The zero-waste movement has attracted more and more interest in recent years with the apparition of zero-waste lifestyle bloggers and organisations advocating a zero-waste society.
However, the concept can seem a little abstract to many, especially if it is taken literally. And of course, many of you may wonder if a zero-waste lifestyle is even possible in today’s society. So, what is the zero-waste movement exactly and how can it be achieved?
What is the zero-waste movement and what are the benefits?
The zero-waste movement is a set of principles focused on preventing waste from being generated in the first place, and from being sent to landfills or incinerators.
In 2004, the Zero Waste International Alliance adopted the following official definition of Zero Waste: “The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” http://zwia.org/zero-waste-definition/
Put more simply, the zero-waste movement is a set of principles focused on preventing waste from being generated in the first place and from being sent to landfills or incinerators.
Adopting zero-waste across communities therefore has numerous health and environmental benefits, such as reducing the need for landfill space, improving air and water quality and ultimately preventing pollutants from entering the ecosystem. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_waste#2009:_The_Zero_Waste_lifestyle_movement_emerges
With 8.8 billion tons of plastic estimated to have been produced since the 1950’s and only 9% of it having ever been recycled, the zero-waste movement also puts into question the way we manage our waste and the efficiency of recycling.
Moreover, when you consider China’s recent import ban on sorted waste, we should also be thinking about the ethical implications of shipping our unwanted waste to other countries and expecting them to deal with it.
You might say that in today’s consumerist society it is next to impossible to avoid generating waste, especially when you think of all the plastic packaged goods you can find at the supermarket. So how do you start eliminating your waste or at least reducing the amount of waste you produce?
How to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle?
Personally, I think that the term zero-waste can seem a little radical. And that is probably what makes the concept so daunting, especially when you consider that many zero-waste advocates claim to fit one year’s accumulation of rubbish into a single jar! I prefer to think of it as “low waste” or “almost zero-waste”, because it can be tricky to eliminate waste completely, especially if you are starting out on your zero-waste journey. It is definitely a gradual process and it takes some time to declutter your life and work out a system that works for you. I would also add that you have to work hard to change your frame of mind and think differently about the way you buy things.
For me zero-waste is also about making more sustainable decisions when you shop. It’s thinking about how your food is produced (is it Fairtrade, is it organic), where your food comes from (what is the carbon footprint and has it been sourced locally?) and finally how it has been packaged (is the packaging sustainable?). Naturally, becoming zero-waste means that you have to understand your buying habits so that you can figure out which items you buy the most, how they are are packaged and how and if you can replace them with unpackaged versions (or at least more sustainable packaging).
How to change your habits progressively?
If you want to start somewhere, then the simplest thing you can do is to start refusing disposable items. The most obvious items are single-use plastic and paper bags. You just need to remember to carry a reusable bag with you when you go out. If you want to take it one step further, then why not carry your own reusable cutlery next time you get a take-away meal?
Another simple thing you can do is to stop buying bottled water and instead carry a reusable water bottle. You could even take it a little further and carry a reusable coffee or tea cup. Quite a few high-street coffee shops will accept to refill your cup and will even give you a discount.
Think about the things that you buy packaged and try to replace one or two of those items with a more sustainable packaging option, such as glass, cans or even recycled paper/cardboard. Or you could choose a few of your favourite items and try buying them loose or at the bulk bins. Easy items to buy loose are fruit and vegetables or even nuts, dried fruit and pulses, which are widely available.
Finally, instead of buying ready-made packaged items, see if you can make some of them yourself. For example, you could make your own tortilla wraps or pita bread, instead of buying them ready-made. They are both so easy to make and taste so much nicer home-made. In general, the do-it-yourself option is a great zero-waste hack. You could try making your own detergents. All you need are a few key ingredients such as soap shavings (make sure they don’t contain palm oil), vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to make things like washing powder or an all-purpose cleaning product. You can even fill up on vinegar and bicarbonate of soda in some bulk stores.
As for cosmetics you could try using solid shampoo or deodorant, fill-up at the bulk store or even make your own.
Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is a personal journey
Of course, adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is a personal journey. There is no right or wrong answer as to how it is done. The important thing is not to make yourself feel guilty about your choices or the waste you do produce. Just try to do the best you can to reduce your dependency on packaged and convenience foods. It’s more about aiming to change your lifestyle gradually and making more sustainable decisions.
It probably won’t be easy to set-up at first but once you get your bearings, you will find that a zero-waste lifestyle is rewarding in so many ways and it will become second nature to you!
I hope this advice will inspire you to start living a zero-waste lifestyle and perhaps give you the confidence to kick-start your zero-waste journey. This article will be the first of a series of articles on how to become zero-waste so make sure you stay tuned!