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When talking about zero waste, a lot of questions arise – what exactly is considered zero waste? How exactly does it help the environment? What about recycling – is it zero waste? Zero waste without a bulk store?
Depending on different factors such as where you live, and what options you have, zero-waste can be very intimidating to start and even impossible to achieve.
But does this mean you shouldn’t even try to live a waste-free lifestyle? Of course not! In this post, I will observe the questions from above, + more. We will go through:
What is considered zero waste?
How does zero-waste help the environment?
Does zero waste mean no recycling? Wait, are cans zero waste?
Does zero waste make a difference? How?
How to be zero waste without a bulk shop?
Ideas and solutions for living a sustainable lifestyle (which doesn’t include being zero waste)
Top 4 essential tips to start your zero waste journey
1. What is considered zero waste?
The most simple answer is:
The aim of living a zero-waste lifestyle is to send NOTHING to landfill, incinerators, or the ocean.
How to achieve it?
- by rethinking what we need AND the way we buy
- by refusing and not taking what we don’t need
- reducing the things we use
- reusing what we have
- repairing what we can
- composting our food waste
- recycling as little as possible (more about that later)
Sounds pretty intimidating, right?
Zero waste is not about focusing on the “ZERO,” literally.
The misconception here is often created online, by false images of the perfect zero wasters. That’s simply because not everyone shows the “ugly,” “wasteful,” side of their life. And that’s completely fine, too. It just creates a false image.
At some levels, I’m also showing most of my “almost perfect” zero waste lifestyle. I sometimes buy things that are not completely zero waste. I don’t share pictures of my plant-based milk in tetra packs. I’m not showing when I get tomato cans in aluminum, or all of my glass packaged foods (such as jam, ketchup, soy sauce, peanut butter or tahini).
Sure, sometimes I make my jam, ketchup, peanut butter, or oat milk. But how realistic is do to all the time EVERYTHING by myself?
Considering that I have a lot of free time, I still can’t find the time and will to do everything & always, by myself. But THAT’S OKAY. Do you know why? Because…
Zero waste is a goal, a philosophy that contains a set of beliefs:
- rethinking, refusing, reducing, reusing, repairing, composting, and lastly – recycling.
It is more of a goal or ideal rather than a complete target.
While it’s challenging to go zero waste in an imperfect world, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a positive impact. We most certainly can!
The truth is that it’s not about perfection; if you focus on that, it will drive you insane. You will also feel so guilty when you make a “mistake”, such as buying something in packaging.
Ultimately, it is about trying YOUR best, improving, and getting better along the way!
2. How does zero-waste help the environment?
Zero waste does have a positive impact on the environment. Let’s observe HOW the zero waste movement can help our planet:
Zero waste aims to preserve natural resources
When people reduce and reuse things, they buy less. That means they will make fewer products, plus there will be an increasing demand for items that are designed to last longer.
Zero waste helps conserve resources and reduce pollution
The current rate of consumption of the Earth’s natural resources is unsustainable (check Earth Overshoot Day for more about that).
A zero-waste belief is to reduce the overall consumption, which helps the environment by preventing the generation of waste and pollution.
Zero waste supports the reduction of global warming
The movement helps in reducing humans’ harmful influence on global climate patterns.
A massive amount of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the production of goods, such as processed food and plastic packaging materials. Refusing, reducing, and reusing conserve that energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Cleaner and environment-friendly eating habits
Going zero waste will reduce the packaged foods you might consume. You will focus on the ingredients from a bulk store, and farmer’s market to create balanced, healthy meals.
Moreover, since meat and other dairy foods are typically pre-packaged, zero waste goes hand-in-hand with reducing your consumption of animal products.
(which is a whole new topic on being more environmentally friendly).
Zero waste encourages circular economy*
Zero waste promotes a gradual shift of our linear consumption habits into a more circular, sustainable ones.
*Circular economy: an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.
No more food waste
Food that is thrown away often goes to a landfill. There, it is usually covered, which removes the oxygen and causes it to break down in an anaerobic process*.
This releases methane – a greenhouse gas, which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A principle of zero waste is to minimize household food waste. That can be done by MINDFUL shopping, not letting the food to rot, composting, cooking an appropriate amount of portions, etc.
*Anaerobic process: a biological process in which microorganisms break down organic material in the lack of oxygen.
Zero waste creates mindful & eco-friendly habits & activities
For instance, no more pointless shopping, taking a walk or a bike, instead of a bus, trying plant-based alternatives, cooking more at home, making your healthy snacks, instead of pre-packed foods, shopping second hand, etc.
Zero waste saves energy
A large portion of greenhouse gas emissions is linked to energy use in resource obtaining, manufacturing, transportation, and end-of-life stages.
Source reduction, reuse, and recycling can decrease the demand for raw materials and energy.
3. Does zero waste mean no recycling? Wait, are cans zero waste?
Zero waste doesn’t mean – no recycling.
However, it is essential to remember that recycling comes AFTER waste prevention – it is the last resort when it comes to living a zero-waste lifestyle.
The idea behind is to lower the waste you create, taking in different consideration factors in YOUR individual life.
The main point is to:
- SAY NO to the things that don’t align with our values, and that will create waste, soon after we use them.
- LOWER the number of things we buy and focusing on long-lasting & quality products.
- REUSE whatever we can, even if that means a jar from pickles.
- FIX if something gets broken, before throwing it away.
- RECREATE/DIY things, if possible.
- And just in the end it comes recycling.
Don’t forget that the idea is to pursue the goal of “zero” trash.
If you are thinking, “Okay, now I’m confused. So, are cans zero waste or not?“ remember that it depends on what options you personally have. If that’s your only & best option, then yes.
Cans might be the best zero waste choice for some who don’t have any other alternative.
4. Does zero waste make a difference? How?
People who are adopting the zero waste lifestyle are living with the everyday intention of not wasting or misusing resources.
Instead of that, they use and rely on high-quality, long-lasting, ethical, local, package-free, or biodegradable products.
The best part is that zero waste breaks this unsustainable and wasteful production/consumption cycle.
Zero waste can make a difference because it is a radical action to avoid such common, everyday things as plastic packaging and single-use plastics.
Furthermore, the zero-waste movement strives to reduce and eliminate a significant portion of the production of waste through conscious consumerism.
I was arguing with a person, and he said: “But people like you are a fraction of the world, and it won’t make a difference.”
But let me ask you something:
- Do you think many bad actions CAN make things worse? – I do.
- Do you agree many good actions CAN make things better? – I believe it can.
When people make an effort to avoid single-use products, such as a plastic bag, this will pile up. If we all believe that our choices can have a good/bad impact, we can really change things for the better.
So, if we have the change of taking a waste-free decision, why not?
5. How to be zero waste without a bulk shop?
Unfortunately, the majority of products we want or need in our everyday life are sold in packaging. Sometimes, it can be a hustle to get it package-free, especially if you don’t have a bulk shop nearby.
But don’t worry! In that case, there are still some things you can do.
1. Always choose loose. You probably have bigger supermarkets, where they offer loose veggies. Get reusable produce bags, and buy your fruits and vegetables from there.
2. Get reusables, if you can. This includes a reusable water bottle + container, a bag, utensils, maybe a coffee mug or a metal straw, etc.
3. Farmers market! Most cities have a market, at least once or twice per week. That’s an excellent opportunity to get fresh, local produce.
4. Find the best available option. Try to find the things you need in more sustainable packaging, such as in a glass, aluminum or recycled paper. (reuse + upcycle the containers if you can)
5. Look for places with a small bulk section. I was walking through a big supermarket in a regular shop, and I was happy to see a small, bulk section with different nuts and legumes. (see the picture below!)
You don’t need to find an exclusive bulk shop with a massive range of products. Try to see if there is a conventional supermarket close to you, with a small bulk section.
6. Ideas and solutions for living a sustainable lifestyle (which doesn’t include being zero waste)
Living more sustainable means leaving less carbon emission. This doesn’t always have to include ditching packaging or plastic.
There are other great ways of lowering your carbon emissions or/and reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills. Some ideas include:
- Contact companies/stores: You can start with local, but also with bigger ones. Write them an email and start a conversation. Let them know that you would like to lower your waste and that you enjoy their product.
Ask them if they are planning to reduce their packaging. Ultimately, this will have a more significant impact, since if they make a change, that will make it easier for others to be more sustainable.
- Shop secondhand: Fast fashion is having a huge negative impact on our planet. Consider shopping second hand.
- Ask for less package: When you are ordering something, send an email asking them to avoid plastic/extra packaging.
- Pick-up trash: Organize a local garbage pick-up or do it with a few of your friends on an area that needs a bit of cleaning!
- Consider flying less: If possible, think first of other ways of traveling, such as a bus or a train.
- Try to lower the consumption of animal products: This needs a whole separate post, but animal agriculture leaves one of the most significant impacts on our planet. Try to look at and incorporate plant-based alternatives.
7. Top 4 essential tips to start your zero waste journey
1) Do not overthink it:
Choose to live zero waste, but not to be the “perfect” zero waster.
Do it if you want to:
- use fewer resources from our precious planet
- lower your waste
- be a conscious consumer
Think about the pre and post-life of the products you buy. Try to avoid the things that will end up as a waste in the end.
2) Do not feel guilty, IF:
You buy something in plastic packaging. And you feel insanely guilty. Stop.Right.Now.
It can be hard, believe me, I know the feeling. But don’t be harsh to yourself and most certainly – don’t think you made a mistake.
- Try to find the thing you need package-free. If you can’t, take the best option you see (even if it contains packaging or plastic).
3) Try the 90-10 rule:
It is not my idea (I heard it somewhere), but I loved it, so let me share it with you!
- The idea of it is to try to buy 90% of your groceries, package-free (or at least plastic-free). Then, the last 10% can contain packaging. It just gives you this mental piece that you are ALMOST zero waste, which is still pretty good 🙂
- In the beginning, it can be even 80-20 (80% package-free and 30% with packaging) or even 70-30. Just start, and you will slowly become better and better!
4) And last but not least – don’t compare your journey with others.
We all have different needs, resources, and OPTIONS.
- Maybe you are on a vegan diet, and you certainly need a B12 supplement that comes in (possibly plastic) packaging.
- Or you live in a smaller city, with no access to bulk stores, so you need to buy packaged grains or other legumes. Try to find the best available option + consider reusing some of the packagings.
- Maybe you need particular medications (in packaging) that are important for your health.