What Exactly Is Zero Waste?
“Zero waste” is a term that describes the process of sending nothing to landfill. It doesn’t mean that you create no waste whatsoever.
Experts call the zero waste movement a circular economy. We currently take resources from the planet, use them, and then bury the waste in a big hole, dump it in the ocean, or litter the environment—this is a linear economy.
A circular economy describes taking resources but instead of throwing away what we don’t want, we reuse or recycle it. This creates a circular economy of repurposing.
This cycle eliminates the need for fresh resources, which is how the natural world works.
Nature doesn’t create waste—when living things die, they decompose. The ocean becomes rain and rain becomes the ocean. We need to achieve a circular waste economy for our health and for the health of our planet, too.
Recycling is an important part of going green, but it isn’t enough. We only recycle 9% of our plastic as it stands. Alongside recycling, we have to alleviate pressure on our planet by producing fewer single-use goods and by continuing to use the materials we’ve already produced.
The aim of going zero waste is to create an eco-friendly cycle in which we reuse over and over again without dumping trash.
But why should we bother going green?
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How Going Zero Waste Impacts the Environment and Your Health
The world is suffering under the weight of our waste. Non-recyclable materials, disposables, and plastics are strewn everywhere, from the land to ocean. There’s even trash in space.
We’ve seen the pictures of plastic swirling oceans, littered beaches, and dead wildlife. It’s estimated 100,000 marine animals die from plastic entanglement and ingestion every year, but that’s not the only waste issue that needs fixing.
The Problem with Landfills
On average, Americans create 4.4 pounds of landfill trash every day.
Landfill sites are toxic. They create pollution in the form of methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and sulfide emissions. They also contaminate the soil and run poison into the groundwater system—that’s our drinking water.
Contaminated water and air create health issues.
Toxic emissions cause lung irritation, respiratory illness, and headaches. Polluted water systems and poisoned soils affect our food and water supplies.
Going zero waste helps to slow this environmental disaster and makes a big difference to your immediate health, too.
Zero wasters aim for healthy living and try to avoid stores that overdo plastic packaging, opting for farmers’ markets or independent local stores instead.
Their foods, such as free-range eggs, meat, and fruits, are fresh, grown locally, packaged without plastic, and have barely any carbon footprint because they don’t need to be transported for miles.
Fresh, unprocessed foods are free from preventative antibiotics given to factory-farmed animals as well as chemicals from intensive spraying. They are better for your health than processed convenience foods.
Going zero waste will also have a big impact on your beauty routine—but in a good way.
Making your own lotion bars, for example, means you can choose organic, chemical-free ingredients that are better for your skin, and because they don’t need packaging, you won’t be throwing away a hand pump dispenser each week.
How to Start Going Zero Waste
Going zero waste is a great goal, but you won’t get there overnight. Baby steps are the way forward to a sustainable planet and better health.
Go green, but don’t be tempted to change all your habits at once or you’ll fall back into the established disposable trash lifestyle.
Here are some tips to help you on your going-green zero-waste journey.
1. Take a look through your trash bin. What waste are you stockpiling? Plastic packaging, jars, food scraps? The first step is to figure out what will make the most impact on your trash habits.
If you throw away a lot of food, get a compost bin. If it’s plastic you dump, then make a proper effort to recycle and look for sustainable packaging when you shop.
2. If you buy coffee every day, ask for a reusable mug or take your own travel mug. Better still, make your coffee at home and take it with you to work.
3. Donate to charity instead of taking items to the dump, or offer them on free-to-a-good-home listings.
4. Say no to plastic straws in a restaurant or drive-through. They are only small, but they add up quickly. Buy a reusable straw and stash it in your bag.
5. Buy a bamboo toothbrush—they are sustainable and recyclable.
6. Always take your own carrier bag or cotton tote to the store; don’t buy new carrier bags.
In the UK, a government-enforced five-pence carrier bag charge has resulted in around 83% fewer plastic bags in 2016 to 2017 compared to the year 2014. That’s over six billion bags fewer floating around the environment.
7. Buy a reusable water bottle. Single-use plastic water bottles are one of the greatest accumulations in our oceans and landfill alongside plastic bags. It’s thought that we throw 2.5 million plastic bottles in the trash every hour, and they take 500 years to fully decompose.
8. Buy some good-quality handkerchiefs to replace disposable tissues. Tissues biodegrade, but a lot of energy is used making them. If you’re good at sewing, turn your old clothes and bedsheets into handkerchiefs.
9. Buy recycled toilet paper and a cloth for the kitchen counters instead of wasteful disposable paper towels.
10. Buy in bulk whenever you can. Not only is it cheaper, it uses less packaging. Rice, pasta, beans, nuts, and dried fruit are easy to find in bulk.
11. Imagine you don’t have a trash can—what would you do with that no-longer-needed item? You may need to get creative!
12. Make your own soap and lotion bars to replace soaps and moisturizers. They are natural, chemical-free, and don’t create waste packaging. Give them as gifts to spread the zero-waste message.
13. Find a local farmers’ market and buy healthy, fresh foods without packaging.
14. Take a packed lunch to work each day instead of buying an overly packaged ready-made one. It’s kinder on your purse and the environment, not to mention your waistline.
15. Choose paperless billing. Each of us uses around two trees’ worth of paper products annually. Green companies will give you a discount for paperless billing.
16. Pick up trash strewn around the environment and recycle it. It’s not nice picking up someone else’s trash, but if you don’t, it has the potential to poison your environment for hundreds of years.
Take Eco-Friendly Baby Steps
The convenience market has taken decades to grow, and it’ll take even longer to reduce its waste legacy.
If we don’t try to deal with its staggering amount of waste by changing our habits, we’ll use up all our natural resources and live in a polluted environment with poor health.
Going green in baby steps is the way to a cleaner, healthier, zero-waste lifestyle. Your contribution WILL make a difference.