What is zero-waste? The simple answer: Reduce the amount we send to a landfill to zero. Easy right? Just reduce reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send a little to be recycled, and compost if we can.
The less simple answer: It's more about restructuring the system. We currently live in a linear economy where we take resources from the earth and then dump them into a giant hole in the ground (I don't mean to make a mountain out of a molehill, but. . . ).
The goal of zero waste is to move to a circular economy where we write trash out of existence. The circular economy mimics nature in that there is no trash in nature. Instead of discarding resources, we create a system where all resources can be resumed fully back into the system.
The Water Cycle, the Nitrogen Cycle, the Carbon Cycle. . . Lunar Cycles, Solar Cycles, Circadian Rhythms. . . Nature works in cycles, why shouldn't we?
The Problems. . .
The average american sends 4.4lbs of trash to the landfill every day. We live in a disposable society where we don't value our belongings, and we're consuming way too many resources.
Each year we have Earth Overshoot Day to mark when we've consumed all of the resources the earth can sustainably produce for the coming year. Earth Overshoot day was August 2nd of 2017. We're essentially consuming 1.5 earths.
. . . With Landfills
Beyond our overconsumption problem, landfills are toxic. They're responsible for 20% of the methane emissions in the US, and they aren't aerated for proper decomposition of natural materials. Toxins from cleaners, batteries, small electronics (and other items that shouldn't be landfilled) leach into the soil and can run off into the ocean and ground water when it rains.
A lot of trash doesn't even make it to the landfill. Instead it clutters the sides of roads and swirls in the ocean. Plastic is especially dangerous to the ocean, marine life, and our health. It doesn't biodegrade it photodegrades which means it only gets smaller and smaller.
Each micro-plankton in the ocean has 36 micro-plastic pieces to match. Plastic breaks down so small that it's in drinking 90% of drinking water both bottled and tap world wide.
Zero-waste is as good a philosophy for you as it is for the environment. Keep that in mind.
Isn't Recycling. . .
There's simply too much to process, and we're just consuming way too much. Recycling isn't a perfect solution. While it plays into the solution, we have to lessen our dependence. Did you know, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled?
There's a reason recycle is LAST. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"
. . . the Solution?
Recycle shouldn't be the first line of defense, it should be a last resort. Most of our recycling isn't even processed in the US. It's processed in China, and China has put a ban on paper and plastic bales over 1% contamination. To put this in perspective, the best recycling facilities in the US are currently operating at 4% contamination level.
I'm not telling you this to prevent you from recycling. I'm telling you this so you can recycle better and depend on it less. You can read more about recycle rates here. Instead focus your efforts on reducing and reusing.
Conservation is as much a learning opportunity as it is a social endeavor, and at the intersection lies creativity.
Reducing and Reusing
You don't need everything you think you "need." So many products are sold to us for a specific use. But, you don't need a separate cleaner for the floor, the windows, and the bathroom. You don't need eight blue sweaters. By reducing what we need, we're reducing what we'll eventually throw out.
Before making any purchase, wait. Spend some time, think about whether or not you truly need it.
When you do need to buy something, check the second hand market first. Reuse something that already exists, and instead of using disposables focus on reusables (i.e. hankies instead of tissues.) which will intern also reduce what you need.
One Person: Big Dif
Every day you have the decision to positively impact the planet. How do you get to work? How do you buy your groceries? What are you eating? What are you buying? Everything is interconnected. Every purchase you make is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.
You don't vote only at the ballot box. You vote every day.
With just one small step at a time, you can greatly reduce your footprint. But, going zero waste isn't just great for the environment, you'll notice an improvement in your quality of life. Side effects include eating better, feeling better, saving money, and not having to take out the trash!