It seems that just about every other pin that shows up in my Pinterest feed lately is about minimalism or zero waste living. I know Pinterest returns results based on search criteria but I’m not searching zero waste living because I don’t believe it’s possible, in the literal sense of the term.
A zero waste lifestyle is nearly impossible in our linear economy. Product is made, product is consumed or used and thrown away.
What People Think a Zero Waste Lifestyle Means
I did a very scientific poll, i.e., I asked in a blogging Facebook group, what comes to mind when they hear the term ‘zero waste’.
- Leave nothing behind
- No trash, everything is consumed or recycled
- Composting anything possible
- Cleaning without chemicals
- Not using single-use products like plastic bags and straws
- Nothing going to the landfill or recycled
Does Zero Waste Have a Legit Definition?
Wikipedia defines zero waste as “a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean.”
Wikipedia is not the Webster dictionary and not always the best source however, in this case I chose to use it because there is no concrete definition of zero waste. It’s merely a goal, a target, a way of thinking.
After spending some time perusing the internet looking at how some people claim to have a years worth of trash in a mason jar, I would venture to guess no person on this planet is truly living a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle.
When you buy a product, that product probably had some waste during the manufacturing process, how was that disposed of? Was it recycled or reused? You’d have to do a lot of research to figure out the answer to that question for every product you purchase.
How a Zero Waste Lifestyle Helps the Environment
If we approach manufacturing and purchasing with a ‘zero waste’ mindset, there are benefits to the environment:
- Reduces air, water, and soil pollution – keeps toxic chemicals and waste out of landfills and incinerators
- Reduces our carbon footprint – if you’re not familiar with this term, it’s basically the gas and emissions from transportation as well as electricity and fuel used to operate equipment
- Plastic Free – plastic takes a huge toll on the environment both during the manufacturing process and once we are done with it, in the form of litter
- Circular economy – keep things in use for as long as possible as opposed to throwing them away when we are done. Think reuse and recycle.
- Conscious consumption – when making purchases, begin with the end in mind. For example, buying in bulk reduces packaging. Buy eggs in a cardboard carton instead of styrofoam because cardboard is easily recycled.
- there’s more, there’s always more
Related Post – Just Say No – Refuse and Reduce
My Approach to a Zero Waste Lifestyle
I think I can safely say I will never be one of those people who is able to fit their year’s worth of trash into a mason jar but I think I am doing better than the average American.
I am a conscious consumer, I do think about the packaging when I purchase products, mostly food, cleaning supplies and personal care supplies because those are the things I purchase most frequently. Recently, I’ve stopped buying produce that’s already packaged, except for berries and grapes (the struggle is real). I don’t buy lettuce in the plastic clamshells, I buy a head of lettuce and use my reusable produce bag instead of a plastic bag.
I’ve started buying toilet paper online that’s wrapped in paper rather than buying it from the grocery store where it’s wrapped in plastic.
While we don’t have control over products offered in our stores, distances those products travel, the packaging those products are in, the development of those products and so much more, we can make choices based on the things we do control.
We can recycle, we can choose products in less packaging, we can choose to purchase locally made products, etc. Grab my list of over 50 ways you can reduce waste and be more eco-friendly in your own home.
Can Everyone Have a Zero Waste Lifestyle?
Sure, I’m not going to tell you you can’t. You can do whatever you want. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible but then it depends on what you consider zero waste.
Every time I shop for something, I consider:
- the packaging it’s in
- that the product will have traveled from somewhere to get to me
- what happens when I’m finished with it
Some people will find it challenging, depending on where they live and what is available. Not everyone has access to fresh produce, fresh meat, bulk foods, etc. Not everyone has the ability to purchase reusable products. Even with the best of intentions, it may be extremely hard and beyond their control.
To the extent possible, we all need to be conscious consumers and make our choices based on this criteria (and probably more because hey, I’m still learning too). Do I think there’s more to it than this, absolutely. I’m sure there are things I haven’t even considered but the fact that I’m thinking about it and making thoughtful choices is progress.
We aren’t going to recycle our way out of this problem of waste, we have to begin with the end in mind. We’re all just trying to do the best we can. If you are making small changes, keeping the environment in mind, then I think you’re doing awesome!
Make it a green day!