Zero Waste Lifestyle: Beyond The Hype

A heart-shaped representation of the zero waste lifestyle using common symbols of being eco-friendly.
Image by WCLS Blaine Library via WhatcomTALK.com

Zero Waste Lifestyle. Ever wonder why this is slowly gaining prominence among people of all ages, genders and nationalities? Take a look at the following headlines and you’ll soon find out why more people are shifting to a zero waste lifestyle.

Turtles getting stuck with straws in their noses“.

Whales ending up on shores with several bags worth of plastic in their bellies.”

By 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.”

Microplastics unknowingly being consumed by humans.

These headlines are but a few of the stories that threaten our normal lives with the problems in the environment. They show how the waste we produce in our lives can affect nature and our own lifestyle. With rising sea water levels and heat temperatures, a lifestyle change must come for humans. Or else our children and later generations might not have a habitable planet to inherit.

One of the lifestyle changes growing in popularity in the recent 10 years is the Zero Waste Movement. It involves the conscientious consumption of products. This is a drastic lifestyle change, but it has been done already and you can do it, too. This is a good way for anybody to contribute to the preservation of the environment. However, many misconceptions and misinterpretations can turn off would-be zero wasters.

Common Misconceptions About Zero Waste

Here are some of the most common Zero Waste misconceptions:

A. The famous trash jar – “Zero Waste” doesn’t mean no trash at all. It isn’t feasible in our world right now. 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. Also, it 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. Rather, you should see what trash you’re making and figure out how to eliminate it.

Hands shown creating crafty items such as buttons and pins.
Image by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

B. DIY everything. – You don’t have to make everything at home to be zero waste. Yes, there are some things you can DIY such as makeup, soap, or herb mixes. 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. Also, 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.

C. 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.

D. 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 more you use reusable items, the more savings you have because you do not have to pay for continuously using plastics.

But what is zero waste really?

Paul Palmer, the scientist who coined the term "zero waste" with his company, Zero Waste Solutions.
Image by Paul Palmer via LinkedIn

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.

The Zero Waste Movement began in 1996 with a protest on the plaza in front of Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta. 25 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 go through is one that we live in a world where it uses 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 inset 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 is the world needs to shake up the recycling industry out of its current slumber and get back on track changing the world for the better.

Conclusion

Living with zero waste is not only feasible but should be actively encouraged because it is a good way for us to be active in protecting the environment through what we do in our own lives.

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 moreso to pressure companies and manufacturers to change how they produce – to make their production process more sustainable.

The circular economy
Image by WSP

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.

It’s the companies and the economic power makers who have the biggest role 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 because with a circular economy, everything is meant to be reused over and over again instead of the linear economic model of today wherein most things are good for one use and no more.

This is the essence of zero waste living – to advocate for a cleaner environment through a circular economy by living it yourself.

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Comments

  1. […] The best way to think of saving money is to set it aside for important times. You don’t lose money when you save. Rather, it’ll be there when you need it. Emphasis on the word NEED. To really save, you need to choose how you spend money. Live below – not above – your means. If you have problems with saving, you need a drastic lifestyle change. One effective way to change your lifestyle and save money is to move to a zero waste lifestyle. […]

  2. […] Going zero waste is a difficult lifestyle shift. But if you’re determined enough to care more about the world you live in, this lifestyle is a great step towards combating climate change. Zero waste here doesn’t mean completely zero waste thrown. Rather, it means the least possible amount of trash towards landfill. Managing your waste is different in this lifestyle. Instead of the 3Rs (Reduce. Reuse, Recycle), practice the 5 R’s of zero waste. […]

  3. […] Everything we use comes from natural resources. And when we waste things such as food, paper and clothing, the natural resources which were extracted in the process of such production is also wasted. The more you waste, the greater the effects of such activities to the environment. The best way to help save the Amazon and other forests in danger is to practice a lifestyle that will be conscious of one’s consumption. You need to live more sustainably and less wasteful. […]

  4. Great post! It’s so true what you said about zero waste living being a journey, and I think the same goes for veganism. We don’t need 1 person doing it perfectly, we need 100s of people doing it imperfectly!!

    – Charlotte / charlottesspaceonline.blogspot.com

  5. We try to cut back on how much waste we have. I do feel guilty sometimes. What are some of your favorite products to use to stop using single use plastics, etc.?

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