When I talk about ‘zero waste’, the most common reaction I get is, “That’s impossible…how can you expect to create NO trash at all??!” And I have to agree: yes, it is impossible for me to create absolutely no trash in the society we live in. I am part of the economic waste stream. My purchases produce waste that I do not see, both upstream and downstream. So why bother trying?
Zero Waste is a 21st century movement that aims to shift our economic system from a linear economy (our current global system) to a circular economy. It “guide[s] people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.” (Zero Waste International Alliance)
At its core, zero waste challenges individuals to evaluate their lifestyle and to reflect on how his or her consumerist habits are negatively impacting the environment. Convenience in the form of cheap plastics, non-recyclable materials, and disposable products has become detrimental to our planet’s health and to the thriving of humans and animal species across the globe. It isn’t too late to change course, but expect blood, sweat, and tears.
We live in a disposable society where we have become completely disassociated from our waste and convinced by marketing that we are constantly in need of more “stuff” to be happy. For the average person, trash + recycling are picked up from the curb 1-2x a week and never seen again. But our landfills are overflowing, our oceans are littered, and we are left with billions of tons of waste that cannot break down for hundreds of years and cannot be recycled. Even space has trash in it, with old, inactive satellites still orbiting Earth. As a society, we have reached a point where the zero waste movement is truly necessary in order to safeguard the future of our ecosystems.
No, zero waste isn’t a new fad lifestyle. Our disposable society evolved very rapidly in the last century, ushered in by the birth of plastic. Zero waste seeks to combat this disposable mindset by returning to a more simple and sustainable way of life. The zero waste movement is not a destination but a journey. And this particular journey isn’t about perfection but about striving to get as close to ‘0’ as possible and minimizing our waste stream. Whether that means a 1% reduction or a 99% reduction in trash output per person, every percentage point counts. Society may never reach zero, but this shouldn’t stop any of us from trying!
At the end of the day, the zero waste lifestyle begins with a willingness to change ones consumption habits and invest in a society built on the pillars of community, sustainability, ethics, and transparency. If you want to be a part of this movement, find out how to get started!