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What is zero waste, and how to get started with the 5R’s of zero waste?
Waste has huge environmental impacts and can cause serious problems, to our environment, wildlife, and humans.
Luckily, the zero waste movement is gaining more and more popularity, and people are more aware of plastic pollution.
With that said, let’s dive into the concept of zero waste a bit deeper and observe the most common questions. We will cover the following:
What exactly is zero waste?
What is the concept of zero waste? (the 5R’s)
Is recycling considered zero waste?
How does zero waste help the environment?
Who started the zero waste movement?
1. What EXACTLY is ”zero waste”?
Zero waste is philosophy, an ethical, economical and efficient GOAL, that encourages all products to be reused and no trash to be burned or sent to the landfills or the ocean.
The intention is to reduce what we need, to reuse as much as possible, to recycle as little as possible (as the goal is to produce close to NONE trash) and lastly, to compost anything that we cannot recycle.
Simply put, the aim is NOTHING to be sent to the landfills/oceans.
Uh, does sounds a bit overwhelming?
Don’t worry – it isn’t as hard as you might think!
The only thing that you will need in this journey is your will to find more sustainable choices, to the everyday disposable items.
And remember – it won’t happen overnight!
2. What is the concept of zero waste?
There are plenty of ways to describe the concept of zero waste. But it is simply a ”no-waste” approach that is sustainable for us and for the environment.
It is reconsidering and changing our way of consuming.
Zero waste encourages you to start making conscious decisions about the materials we buy.
Rather than using something once/or for a very short period of time/ and throwing it away, we should value all resources and we should shift our consumption purchases into more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Furthermore, there is the 5R’s of the zero waste lifestyle:
It is quite straight forward – refuse the things that you don’t need.
What could that be?
1) Single-use products such as plastic straws, bags, cups or cutlery, paper for wrapping food, napkins, receipts, etc.
Always have a reusable bag with you and simply say ”no, thanks” to all the unnecessary stuff.
2) Freebies such as stickers, pens, brochures, visit cards, etc
Even though it can be challenging, especially at the beginning to say ”no”, just remember that you are NOT RUDE by avoiding things or situations that simply don’t serve you and that don’t aline with your values.
Have a friendly voice and do not overthink – just say that you don’t really need whatever they are offering to you.
As a matter of fact, if the person is curious why you refuse, it might be a great opportunity to explain and share about zero waste, which may spark an interest and it can even motivate the X person to learn more about it!
For business cards, you can simply take a picture with your phone, so you can still accept the information, however without the physical item!
3) Junk mail
A simple solution is to put a sign saying that you only want ”Addressed mail only” or you can even return or contact the sender.
4) Unsustainable businesses
As a matter of fact, you may decide to rethink if you want to support the huge companies and fast food restaurants, that are using a lot of plastic and disposable materials, which often end in the landfill or ocean.
Look around and find some local small places, such as coffee shops who opposes the use of disposables! You will be surprised to find some amazing alternatives out there!
Let’s be honest, how much of your clothes in your wardrobe you really use?
And overall, how many things you use on a daily basis in your house?
At least for me, I know that I have plenty of clothes and things that I used a few times and that was it.
Now, all of these things are collecting dust and are completely unused. Well, not for too long!
Luckily, there are ways to reduce and decrease your consumption.
The best way to transit into a zero waste lifestyle is to STOP buying on an impulse and be conscious of each decision, even if it is small!
And do you want to hear the good news?
Reducing your general consumption will be easy if you want to start a zero-waste lifestyle… why?
Well, simply because almost everything (especially in the supermarket) comes packaged in plastic.
So you will need to find some alternatives, such as:
- a food market where people don’t wrap everything in plastic
- bulk shops, from where you can get your nuts, grains, and pasta!
- second-hand stores for some awesome clothes, when needed
- the last which is one of my favorites: learn how to make your OWN stuff (shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste, food goodies that you can’t find without plastic packaging, etc.)
So, going forward, what MORE can you do in order to reduce your consumption?
Sell, donate, recycle, compost everything you don’t need.
Then, review your previous consumption and figure out what made you buy them.
Furthermore, decrease your future consumption:
– by eliminating the activities that lead to consumption
– by taking more mindful and conscious decisions
3. Reuse (+repair)
This one is all about shifting up disposable things for reusable, eco-friendly and permanent options!
A few examples (+links to Amazon):
Plastic toothbrush – Bamboo toothbrush
Cotton rounds – Reusable cotton rounds
Paper towels – Cotton cloths
Tissues – Handkerchiefs
Baking paper – Reusable silicon mat
Dish sponge – Eco sponge Loofah
Shampoo bottles – Shampoo bars
Menstrual pads/tampons – Menstrual cup, reusable pads
Plastic bag – Reusable bag
Water bottle – Stainless steel water bottle
Plastic straws – Stainless steel/bamboo straws
Food wraps – Prepare your own food in reusable food containers
… the list can go on and on!
The most important one is to simply always bring your reusable’s with you!
Furthermore, try to repair something if it gets broken and buy things second hand! These two are very important, too.
This step is all about recycling what we can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse.
Luckily, with some time and effort, you will see that after you have refused, reduced, composted, and reused, there shouldn’t be much left to recycle!
However, until then, you should still separate your trash and make sure that we all give our best so we can avoid filling our landfills.
The last step is composting! But wait, what can you compose?
It depends on the method that you will choose!
But often it is a wide variety of food scraps, like meat, fish, cooked foods, dairy, and citrus.
Okay, but how to compose?
Well, there are a few options here.
For instance, some cities have a green bin program or a composting program for organic waste, which is awesome!
If they don’t offer that, no worries!
You can simply get a larger bin and place your kitchen scraps there.
Another indoor option is vermicomposting – a bunch of worms transforming your organic waste into mineral-rich garden soil!
If you don’t want to do it at home, you can try a backyard composting, too.
For garden composts and vermicomposts, you will be able to compost plant materials like coffee grinds, loose tea, veggie scraps, non-citrus fruit peels, and seeds, nut shells, egg shells, brown paper, hair (non-chemically processed), nail clippings (unpolished) and fireplace ashes.
3. Is recycling considered zero waste?
Zero waste means not more, but LESS recycling! How and why is that?
Well, the whole point of zero waste is to reduce your TRASH to almost nothing.
There is one main goal, which is: producing no waste and sending (almost) nothing to landfill.
In fact, recycling is not the best or even a good solution. It requires a huge amount of resources and energy and as a matter of fact, we recycle a very small amount.
It is calculated that worldwide, we recycle about 9%… just 9%!!!
The United States: 31.5%
4. How does zero waste help the environment?
1) Zero waste saves resources and minimizes pollution
We extract materials from the Earth, that are using big amounts of energy and they cause pollution.
Furthermore, in order to use them, we need to process these materials, which requires again a lot of energy.
The worst part is that once we use them, we dump these products, that required so much energy and caused pollution and in the end – they usually end up in the landfill.
We can all agree that these consumption patterns are quite unsustainable.
The zero waste approach saves natural resources and reduces the used energy and pollution.
Since the zero waste goal is to refuse, reduce and reuse, we buy less new products since the one we have been made to last for a very long time.
2) Zero waste reduces our climate impact
Zero waste can play a huge role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and shifting climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions are caused by certain chemical reactions that are used in order to produce goods, from raw materials (including food, products, and packaging).
So, by reducing, reusing and recycling, we can save that energy and dramatically decrease our carbon emissions.
Simply put, cutting down your waste is an effective and important method of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, which is a contributing factor to global warming.
Overall, zero waste has plenty of benefits for the environment!
It aids in producing less pollution of the air, land, and water, plus it helps us to save energy, resources, water, and landfill space!
There are more benefits that come with a zero-waste lifestyle, not only for the environment but also for the society and the economy!
In case you are interested, find out even more zero waste BENEFITS here.
5. Who started the zero waste movement?
In the last 20 years, the term ”No Waste” was expressing the goals of recycling activists, became Zero Waste and a social movement bearing that name quickly took root in the USA, Europe, Asia, and the entire globe.
In 1995, Dr. Daniel Knapp of Urban Ore, Berkeley, traveled for a series of talks with governments, businesses, and citizens.
He visited major cities and talked about how to maximize materials recovery and minimize wasting by reusing, recycling, and composting everything currently being wasted.
Zero waste reached a peak in 1998–2002.
Zero waste is all about:
reducing, reusing, refusing, redesigning, refilling, renewing, recycling, repairing, recovering, refurbishing, restoring, recharging, reselling, and composting.
I know… a lot of -re’s!
Unfortunately, plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of it still exists in some form.
That means that this material will outlive all of us. And let me tell you that this concept scares me.
Ultimately, I want you to remember that zero waste is a journey; it is not a goal. No one will be zero waste ever.
Being perfect is NOT an essential part. What matters is TO start with one thing at a time!