Zero Waste 101: Everything You Should Know

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"The concept of going zero waste can seem daunting, but we're here to help with some actionable tips."

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’re probably familiar with the term “zero waste.” It gets mentioned frequently alongside climate change and global warming. What you may not be familiar with, though, is exactly what it means and how it impacts you and the planet.

Here’s what a zero waste lifestyle is, the benefits, and what you need to do to get started.

The Importance of a Zero Waste Lifestyle

Climate change is a big issue in today’s world. Industry pollution and rampant over-consumerism has created so much trash, with no great way to dispose of it. Much of this trash ends up in landfills or incinerators, creating so much damage to the earth.

The electricity and energy used in incinerating waste—and the sheer amounts of methane created by landfills—is quickly warming the earth, causing disruptions to the weather, the oceans, the ice caps, and much of the natural world. In 2014, in the United States alone, the greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and that number has risen dramatically since then.

So, maybe it’s time to consider a different kind of disruption, and that’s to our way of living. Starting your journey to a zero waste lifestyle may be daunting, but every person matters in this situation and the sooner you can start making even small changes toward a zero waste lifestyle, the better. 

The Missing “R”: Responsibility

In school, we were taught the three R’s: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It seems that one very important R was missed, though, and that’s Responsibility. It’s our responsibility to manage our waste consumption, too. If we all take responsibility for the trash and waste we use in the world, we may be able to slow (or even reverse) the damage being done to our planet. 

Making the switch to composting, for example, produces 26 times less global warming gasses per ton of waste than when organic waste is disposed of by incinerator. Recycling PET bottles, like the ones used for water, saves 26 times more energy than burning it. Combining recycling and composting saves 3 to 4 times more energy than relying on incinerators to take care of it. Besides, all incinerators do is create tons of ash that no one really wants and doesn’t serve a purpose. 

It’s time for all of us to start saying no to the landfills, no to the incinerators, no to a high consumption way of living and a big, resounding yes to a zero waste lifestyle.

upcycle zero waste

How to Start Going Zero Waste

At this point, you’re probably wondering what you can do, and the good news is that there’s plenty to be done! Let’s take a look at a few tips for working your way into a zero waste lifestyle.

1. Reduce Packaging

One step you can take is reduce the amount of packaging you’re purchasing. Sure, those snack packs of chips may be great for portion control, but the same effect can be achieved by buying them in bulk and separating them into separate, reusable containers.

Try shopping at your local bulk food stores for your essentials. Not only are you supporting a small business, but you’re also reducing the amount of trash you’re consuming. You can even bring your own bags for produce!

2. Stay Away from Single-Use Items

Another way to reduce packaging is to stay away from single-use items. Think microfiber towels or old t shirts instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper ones, and washable pads and menstrual cups instead of tampons and pads.

3. Use Reusable Bags

On the topic of bags, it’s time to stop using plastic grocery bags as well. In fact, since many grocery stores have started charging for bags, there’s been a decrease in bags bought. Oftentimes, the money spent on those bags have been funneled into community recycling resources. Some cities internationally have even gone so far as to ban them, which is great news for the environment.

You can buy reusable bags in a lot of shops now, and you don’t even have to go for the branded ones. If you’re feeling more fashion-forward, there are a lot of gorgeous grocery totes on the market. And if you’re handy, you can even sew your own. There are many simple patterns out there, and you can reuse old fabric or clothing you may have around the house. 

4. Buy Items in Glass Bottles

For some reason, recently a lot of drinks have been sold in plastic bottles. Not only are these plastic bottles filled with toxins, but they’re also a lot harder to find a use for than glass bottles. Glass bottles can be reused for many purposes, and when they do decompose, they don’t leech toxic chemicals into the environment. Glass does take a very long time to break down, however, so it’s important to try to reuse glass bottles whenever possible.

5. Hit Up Your Local Thrift Store

Instead of going for fast fashion and a sweater that’s made from acrylic yarn for $20, try checking out your neighborhood thrift store. Plenty of high-quality clothing ends up there. So rather than buying something cheap that’s going to get a hole in it and end up in a landfill somewhere, you can shop for items made from natural materials that will stand the test of time and won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Thrift stores are also great for household items like appliances, linens and toys for children. 

The Takeaway

See? There are lots of ways you can make a difference in your waste consumption, and these are just a few of the basic ones. These are all very low energy ways to minimize the amount of trash you’re producing. And while they may take a while to get used to, it’s absolutely worth it for the environmental impact that we all should be trying to make.

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The concept of going zero waste can seem daunting, but we're here to help with some actionable tips.

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