary plastic bags and packaging that otherwise would end up in landfills and the ocean.
Also, bulk goods not only allow for us to cut down on food waste as you buy in smaller quantities, it does also require less transportation resources. It is a winning practice all around.
Oh, and did I mention this can be fun too? This has become one of my favorite habits now. Really!
Buy Local Produce
Buying local produce is not only a great way to reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of waste from containers as you can bring your own shopping bags, it also supports local small businesses and farmers. Plus, you’ll get fresher produce and all the natural vitamins and minerals from them.
Give Some Love to Your Leftovers
About 40% of our food goes to waste in the U.S. Not to mention the amount of $ that goes to waste with it. Finding creative ways to revamp your lunch leftovers can not only help you save some $ but also keep trash from ending at landfills. And remember that whatever can’t be salvaged can be composted.
Compost Your Trash
This can become a big step, and it may require a blog alone for itself as there are a few ways you can compost your trash (freezer, countertop, blender, etc.). But before deciding on which method you’ll use, check with your local waste management provider for their requirements and guidance (i.e. containers, items that can be composed etc.) as they may change from place to place.
Zero Waste At Work
Bring Your Lunch
Again, it goes back to avoiding the use of all of those to-go packaging, utensils, and unnecessary plastic waste. Besides, you can bring your now-loved leftovers to work.
Reduce Printing & Recycle
You’d think that going digital would be the norm nowadays, but I was surprised to learn that the average usage of paper, per worker, is 2 lbs per day. That is per worker! With the many digital resources we now have with gazillion organizational apps, it is time to put away those paper notepads, and start taking notes on your computer.
Also, avoid paper printing by making more use of emails, and even by using online signature options. Technology is here for a reason, let’s use it wisely! If printing is unavoidable, remember to recycle as much as possible.
Zero Waste Socially
Bring Your Own Water Bottle
Sounds cliché, right? But please indulge me and do this math with me. According to health resources, we should drink an average of 2-3 liters of water per day. That is equivalent to 4-6 plastic water bottles per day, approximately 180 plastic bottles per month, that you are preventing from ending in landfills or the ocean. Besides, there are some really cool BPA-free water bottles available in the market nowadays. How cool are you now?
Skip the Straws
I know your inner child is screaming at this one, and so did mine when I first decided to make this change. But trust me, you’ll feel much better ditching them once you remember that those little ‘suckers’ can not be recycled.
Although adopting a Zero Waste lifestyle may seem like a small step towards waste reduction when compared to the overall amount of waste that is daily generated worldwide, keep in mind that EVERY CHANGE COUNTS and that everyone started from a simple step at some point. My first step was to stop using disposable utensils at work. I adopted the same concept at home, and I haven’t bought disposable utensils for almost two years now. The rest came naturally, such as substituting paper towels for reusable rags, always bringing my shopping bags to stores, and not using plastic bags for fresh produce, the list is now long.
Making little adjustments in your lifestyle, one at a time, are key to keeping your focus and helping you realize your achievements. And finally, don’t forget to give yourself credit for the changes you’ve already made! When you start giving yourself credit for your achievements, you will realize you want to make additional adjustments, and soon you will be talking to everyone about the benefits of this lifestyle change.
Need More Inspiration? Check what these like-minded people are doing to reduce their footprint and be their own change.
Going Zero Waste – I just find it inspiring in general. Need I say more?
Plastic Pollution Coalition – Check out their plastic-free guides.
Plastic Oceans Foundation – They have a great documentary too “Plastics Ocean”. Worth checking out!
Trash is for Tossers – This young lady is quite inspiring and has some great tips on Zero Waste living.
We Hate to Waste – Check out their leftover recipes.
Zero Waste Home – Bea Johnson is considered a Zero Waste guru, giving many resources and tips on leading a Zero Waste lifestyle at home.
- our podcast episode featuring Stephanie Regni, Founder of Fillgood.
- NPR – Recycling plastic is practically impossible — and the problem is getting worse