We all produce it. Whether you live on a farm in Kansas or a condominium in Malibu, waste is a part of our lives and has been for thousands of years. Naturally, we are careful about what we throw away and we make sure that things that can be recycled are.
But is it actually possible to live a zero-waste life?
You may think that it would be pretty difficult, and you’d be right. There is, however, a growing movement around the world that actually believes we can if we try hard enough and make some simple changes to our lives.
According to Bea Johnson, who currently lives in California, it’s entirely possible to live waste-free and she’s been doing it for the last 7 years:
“Since embarking on the Zero Waste lifestyle, our lives have changed for the better: We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff.”
It’s actually quite impressive – by all accounts, she produces just a quart size jar of waste each year and she’s got kids to look after too. How does she do it? Bea’s mantra is the 5 R’s which define how she lives her waste-free life. It stands for refuse, reduces, reuse, recycle, and rot.
Refuse the Things You Don’t Need
Need a bag to carry your groceries home from the local store? Carry your own reusable, hopefully, cloth, one with you. You don’t need all that food packaging either. Swap the store for the local farmer’s market and take your own containers along. Refill shampoo containers with bulk supplies so that you don’t have to keep disposing of those plastic bottles every other week, do the same with body washes and face creams.
There are lots of things we habitually use and buy which we don’t really need to. Buying in bulk when you can and taking along your own container reduces the number of bottles and jars that you need to eventually recycle. Change to glass containers and you can quit plastic altogether.
Have a look round your home and give some deep thought to your buying lifestyle, there are no doubt plenty of ways you can refuse to take that waste on board in the first place.
Reduce the Amount You Actually Need
We are, especially in western regions like the US and Europe, pretty much guilty of consuming most things. A large part of that waste is stuff we generally don’t need. That includes food where we often fill the fridge, leave things to go past their sell-by date, and then throw them into the garbage. We could all buy a little more sustainably, only getting what we intend to use.
There are other ways to cut down – by using reusable rags rather than paper towels in the kitchen and making cleaning products from stuff you have in the home. Rather than buy a new outfit for your next party, mix and match accessories you have, and rather than printing off that email or letter, simply store it digitally rather than using paper.
Reuse What You Consume
The big key to cutting down on waste is to reuse what you have. For instance, old shirts can be made into washcloths and rags for daily chores, and bottles and containers can be refilled rather than thrown into the recycling. If you look around your home right now, you can bet there’s stuff you can use for something else.
Recycle What You Can’t Refuse
Yes, there are going to be a few things you need that can neither be refused nor turned into something else. The good news is there are recycling plants for most products nowadays, from batteries to garden rubble that we can find a way to reuse. Get to know your local recycling plant and what it handles but always think of recycling as the last resort when it comes to a zero-waste lifestyle.
When you’ve done all of the above then the best solution left is to make some compost. You’ll be surprised what can go into your compost including leftovers, paper, and coffee grounds. The great news about composting is that it can be done in a pretty small space. If you’ve got to the stage where you are actually producing zero waste, you can even turn your own garbage can into a homemade composter.
Here are some other simple tips on being zero waste without giving yourself a nervous breakdown:
- Water: Rather than buy a bottle of mineral water from your local store, simply save a plastic bottle and buy yourself a water purifier. It’s a lot cheaper and just as healthy as shop-bought products.
- Fizzy Drinks: Bottles and cans make a large part of the waste we produce daily. Fizzy drinks are largely bad for you and you should be cutting down anyway. Find some healthier, homemade options that you can make and store in the fridge.
- Food: More and more stores are beginning to offer bulk selections where you can go in and fill up your own container. If you have one in your neighborhood take advantage of it and save some recycling and some money.
- Clothes: By second hand or recycle old outfits rather than spending on new ones. Too many of us throw away or discard clothes that are still in good condition. And if you buy quality in the first place it should last much longer.
You don’t have to wage an all-out war on garbage but making a few considered changes can realize big improvements in how you handle the waste in your life.
Even if you don’t manage to totally live a zero-waste lifestyle, by introducing these basic tenets into your life you’ll find that the amount which gets thrown into the garbage and ends up on a dump somewhere will be greatly reduced. That means you are living more in a more sustainable way and if we all do that we’ll go a long way to reducing the collective carbon footprint the USA leaves behind.