Since the inception of Earth Day in 1970, American society has turned a watchful eye on the way people, organizations and systems impact the planet. If you’re a person who takes it upon themselves to reduce, reuse and recycle then it’s likely that you’ve come across the “zero waste” concept. In theory, it sounds great. But what does it actually mean? And how can you participate?
Why Zero Waste?
A person’s daily solid waste has increased 10-fold in the past century, totaling a collective 3.5 million tons of solid waste a day, according to World Bank. Many folks have taken the daily footprint quiz only to find that there isn’t enough of planet Earth to sustain a population who lives just like them! Enter the no waste movement.
What is Zero Waste?
In simplest terms, it means nothing—and we mean nothing—goes into the landfill.
In more complex terms, zero waste aims to change the life cycle of a product. Think of anything you use on a daily basis—the protein box you eat for lunch, the swivel chair you sit on at work, the bottle of face wash you use at night. Now think of where it started and where it’s going to end up. Most trash will go to the landfill, and plastic containers may make it to the recycling plant but once it’s out of your hands, that debris can end up on the side of the highway or swirling in the ocean. The goal of going no-waste is to turn the ending place into a new beginning so no product ever “ends up” anywhere—instead it just becomes the start of the life cycle all over again.
Caveat: Going waste-free varies in definition depending on who you speak to or learn from, so this is not a be-all, end-all definition!
What Can I Do?
The path to zero waste is long and it requires revised and new regulations, standards, qualifications, education and consumer habits. Whew, that’s a lot when your life is filled with family obligations, work and countless items on your to-do list! If you’re so inclined, try taking one of these simple first steps:
- Believe that each person’s individual contribution matters, even when it feels like it doesn’t. Try one of these helpful products to go waste-free.
- Keep recycling, but know that most recycling doesn’t actually make it to the plant. It’s expensive. Instead, think of how you can reuse and upcycle what you’ve got starting with these 80 items. For the recycling you do have, build a handy rack to keep it organized.
- Swap products you use on a regular basis: a coffee mug instead of the paper to-go cup, a reusable water bottle instead of plastic, dishware instead of paper plates when company comes over. Use one of these nifty ideas to reuse the plastic containers you have.
- Shop at second-hand stores for almost everything. These are the things you should and shouldn’t pick up from a thrift store.
- Use your own DIY skills to upcycle anything you’d otherwise throw out. Reuse cardboard boxes in one of these brilliant ways. Or, head to the kitchen and try one of these 13 zero waste tips.