Zero Waste Living Guide
Imagine living such a sustainable life that all the trash you threw away in a year fit into a mason jar. By reusing, composting, recycling, and simply not purchasing items that are pre-packaged in the first place, the effort is entirely possible to eliminate your trash output nearly. This is the ultimate goal of the Zero Waste movement.
What is Zero Waste?
The Zero Waste International Alliance provides a general definition of the concept:
“Zero Waste is the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning, and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
To the average person, this means attempting to eliminate trash and waste. This is achieved through a waste hierarchy of the Five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.
The idea is to refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need; reuse items; recycle what cannot be refused, reduced, or reused; and rot, or compost, everything else.
Overall, the goal is to produce less waste to preserve the environment. For every garbage can on the curb, there is 87 cans’ worth of material produced, such as timber and petroleum. This also includes mining and agricultural processes. While it’s nearly impossible to produce absolutely zero waste, it’s not uncommon for Zero Waste adherents to produce a large mason jar of trash per year. It’s rooted in minimalism and sustainability, both of which require a more organized lifestyle.
Preparing for Zero Waste Living
As Bea Johnson told Time Magazine, the transition to Zero Waste living is not an overnight process. The key is to ease into each R slowly, and design a living space that promotes the Rs.
Refusing is easy enough. If you are at a conference for work, refuse to take the goodies you don’t need. Don’t take anything will not use consistently. This can also apply to things like bank statements in the mail. Instead of getting a monthly paper statement, which you would have to recycle, go paperless. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it or take it home.
Reduce what you need in terms of things in your house, or at the grocery store. This part may be hard in the beginning.
Preparing for reusing is easy. All you need to do is stop acquiring and/or donate single-use items. Plastic water bottles, paper plates and napkins, plastic cutlery and plastic K-cups are a great place to start. Johnson, who is credited with popularizing the idea of Zero waste, noted the best place to start is in the kitchen.
The final R, rot, only requires an area for composting. The bigger the area, the better. It’s entirely possible to replace what was your kitchen trash can into a composting area for dryer lint, hair, and fingernail clippings.
As mentioned, Zero Waste has roots in minimalism. You might find that reorganizing your items now that you are going to be reusing them, can help promote your new mindset. Consider functional storage solutions if there are items you want or need to keep, but aren’t fitting into your newly designed space. These might also be items you are on the fence about getting rid of. If you find you don’t need it after some time in storage, donate the item.
Zero Waste Supplies
With preparations complete, it’s time to hit the one unmentioned R from above: reuse. You’ll need items like reusable water bottles, Tupperware or other reusable containers, mason jars, and reusable cloth shopping bags.
One of the critical parts of getting supplies is buying high-quality items over low-quality items. High-quality items, while a more substantial initial investment, last longer than low-quality items.
Converting to a zero waste lifestyle will also mean needing less space in your house for all of the single-use items. In this way, adopting a zero waste lifestyle can help you declutter your life, allowing for a simpler lifestyle that would make Marie Kondo proud.
Zero Waste Eating
The Grocery Store
The first step to Zero Waste eating is bringing your reusable supplies to the grocery store. You can ask the butcher to put meat and fish directly into your reusable containers, saving the environment from packaging, and use your bags instead of paper or plastic when checking out. There are even companies that still recycle glass milk bottles.
Another significant element is refusing to use packaged foods. The packaging is waste. While it may be impossible to reject all of it, that’s where recycling comes in. Buy food in containers that you will be able to reuse, or comes in sustainable packaging that can be composted. Foods that can be bought in bulk, like beans and rice, are perfect for your new lifestyle. In all, going Zero Waste is likely going to necessitate a change in diet.
Depending on where you live, it might be possible to nearly cut out the grocery store, as well. Grocery stores use packaging that is not strictly needed. Farmers markets, on the other hand, do not usually pre-packaged items, giving you the perfect opportunity to use your reusable containers. A trip to the farmers market can get you healthy, seasonal food with very little waste. The parts of the products you can’t eat, such as a carrot stem, can be composted. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting local businesses.
Any food that you don’t eat — which will hopefully be minimal — as well as things like paper, leaves, egg cartons, egg and nut shells, toilet paper, and organic matter, can be composted. Depending on your living situation, you might be able to compost in your apartment or your backyard or contribute to a city compost. Your preferred composting method may preclude some items, such as meat, from being composted.
Zero Waste living is not an overnight transition. It requires you to change your thinking, put in the effort, and probably change your diet. However, it can be sustainable, and it will help the environment. As a bonus, you will likely be able to declutter your living space and better organize your home.