Zero Waste Lifestyle. You probably heard people talking about this on social media; or seen brands slowly transitioning to cater people who are into this type of living. You might be among the many who keyed in these three words in a search engine out of curiosity; or better yet, you are someone interested to join the advocacy. Whatever the situation is, you are brought here for a reason: to learn more about the zero waste lifestyle.
These past years, the movement is slowly gaining prominence among people of ages, genders, and nationalities. Some perceive this as a solution, while others speculate this is a mere trend. But how should we view this lifestyle change? To answer that, take a look at the following headlines and you’ll soon find out why more people are shifting to a zero waste lifestyle.
“World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert” – The Guardian
“The UK is ‘acutley vulnerable’ to the impacts of climate change” – Environmental Journal
“By 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.” – The Guardian
“Rising sea levels could wipe out mangroves by 2050” – The Verge
Are these headlines familiar to you? Does your community have their own version of the events reported? Whatever is true, one thing is made certain—we are facing an environmental crisis.
The Rise of The Zero Waste Lifestyle
We heard the news, the world is facing terrors. We know because we also have our own taste of panic. Every day, we see how the world around us change so rapidly, but for the worse. We’ve seen the Amazon forest on fire, the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and now, the pandemic.
We know because we have a connection with nature. Our lives are dependent to it. We live in biodiversity: inhabits on the same land and breathes the same air. Our basic needs—food, shelter, and clothing—are all accessible from the environment. So with these accounts on hand, we sure know that the impacts are global. And what we can observe today are only visions of the future consequences.
Indeed, we are in the midst of a planet crisis.
The prime movers of zero waste traced back the catastrophic natural events to human lifestyle. Our overly selfish way of living has caused pollution over oceans and river streams, air, and land. Soon, our children and the later generations might not have a habitable planet to inherit. An urgent change is needed.
A particular solution shows promise: joining the Zero Waste Movement. In the past 10 years, this lifestyle change grows in popularity. Names of both female and male personalities set the bar of a clean and green way of life. Some of them are responsible for changing the way we pack things, or how we buy goods, even the way we dress. They showed that the movement involves the responsible consumption of products from food to clothing, to recreation and household activities.
Zero waste lifestyle movement is also concerned at reducing and eliminating our trash. Moreover, it changes how we perceive the things around us. The movement is a reflection of how we live.
That said, zero waste requires a drastic lifestyle alteration. It was already been practiced even before the name become known. If other people can do it, you can do it, too! Everyone can participate in contributing for the preservation of the environment.
However, many misinterpretations make zero waste beginners skeptical. Let’s break these myths before they even crush our zero waste living spirits.
Common Misconceptions About Zero Waste
Here are some of the most common Zero Waste misconceptions:
The famous trash jar
“Zero Waste” may oftentimes be associated to mason jars or the no-trash-at-all concept. While the causes of this practice are noble, these notions do not represent Zero Waste at all.
First, the Zero Waste Movement is based on reality. It is sensible of the environment, thus, campaigning for more environmental awareness. Because of this, they find “having no waste at all” as something that isn’t feasible; something that is too idealistic. All of us end up wasting something or the other. The important point is to know where you are unnecessarily wasteful and curb that part.
Also, the trash jar touted by zero waste personalities such as Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson? It doesn’t tell the whole story of zero waste. It’s misleading, and doesn’t account for energy/resource waste or recycling. There’s so much more to zero waste than that. Instead, zero waste is more of changing how we interact with materials, such as what the famous zero waste pioneer Eric Lombardi believe. Well, we will get to that later.
This also establishes the ideal of perfection – which the zero waste movement certainly doesn’t advocate for. After all, zero waste is not a goal or a contest, but a journey. Instead, you should see what trash you’re making and figure out how to eliminate it.
You don’t have to make everything at home to be zero waste. Yes, there are some stuffs you can DIY such as makeup, soap, or herb mixes. Activities like this can improve your finances and perspective to things. But this is not the “be all, end all” of zero waste.
Rather, DIY-ing is a band aid solution to the big problem in the picture. Major industries simply don’t give everyone access to the products we actually want or need with little to none wasteful packaging.
The do-it-yourself process is a transition until you have better options in the market for your necessities. In addition, DIY-ing is not a realistic production model in the long run for families. The most important thing is to make what you can. Then look for better, more sustainable ways of procuring things that you cannot source on your own.
Out with the old plastic, in with the new reusables.
Most zero wasters recommend using up all your old disposables and plastics before replacing them with sustainable alternatives. In fact, they advocate for saving money and trash by not immediately throwing away your current plastic wares. You don’t need to discard plastics immediately, just don’t buy or get new ones any longer.
Zero Waste living is expensive.
Many think that the zero waste movement is elitist because you can only do with bulk stores, bulk bins, or farmers’ markets. However, the aforementioned stores are not the only sources of zero waste groceries.
You can buy unpackaged produce from most supermarkets, breads from bakeries, and buy food with less plastic bags – you just need to ask store managers. Or you could buy in bulk and save more money on less packaging, even if it’s plastic.
You don’t have to cough up big bucks to shop with zero waste. You just need to be creative on the way you shop. All the more, the greater you use reusable items, the more savings you have because you do not have to pay for continuously using plastics.
Zero Waste living is feminist.
With the many female changemakers behind the movement, many may think that zero waste is feminist. The contributions of women in zero waste is perceived vital. They are cherished. However, contrary to the popular notion, there are men in the zero waste community. Active roles are taken also by male counterparts and they have been there since the beginning of the movement.
Zero waste activities for men are also abundant. They can enjoy these activities without being intimidated or misrepresented because of their gender.
But what is zero waste really?
The term “zero waste” first came about in the 1970s. PhD Yale chemist Paul Palmer founded Zero Waste Solutions. The company started with the purpose of obtaining excess, unwanted laboratory chemicals free from many sources and then reselling them for half of their original, quite expensive prices. Although it closed in the nineteen eighties, Dr. Palmer was able to exert his influence on the zero waste lifestyle through his 2005 book, Getting to Zero Waste.
However, even before the term “zero waste” was coined, the movement was already in motion. The Zero Waste Movement began in 1996 with a protest on the plaza in front of Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta. Twenty-five people marched and chanted about Coca-Cola breaking their promise of using 10-percent recycled content in their bottling process. The leader of that group was Eric Lombardi. He was the first to push the vision of zero waste living in public and through media.
Recycling was no longer enough to solve the issue of waste overload in the environment. Rather, the journey people must take now is one where we make the world use less resources, eliminates toxic materials, builds things to last, and is then easy to reuse, recycle or compost at the end of its intended uses.
From the onset of the movement, Lombardi said, it was never about perfection. It wasn’t a simple fix such as “zero landfilling” or “100-percent recycling”. Such a thing would place everything on the consumer. It is a journey, not a goal. It is a lifestyle, not a contest.
Being a successful zero waster was diverting 90 percent of trash from landfill. This percentage is feasible and realistic enough but not demanding too much of people who want to live the zero waste lifestyle.
Rather than “Zero Waste”, the movement is all about promoting the “Zero Waste…Or Darn Near” slogan. The latter term supports the need to shake up the recycling industry out of its current slumber and get back on track changing the world for the better.
Zero Waste as a Solution
As a lifestyle, the zero waste movement affects all aspects of our being. While it is mainly beneficial to the environment as what this article emphasizes, going zero waste also improves our moral and spiritual standing, our decision-making, and our health, too.
Zero waste lessens pollution.
It’s not a secret, zero waste protects and preserves our planet. In our daily activities, we produce unwanted wastes that usually goes to the environment. For instance, our way of transportation contributes to 28% of the greenhouse gases produced. Meanwhile, the use of products from our homes and in the workplace adds 12% more of hazardous gaseous wastes to the environment.
More than we do, our Mother Earth suffers the most. The unrecycled plastics ends up in landfills and in oceans, and the many more toxic wastes from factories or even from homes pollutes the elements of nature—air, water, and earth. But since zero waste is concerned at reducing the use of unnecessary things—from packaging to consumer goods—we also give the Earth a break from all the stress of pollution.
Zero waste preserves resources.
Speaking of products, the stuff we use at occasional and daily basis are mostly sourced from the environment. For instance, the reams of bond paper you just printed out in school or at work, came from trees; the petrol you just filled your tank are from beneath the grounds; and whatever stuff you had in your desk is produced by factories which probably uses coal or natural gas in manufacturing.
While obtaining things that we need aren’t bad at all, having products that are from or produced from unethically resourced raw materials or irresponsible processes must be a pang in the chest.
In zero waste, however, enthusiasts are inspired to only buy products that does not post harm to the environment. Advocates, including you, are turned into wise consumers. This contributes to the conservation of the natural resources.
Zero waste saves money.
Still thinking zero waste is expensive? Stop the worry. Zero waste actually saves your money. Before going zero waste, a lot of us may enjoy meaningless spending or hauls. We think we buy what we need. Later on, we may find out that only half of what we purchased are useful. Thus, the rest goes to trash (sooner or later).
In zero waste, movers are shaped to redefine their “needs”. They are also urged to think how products contribute to various forms of pollution. For instance, a product may overly use plastic in packaging, or simply, the product may have one-time use. If this is so, zero wasters will most likely skip purchasing this item.
The movement also encourages bulk buying as this can save money that we pay for packaging, transporting, or consuming goods.
Moreover, zero waste focuses on long-lasting and quality products. Just like what’s mentioned, they are into products that can still be used over and over again. This can help our finances a lot, as we do not have to deal with items that only goes to trash after a couple of uses.
Environmental and social responsibility goes hand-in-hand in zero waste. This approach honors the marginalized community including women, artisans, local farmers, and more.
Small businesses inspired or adopting zero waste lifestyle prioritizes smaller communities in sourcing, processing, and crafting their products. They also allot ample amount to help these people by providing their needs, or involving them to meaningful activities.
Going zero waste leads to healthier lifestyle.
Most food available in the supermarket have an environmental setback. For instance, they may have unnecessary plastic packaging, or manufactured in an irresponsible way. What happens when you cut them out of your diet? Surprisingly, you spare your body from junk as well when you choose zero waste shopping. Most products available in the market are packed with harmful ingredients. Meanwhile, food that are sourced in ethical ways are commonly organic, uses plant-based packaging, or are packageless at all!
Cooking zero waste recipes is also good not only on the environment. It is highly beneficial for your family, too.
In addition, zero waste leads you to choose activities that are actually healthy as well. For instance, you can enjoy new hobbies such as walking, hiking, or gardening as leisure. This makes you both physically active and eco-friendly as well.
A zero waste lifestyle favors circular economy.
The vision of a circular economy and a cleaner environment is at the heart of the zero waste movement. After all, the consumer can only do so much with the resources he or she can access.
The companies and the economic power makers have the biggest roles to change the linear economy (which sees many disposables go to landfill and pollute the earth) into a circular economy.
Pressuring and demanding our economy to move to a circular economy is tantamount to waste removal. With this type of economy, everything is meant to be reused over and over again. Meanwhile, linear economic model of today treat most things as only good for one-use.
This is zero waste living – to advocate for a cleaner environment through a circular economy by living it yourself.
Going zero waste makes you a better person.
Zero waste is concerned on how every action affects others. When you embrace the zero waste lifestyle, you’ll be more mindful of others than you ever imagined. It will also teach you to become a wise decision-maker as you always think of the consequences before jumping at conclusions.
Moreover, it enhances your relationship with your family and friends, people at the community, and to the planet as well.
Living with zero waste is not only practical but should be actively encouraged because it is one of the best ways to protect the environment. When we use our lives to do that cause, we make strong gestures of our love and support for the planet.
Rather than being overwhelmed by all the hype (trash jars and all) and intimidated or fooled by misconceptions, we need to look deeper into our lifestyle and where it comes from.
Striving to be zero waste is not just to lessen pollution from the side of the consumers, but more so to pressure companies and manufacturers to change how they produce – to make their production process more sustainable.
At the end of the day, the lifestyle we choose reflects our overall motivation. If we choose zero waste, we choose to be loving and mindful. We opt for a better future. We decide for a better planet.
We all have roles to play in saving the only habitat we have. So today, ask yourself this: What role do I play?