What is Zero Waste?
“Zero Waste” does not have to apply only to individuals who literally produce no waste. Practicing zero waste can simply mean adopting a lifestyle in support of a circular economy that makes the most sustainable use out of our resources. For more on definitions of zero waste, visit the Zero Waste International Alliance: https://zwia.org/standards/zw-definition/.
Tips for Getting Started:
If you wish to start slowly (which is recommended for most people), begin with eliminating single-use disposable plastics:
- plastic bags (grocery bags, produce bags, etc.) The “working life” of a plastic bag is estimated to be about 15 minutes, but it lasts forever in the landfill. Invest in some reusable bags, or make use of items you already own, like old totes, T-shirts, scarves, and even suitcases!
- plastic bottles (water, soda). Bring your own container instead!
- plastic straws. Just say no! Or bring your own resusable.
- plastic-lined cups (coffee). You guessed it: bring your own.
Then, if you wish to go further, consider the environmental impact of all of your purchases by following the R’s in order. (Best case scenario: refuse the purchase, making your way down the list. Rot should be the last option, and there’s no bullet point on the list for throwing something in a regular garbage can – avoiding the landfill is the goal of the R’s.)
- Refuse/reduce: Imagine the entire life cycle of a product before you let it enter your home by asking a few questions: What was the environmental cost of its production (energy, resources, travel, etc.)? How much use will you get out of the product before it wears out or you don’t like it anymore? Will you have to spend more money, time, and resources as a result of buying this product? How will you dispose of the item, and how easy will it be?
- Reuse/Repair: Instead of buying something new, can you reuse something you already have, or purchase it secondhand? The less you participate in creating a demand for “virgin” products, the better. When something breaks or wears out, see if you can extend its life by getting it repaired.
- Recycle: Recyling is a crucial step for items that you have to buy new (avoiding plastic – especially #3-#7 altogether when possible). But for US citizens, we must be careful. Most of us with access to recycling have “single-stream” recycling, which means they will accept nearly anything we place in the bins and we don’t have to bother sorting our recycling into different materials. This means more of us are likely to recycle, but it also paints a misleading picture of how much we are diverting from landfill. Many items placed in the recycling stream become contaminated (by food, for example, or glass shards) or are not able to be sold to manufacturers due to low demand. Just because something can be recycled, doesn’t mean it will be. The cost of the recycling process is a big factor.
- Rot: If you are lucky enough to have curbside composting, take advantage of it! Similarly, find out if there’s a place you can take your compost to, whether it’s a city-organized site or just a small community of farmers or gardeners. Better yet, grow your own garden and use the compost yourself.
Recycling Facts from Recycle Across America: https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/recycling-facts
The EPA’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle page: https://www.epa.gov/recycle
The EPA on what you can do to reduce waste: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-waste-what-you-can-do
Zero Waste America: https://www.zerowasteamerica.org/
See if your city has a zero waste goal: https://www.waste360.com/waste-reduction/10-major-us-cities-zero-waste-goals
Zero Waste Marketplace
The Package Free Shop, Brooklyn, NY
The Zero Market, Denver, CO
Inspiration: Zero Waste Books
Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst
Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too by Beth Terry
The Zero Waste Solution by Paul Connett
Inspiration: (U.S. based) Zero Waste Blogs
Inspiration: (U.S. based) Low Waste YouTube Channels
Alli Cherry: https://www.youtube.com/user/allinicolecherry
Rob Greenfield: https://www.youtube.com/user/RobJGreenfield
The Minimalist Ninja: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSmBhccHcivrgm8V6akDGUw
Living Waste Free: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfYFvffR5LbJLSIzhKWD8ig
This page was created by Maggie Brown of New Southerner, a U.S.-based sustainable literary mag. www.newsoutherner.com