What the heck does it mean to live a zero waste lifestyle? Can I really not make any trash?
Don’t let the term fool you. Zero waste is actually an industrial term referring to a circular based economy in which all processes of design (the plan for how it’ll be made), manufacturing (how it’s made), consumption (how you’ll consume it), disposal (what you’ll do with it after you’re done), and recovery (can that thing be used again or not?) are designed without waste in mind.
Needless to say we are far from that. Our current linear-based economy is basically designed for our trashcans and subsequently, the landfill.
Saying one lives a zero waste lifestyle isn’t about being all or nothing. It’s about becoming more aware and more intentional about how products are designed, where they come from, and ultimately what happens to them when we are done using them.
So what kind of power do we hold as consumers? A lot!
Putting value on zero waste
Living a zero waste lifestyle is about massively disrupting the amount of trash we produce each day. It’s about putting value back into our belongings, resources, and ecosystems. It’s about simplifying and getting back into touch with our local communities. And it’s about stepping back from our over-consumerism and rethinking our trash footprint.
It’s going to take a lot of voices and collective action to shift the way we create, make and consume things, and even more intention to move from our linear based economy of designing for the trash can to a circular based one.
So when you say you are living a zero waste lifestyle, you are saying you want to drastically eliminate the amount of trash you create, send a message to businesses and manufacturers to design and take responsibility for their products, and be an example of circular-based—that is, a zero waste—economy. It’s not about being perfect or creating zero trash; it’s about being a positive activist towards pushing our society towards a more intentional design and consumer culture and creating a lifestyle that skirts around our linear based throwaway culture.
First things first, let’s share some unique ways in which we can rethink our trash and plastic footprint, lead more simpler and sustainable lifestyle habits, and make a whole lot less trash.
There are lots of ways we can simplify our lives, and it’s going to look different for every single person. Simplifying our lifestyles can simply come to evaluating our true needs and wants.
- What really brings me joy?
- What do I really use?
- What are the things that inspire me and bring beauty into my life?
When we simplify we edit down our surroundings and create more space! With this comes less distraction and being less overwhelmed. Stuff takes up space and it also takes up our mental energy too.
Asking questions like these can help us to curb our consumerism and put value and meaning back into the items we use and keep with us. We are more likely to invest in something that has more lasting qualities, repairable, and multifunctional.
- Refuse single-use disposables / Become materially mindful
We weren’t always wasteful. In fact, many cultures embraced resourcefulness, quality design, craftsmanship, and product integrity. Today, many products are designed without these qualities. Planned obsolescence is an industrial design and economics policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete, that is unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time. “That is a thing!?” Yes, and many of the products we’ve purchased are designed with this in mind.
One of the biggest issues of items with a limited useful life are single-use disposables. Often single-use disposables are made with petroleum based plastics. Single-use disposables are anything we use once and toss. Collectively we are generating a lot of trash this way. Plastic-based and plastic lined coffee cups, to-go containers, straws, utensils, food packaging, toothbrushes, containers, wipes, diapers—the list goes on and on.
Reuse and repeat
One of the simplest ways to drastically reduce your trash is to find durable, lasting, reusable alternatives to these single use disposable items.
Here are a few simple swaps:
- Reusable coffee cup instead of plastic-lined coffee cups.
- Say no to plastic straws when ordering drinks.
- Bring your own produce bags instead of plastic produce bags (or just put the veggies right into your cart).
- Bring your own shopping bags.
- Carry a handkerchief.
- Carry your own set of reusable utensils instead of using plastic disposable utensils.
- Take a small metal or glass container with you for leftovers.
- Shop around the edges of the grocery store.
- Simplify your food by avoiding prepackaged foods. They are more expensive up front, and plus, with the Internet, it’s easy to learn how to make your own cost effective simple meals. Learn to be resourceful with food. Cooking doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive.
Even in the home you can:
- Switch to a safety razor instead of disposable or replaceable razor head cartridges.
- Use cloth rags instead of paper based towels.
- Switch to 100% recycled toilet paper that comes wrapped individually in recycled paper instead plastic wrap.
- Use reusable food wraps instead of cling wraps.
- Switch to plant-based bristle brushes and kitchen sponges instead of plastic based bristles.
- Make your own simple cleaning solutions.
Community and consumer power
Companies and businesses need to hear from you! Consumer demand triumphs all. Give them incentive (Ahem, your loyalty = your money!) to make changes to their packaging and policies.
Get in touch with your community. From sharing programs, local community gardens, farmer’s markets, car sharing programs, compost pick-up businesses. And encouraging local establishments to rethink their trash footprint by opting out of plastic-based or styrofoam to-go containers, straws, and offer compost and recycling options. And when in doubt follow Be Zero’s Guide: How to Make Less Trash: The Simple Way
Feature image credit: crazystocker / Shutterstock