What is 'Zero Waste' anyway?
Welcome to Zero Waste Collective’s first blog post! It only makes sense to start off by defining what it means to go ‘zero waste.’ Going zero waste sounds like a daunting term, and daunting task. We’ve all heard the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ adage, right? Well let's add a few more components to make up a fulsome zero waste lifestyle so that we create less waste and wisely use our resources:
"Refuse, Simplify, Reuse, Recycle, Compost and Repair"
Ultimately, the zero waste lifestyle is about: producing as little trash and recycling as possible. By reducing our waste, we reduce our demand for natural resources and energy, which is better for us and for our planet. Let's dive into a bit more detail!
REFUSE Refusing is all about saying 'no' to the things in life that we truly do not need. It's turning down the freebies when we are out and about; cancelling our junk mail and daily paper; it's bringing our own toiletries travelling instead of using the hotel's shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. Why should we refuse all of these things? Accepting freebies and junk creates demand for these products. If we stop to think about it, we realize that it takes a lot of energy, resources, and transportation just to make sure we receive things that ultimately end up in our garbage and recycling bins. Refusing these items will create less demand for their production, while relieving us of the effort to sort, manage, and trash all of this STUFF.
SIMPLIFY Simplifying is all about a life with LESS. Simplifying means paring down our things to only what we need and enjoy, curbing our consumption habits, and becoming conscious consumers. Mindless shopping is a hobby for many people, which leads to buying things we don't need and often won’t use, and accumulating debt that we don't want. When we use and purchase only what’s essential and brings us joy (to quote Marie Kondo), we again reduce our demand for products and services that require energy and resources to make them available. Having less also helps to us to have more organized homes, tidier workspaces, and clear minds. Having less will give us more: more time, more money, and more energy. It will also reduce our collective impact on the environment.
REUSE Our society has become so disposable that we have come to accept and even expect a throwaway culture. We get our daily lattes in disposable coffee cups (which aren't recycled in most communities), we buy products and accept plastic bags that end up in the trash when we get home, and attend parties where single-use plastics (cutlery, cups, and plates) are common. It's more convenient though, right? We don't have to clean up after ourselves, and most of it can be recycled anyways... Well the real truth is inconvenient. We're trashing our oceans with plastic, and we're filling landfills with single-use stuff. Instead, we can reuse! Ditch the disposables and instead bring our own reusable water bottle when we go out, bring a backpack or tote bag for shopping, and do the dishes instead of throwing away paper plates and plastic cutlery. Why is this 'R' more fun? Because each time we choose to reuse, we are creating the demand for change.
RECYCLE Isn't recycling a good thing? For sure it is! Recycling is a really important part of waste management, which gives waste a new life. The integral part about recycling from your perspective is about knowing what can be recycled where you live, and sorting waste properly. Placing the wrong items in the recycling bin can contaminate the recycling stream, making it more work for waste management systems and costing a lot of money. Reducing the amount of recycling we create in the first place reduces the burden we've created on our recycling systems worldwide. Avoiding excess packaging (even if it can be recycled) also sends a message to producers of packaging that people want less packaging. Recycling is good, but recycling less in the first place is better.
COMPOST Composting allows organic materials (food waste, yard waste, paper) to break down naturally, and become a valuable fertilizer that’s great for your garden and for farmers alike. Many municipalities have a municipal compost system, and many do not. For municipalities that do not have compost systems in place, our food waste and other organic matter goes to the landfill or dump instead. Luckily, there are always opportunities to compost at home, even if your municipality doesn't offer a compost system (more on that in a future post). Composting is nature’s way of recycling, and it happens all the time. By contributing to this process we avoid organic materials entering landfills where they don’t break down. Rotting is a win-win situation!
REPAIR Along with relying on convenience, we're living in a disposable society. As soon as something is broken, we automatically want to replace it instead of repair it. Given how cheaply some stuff is made, it's often cheaper to replace these items anyway. This contributes much more to the landfill than necessary. To reduce how much stuff we send to the curb, we can repair items that are broken. To avoid more broken things in the first place, it's best to ensure we're buying quality over in quantity. Less is definitely more! It might be more of an investment upfront, but in the long run you'll save money if you're not shopping as much as you used to. Not handy yourself? Head to a local tool library for repair cafes, find local tradespeople, tailors, repairers, etc. It'll be a fantastic community building experience!
“What difference is one bottle going to make?" – Said 7 billion people
Okay, so these are some of the essential zero waste lifestyle components. Now that we know them, does that mean we need to fit our annual trash into a small mason jar? That’s where the zero waste lifestyle can seem like a daunting task. The best part about zero waste living is that you can make it work for you! Not everyone has the same access to make zero waste living easy; our society isn’t currently set up that way. Some communities have better recycling and composting facilities than others, and some have more package-free and bulk options than others, etc. The goal is progress over perfection, and making zero waste work for you based on what’s available in your community and what’s feasible in your life. At least, that’s the message here at The Zero Waste Collective. The more people who can get on board with even the smallest actions towards zero waste, the better!