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The goal of a zero-waste lifestyle is to produce as little trash as possible. To accomplish that, people have to reduce (their consumption), reuse (as many materials/ parts/components of products as possible), recycle (making sure the recycled items indeed go into recycling facilities without contaminating other products. In short, no “wish cycling“; if the label on the bin says that something isn’t recycled, it means it isn’t.). At the moment, only 9% of plastic gets recycled. So, this is definitely something to think about before buying anything plastic.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

The current economic and production model introduced during the industrial revolution (over 200 years ago) of taking, making and disposing is still going strong and is deeply intertwined with the outdated linear economic system. Luckily, movements such as zero-waste push forward circularity, while highlighting the astronomical prices and dangers of wastefulness.

The concept of a zero-waste lifestyle can be trackback to the beginning of civilization when every item was used until it was unusable no more.

The modern zero-waste lifestyle focuses on prompting behaviour change on an individual level to prevent waste. Producing as little waste as possible benefits:

  • you, as your savings rate goes up because you aren’t in a cycle of spending just for the sake of it and buying,
  • environment because you aren’t tossing away rubbish and unused/unwanted items, adding to the landfill or moving the responsibility of discarding your unloved items onto charities (charities cannot sell the stuff they already have, so most likely your things are sent to a third world country to sit in the landfill there, polluting the water and nature of another country).

Becoming a conscious consumer is an integral part of implementing a zero-waste lifestyle, which firmly pushes towards breaking the consumption cycle, focusing on quality and longevity instead of quantity, trends, and fast fashion.

The zero-waste movement inhabits the following set of beliefs:

  • Rethink – Do you really need to buy this product? Don’t let the marketers make you believe you need more of everything! What are you going to do with the product once you are done with it?
  • Refuse – if there is something you don’t need, say NO (free magazines, newspapers, drinks, single used plastics or anything that is disposable and not really needed).
  • Reduce – Reduce the number of things you have and shift your focus towards long-lasting products. Keep in mind that charities have a hard time selling items.
  • Repair – repair what you can; don’t toss something away, just because it has a light stain. I recently fixed my socks, and the whole process wasn’t only fun but very rewarding too. Repairing items such as dishwasher and washing machines are essential steps towards creating a sustainable circular lifestyle and economy.
  • Reuse – for instance, jars or bottles. My mum always uses bottles to make juice or wine. She uses jars for jams, salads, pickles, etc. My local package-free shop collects jars and bottles. What can you do with your packaging? How can you reuse it?
  • Rote – compost your food. It’s hard to do it in the city but composting pick-up services have been established in some countries, and you could also try vermiculture composting (I’ll write more about this once I try it out myself).
  • Recycle – a zero-waste lifestyle aims to have as little recycling as possible. However, if you have to recycle, make sure the packaging is clean and goes to the right bin.

The reduce, reuse and recycle rules/concept were first popularized in the late-1970s. In 2013, Bea Johnson introduced the world to Five Rs (check out her book “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life”). The rest of the R’s were added by the Zero-Waste Movement/Community.

Choosing Zero-Waste Lifestyle is choosing an intentional lifestyle, in which a priority isn’t to use up, misuse and abuse the finite natural resources Earth provides us with. Instead, investing in long-lasting products, package-free, ethical, local and compost, whenever you can, is what the lifestyle stands for. 

Of course, it’s very challenging to go zero-waste in our modern complex world. Still, even if every one of us reduces 10% of our waste, it would be a fantastic start towards a healthier and more sustainable future for us all.

Most of all, don’t underestimate your “small”, local actions. Positive and impactful change always starts small. For instance, this week, I finally made my way to our nearest package-free shop, some 20-25 mins drive from us (I know it’s still driving, but I figured since I was in the neighbourhood, I would pop in).

I bought a 5l container for the laundry liquid (I had the container with me), bought metal strews for the 3 of us (baby M. doesn’t need one yet), and brushes to clean dishes. I also looked around and compared prices. I’m not going to go completely waste-free all of a sudden. However, I’m surely going to do my best to cut down on our waste without bankrupting our family in the process.

Going zero-waste or even cutting down on it is challenging because the concept challenges the status quo of our consumer debt-driven culture.

I’m not encouraging anyone to go zero-waste as I know how hard it is, especially when you have kids and live in the city. But making minor monthly or weekly adjustments will help establish good habits that globally can make a massive difference for the sustainability of life on this planet. No, we cannot all move to Mars and live in a colony, so let’s try to focus on saving and treasuring what we already have.