What is a Zero Waste Lifestyle?

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A zero waste lifestyle is about moving towards a circular economy where we wipe trash out of existence. A circular economy stands on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Here, we create a system where all resources are often resumed and consumed fully back into the system instead of resources being discarded. We commit to reducing what we need, reuse as much as we can, and send very little/zero waste to be recycled.

Unfortunately, we reside in a society where we don’t value our belongings and consume way too many resources. The more we consume, the more landfills get filled.

Toxins from cleaners, batteries, small electronics (and other items that should not be in landfills) leach into the soil and may escape into the ocean and groundwater when it rains.

Plastic is hazardous to the ocean, marine life, and our health. It doesn’t biodegrade.

Plastic is present in 90% of drinking water – both bottled and tap, worldwide. It’s no surprise that our world is getting sicker by the minute.

Just one person can make a difference by simply committing to consuming less and being more conscious about waste using the 5R principle. 

The 5Rs

Refusing

Refusing is about saying “no” to free stuff that becomes instant waste. There are sustainable ways to refuse yet that does not mean you’ve got to be without what you need.

It takes practice and preparation to find and incorporate reusable alternatives into your daily life.

These are some responsible actions you can take by REFUSING to use daily:

  •     single-use plastics
  •     coffee cups
  •     Utensils like plastic cutlery, plastics paper plates, bowls, etc
  •     Plastic water bottles
  •     Plastic shopping bags
  •     Straws
  •     Printed flyers

To help you get into the habit of refusing, check out what you’re always accepting.

Reduce

Ask yourself if you need this item. If you do, look at the quality. Well-made products will last longer. Follow cleaning instructions and labels, so everything lasts a long time.

Personal care products which are refillable or bought “pumpless” also help reduce packaging waste. Alternatively, you could also use products that come with compostable packaging. They often come with perks like free shipping and less-expensive product-per-ounce such as. 

  • Liquid dish soap.
  • Makeup cleansing bar instead of makeup wipes.
  • Rugs or bamboo toilet paper instead of paper towels or tissue.
  • A facial mask that comes in a tub instead of a single-use face mask.
  • Biodegradable dish wash brush instead of plastic brush with a replaceable head.
  • Shampoo bar instead of bottled shampoo.

Reuse

There are hundreds of options to reuse items to prolong the life cycle of your item. We have curated some options for you here:

  • If your phone or laptop is broken, seek repair options first.
  • Shop at thrift and antique stores and go to yard sales. Think Carousel, Facebook marketplace, etc.
  • Have a library card, which is a great way to reuse books, music, and movies.
  • Use Thinx period underwear instead of disposable and washable period products.
  • Reuse old glass jars/food containers to store pantry items instead of purchasing new fancy jars.
  • Cover food bowls with reusable beeswax wrap instead of plastic cling wrap.
  • Use a washable silicone mat instead of parchment paper to cover baking trays.
  • Use toothpaste tablets, e.g., Brushd, instead of toothpaste.
  • Buy a reusable notebook, e.g., Rocket Notebook, for those that like writing down their thoughts and still have an option to save it digitally.
  • Regrow food scraps, especially herbs and veggies such as celery and cilantro
  • Use a loofah instead of a sponge.
  • Mend clothes instead of buying new ones.
  • Filter tea leaves using a strainer instead of opting for disposable tea bags.

Recycling

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Recycling is one of the most ubiquitous ways to reduce waste. The world had a huge problem when China stopped accepting recycled waste in 2018

Some big brands that are embracing the Circular Economy:-

  • Nike
  • Burger King
  • Ikea
  • Adidas
  • Puma
  • Patagonia
  • H&M
  • HP
  • The North Face
  • Tiny Closet

Rot

Avoid plastic packaging and make use of materials that are compostable.

Composting is the natural action of recycling organic matter, like leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that will enrich soil and plants.

There are eight types of composting methods:-

  • Open Air Composting
  • Direct Composting
  • Tumbler Composting
  • Worm Farm Composting (Vermicomposting)
  • EMO Composting
  • Combination Composting
  • Commercial Composting

There are various ways to compost. Vermiculture composting is an excellent option if you have limited outdoor space. You can also use composting pick-up services, and there are many drop-off spots specifically for this.

These are some of the composting materials you can salvage from your day today:- 

  •     Paper scraps (can use a paper shredder to add more carbon)
  •     Food scraps
  •     Eggshells
  •     Coffee ground and filters
  •     Hair/fur
  •     Leaves
  •     Lint
  •     Greens and brown

Tips to start a zero-waste lifestyle

Photo by EcoPanda on Unsplash

Want to be part of a contributing member of society? Some handy and do-able tips to start living a zero-waste lifestyle

  1. Consume less and buy what you need to use. This way, there will be less to waste.
  2. Use what you have – Use this time during lockdown to check your home for what you already have and prevent overbuying. Use empty glass containers to store dry foods and consume your leftovers and reassess what you need.
  3. Eliminate single-use items – Take a trash audit for a week, noting down what you throw out after just a single-use. You would be surprised to see the number of plastic utensils, paper napkins, and plastic water bottles in your trash.
  4. Reuse – An estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Replacing plastic bags and bottles is one of the quickest and easiest changes towards zero waste living. A handy tip is to put one reusable bag in every bag that you take out with you. This action alone will have a considerable impact on the environment. 

Biodegradable plastic bags are also available and are a good alternative to traditional plastics. 

  1. Buy in bulk – This is an excellent way to reduce waste at home and save money at the same time. Packaging for small items can accumulate, which increases trash. Most bulk stores advocate bringing your containers/jars/boxes.
  2. Compost if you can – Shop around for an indoor composting system or, better still, make a home garden.
  3. Bring your own – Takeaway meals contribute so much waste, yet they’ve become the norm today. Suppose you must have ordered a takeaway. Bring your own set of dishes and utensils. Many restaurants advocate zero waste, and supporting these restaurants helps as well.
  4. Ditch the paper towel – Use sponges and reusable and washable cloths instead of paper towels. You’ll be a part of diverting 571,230,000 pounds of paper waste each year. Remember, trees save you too!
  5. Use bar soap – Bar soaps come wrapped in a wrapper instead of plastic bottles which are harsher on the environment. Use zero waste laundry detergent.
  6. Repair – Don’t throw out stuff just because it’s broken or old. Repair items when necessary to avoid waste.
  7. Plan your meals – In doing so, you shop smartly and reduce your waste. A meal plan will encourage you to cook at home more and avoid takeout.
  8. Swap to a zero-waste toothbrush – consider switching to bamboo brushes. They’re more planet-friendly.
  9. Bring your lunch to work to prevent disposables.
  10. Stop using cotton buds – Cotton buds are usually made with plastic and can only be used once.
  11. Donate unused items – Some people will find these items useful. So go on and give them out.
  12. Buy secondhand – When you go shopping, consider buying secondhand items whenever possible. Preloved items are an excellent way to reduce waste as a community.
  13. Bring your coffee cup.
  14. Go paperless for all your bills.
  15. Swap tea bags for loose leaf tea. You can use the filter and compost the used tea leaves for your plants.
  16. Get a safety razor – 2 billion non-recyclable razors are thrown out annually in the US. Use a zero-waste razor that is all-metal and has recyclable blades. It’s cheaper too!
  17. Go digital – The average employee uses two pounds of paper per day. Take notes on your laptop using Microsoft Word. You can tap the function key twice for AI assistance.
  18. Get a library card
  19. Choose natural items – Natural materials can easily be composted instead of adding them to landfills. Purchase compostable kitchen utensils and tableware instead of plastic ones.
  20. Invest in high-quality items such as furniture and clothing that are built to last. Cheap deals usually end up costing you more as it damages and breaks down more quickly, ending up creating more waste in the long run.
  21. Use cloud instead of memory sticks or external drives as the cloud has zero waste, and in most cases, it’s free to use. Google Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox are suitable as storage services providers.
  22. When shopping, choose eco-conscious products that are packaged using zero waste produce bags made out of bioplastics. Purchase your fruits and vegetables lose and carry them in your reusable shopping bags.
  23. Stop using cling wraps and plastic wraps – Cling wrap is tough to recycle; hence, it only adds to our waste. Swap it with silicon snack pouches and silicone wrap.
  24. Use your dryer balls instead of dryer sheets to save energy. The balls soak up more water and reduce drying time by up to 25 percent.
  25. Shop local – Local shops use fewer plastic wraps. By shopping locally, you’ll support your local economy and reduce plastic usage.
  26. Say no to trends – Ask yourself if you will want that item a year from now.
  27. Zero waste bathroom –  Zero waste shampoo, zero waste toilet paper, and eco-friendly detergent. Zero waste makeup and zero waste deodorant. All these products will help you adopt a zero-waste living. 

Concluding remark

We live in a society that needs instant gratification. Going zero waste is the total opposite of that. 

It takes time and patience. It’s knowing and being conscious that you want to change and knowing you’re trying. 

Together we will make a difference.  Hopefully, in our lifetime, we can significantly reduce the amount of waste going into landfills and become healthier and more fulfilled as people. 

Moving towards a zero-waste life can seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

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