Zero waste has been abuzz lately. Left and right, we are seeing more and more of our friends engage in a zero waste or low waste lifestyle. More than that, social media personalities have been strongly advocating for reducing our waste.
And rightly so. Our increasingly consumerist tendencies have allowed our trash to pile up over the decades, and we are continuing to produce more. Some countries have even resorted to shipping their trash to other countries just to deal with the waste (a problem that still plagues low-income countries).
There are some conveniences that we have lived so long with that we no longer notice them anymore. The plastic packaging on your favourite snacks, your tetra pack of milk, your hair ties that easily break, the list runs endlessly.
There are plenty of reasons why we should jump on the zero waste train and let it lead us towards a better way of living. We’ll cover some of these below.
What is zero waste?
OK, before we get into how zero waste is good for us and the world, let’s talk about some basics.
The first thing to know about zero waste is that you should not take it literally. Even the most diligent practitioners will generate some trash.
Instead, it is a philosophy of living life in a way that generates the least amount of waste. This means avoiding mindless spending and becoming a more thoughtful consumer in a world that basically shoves consumption in our faces.
In the community, there are some basic tenets that ground zero waste. More specifically, these are the 5 Rs. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. There are plenty of variations for the last R, some of which are regulate, rot, repair, and recover. All of these are valid in their own regard.
For more information on the zero waste movement, our friends over at Puratium cover the basics and more. Puratium is a digital learning center that focuses on zero waste, eco friendly products, vegan fashion, and much more.
The environmental benefits of zero waste
Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each person in the United States generates about 4.9 pounds of waste per day on average. And that’s only municipal-level waste and does not account for the waste generated during the industrial production process. If it did, that number would be much, much higher.
The number varies depending on where you are in the world. Some countries have lower waste generation averages due to the simple fact that they consume less (which isn’t the best thing in some countries’ cases).
This imbalance is a whole entire topic in itself, but one thing is clear. We are consuming more and producing more waste than we should be.
Through zero waste initiatives, we can sufficiently improve our impact on the environment, and the world, for that matter.
You can reduce your carbon footprint
Your carbon footprint is essentially the amount of carbon compounds or greenhouse gases you emit due to your consumption habits. If you consume less, it follows that you also reduce your carbon emissions.
There are also many opportunities for industries to evaluate and reduce their carbon footprint. For example, like many other manufacturing industries, the furniture industry emits carbon dioxide. Thus reducing the materials used in a product or choosing lower impact (environmental-friendly) materials can considerably reduce the carbon footprint of furniture products. One way they can do this is by using the Furniture Footprint Calculator at https://interiorbeat.com/. You don’t have to be a climatologist to calculate yours.
This is important because carbon emissions play a major role in pollution, climate change, and your health. The lesser carbon emissions we contribute, the better it is for the planet.
You become more mindful about what you consume
Speaking of consumption, going zero waste also allows us to become more mindful and conscious consumers. It helps keep us on our feet and constantly weigh one option against the other.
Instead of choosing the option that is convenient but generates a lot of waste, we now turn to options that are less convenient but are more environmentally friendly. Small, introspective changes like these can have a positive impact on the environment as well.
You can help conserve resources
Possibly most importantly, zero waste helps conserve resources. At the rate we’re going at, we are consuming more of the earth than we can replenish sustainably. Our planet is not an endless resource. While there are renewable sources of energy, raw materials, and the like, regeneration takes time.
Time that we, with our massive consumption levels, are seemingly unwilling to give.
Living a zero waste lifestyle helps conserve resources through its core values of mindful consumption and generating the least amount of waste possible.
How going zero waste is good for your well-being
All those above said, zero waste isn’t just good for the environment. It can also be good for you as well.
One of the main functions of zero waste is to teach us about care. At the core of it all, living a zero waste lifestyle means caring about your planet and the people in it. In other words, it helps us become better individuals.
It helps us connect to others in ways that might not even cross our minds if we were not practicing zero waste. It could be something as small as borrowing a tool from a neighbor to something on a larger scale, like engaging in community waste management activities.
All of these will contribute to your well-being. While the practice of zero waste is inherently not about you per se, it doesn’t mean there won’t be any personal benefits.
You won’t only be making it about those in close proximity to you as well.
A zero waste lifestyle often involves making sustainable choices. This means choosing to buy items that last longer, have a low environmental impact, and are made ethically under sustainable conditions.
In doing so, you have an indirect effect on ensuring that communities all over the world are not suffering and paying for the nonmonetary price of your cheap and convenient goods.
But there’s a bit of an emotional downside to it as well. We cannot talk about zero waste and wellness without bringing up the looming object of guilt.
Zero waste and context
It is important for all of us who practice a zero waste lifestyle not to make it about guilt. In truth, there is no life that is absolutely zero waste. No way that is entirely perfect. No plan that will make you the best eco-warrior if only you don’t use dreaded plastic.
Because in reality, like everything else, zero waste needs context.
Should you buy produce from the grocery and risk some packaging waste (produce stickers, bands, etc.), or should you go to the nearest farmer’s market?
The answer seems clear. Obviously, you should go to your farmer’s market! But what if the nearest one is just shy of an hour’s drive away? That undoubtedly would have a more negative environmental impact.
What if you have certain needs that cannot be accommodated by a zero-waste life? Some people might have medication that comes in plastic packaging or need straws to drink. Some might have special dietary requirements that aren’t zero-waste friendly.
The bottom line is that zero waste is not about just the surface level of waste. It’s not about feeling so guilty that you get burned out and end up ditching zero waste altogether.
Zero waste is about creating a positive environmental impact through limiting and managing your waste. Your way might not be the same as others, and that is perfectly OK.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.