It’s not uncommon to hear the term ‘zero waste’ and automatically feel an overwhelming sensation of excitement, curiosity, and a little anxiety all at once. The zero waste movement has, in the past few years, gained steady traction and has been integrated into thousands of peoples’ lives all over the world, regardless of age.
But what does this term actually mean? Does it really mean not any trash? And where do you even start?
Contrary to how it sounds, zero waste does not mean pure perfection and absolutely no trash, but rather is a term directed towards the circular economy we wish to have in the future rather than the present linear one.
Our current linear economy is set up to “take, make, and dispose” of all products, materials, and resources whereas the circular economy aims to be regenerative — aiming for people to reuse, refurbish, and create long lasting products that don’t result in a landfill.
So what actually goes into a landfill? Most of what resides in a landfill doesn’t belong there to begin with. Its belongings are mostly comprised of organic materials (our food), single use plastics, and recyclables.
Single use plastics are especially detrimental to our environment as they cannot be downgraded fully and will last on this planet longer than many generations after us. They leach into the environment and wreak havoc on our ecosystems, posing a huge threat to all species who mistake it for food.
When we throw food and other organic materials away in a landfill, they get suffocated and go through an anaerobic reaction releasing methane (a potent greenhouse gas three times more powerful than carbon), thus contributing to the mass amount of emissions being polluted into our world.
Recyclables get lost in the sea of it all, never getting a chance to be repurposed and rather contributing to a massive overflowing issue.
There are, however, accessible actions we can do every single day to combat a bleak future.
The first thing to do is take notice and identify. Take a mental log of everything you have and everything you invite into your daily life: cups, food items, what you carry everything in, your cosmetics, the stuff in your kitchen pantry, etc. How much of what you buy is waste and how much of it can you reuse or keep? Before you go and throw everything away to start fresh with sustainable alternatives, I urge you to first reuse the things you already have and phase out of the things you want to replace. The point isn’t to create more things, it’s to create a life of intention and bring a purpose to everything you own. You will soon realize that everything you do matters and everything you own has a life cycle.
After this phase, you are ready to prepare, phase out, and find alternatives.
There are many things you can use instead of plastic that are longer lasting and more sustainably made. Go to grocery stores with a bulk section to stock up on dry goods like pasta, rice, coffee, nuts, beans, and dried fruit. Go to thrift stores for second hand furniture, lamps, curling irons, and other at-home amenities. Go to local shops and online stores for everyday sustainable items with plastic-free packaging such as a freezer compost bin, pens, kitchenware, to-go containers, and bathroom items.
You will soon find you have stepped out of the fast consumerism cloud and that you don’t need new and expensive things to be happy. In fact, the coolest and most unique things have already been loved previously and oftentimes work even better than new items!
The last part of going zero waste is to simply adapt and do your best! You may forget your reusable cup when you head into a coffee shop, you may forget to ask for no straw at a restaurant, and sometimes you might just really want packaged snacks. And that’s okay! If this movement is to go anywhere, it is so important to give yourself grace and love — it is impossible to be perfect. The core of the movement lies within your intention to do your best. Creating less waste and thoughtfully consuming creates more space for inner abundance and full presence.
Since embarking on this zero waste journey, I have found that I am not only helping to keep our planet healthy, but I am more thankful and joyful of this sweet life I am given every single day.
Stevie Van Horn is a sustainability activist, minimalist, runner, blogger, and nature lover who advocates for a zero waste lifestyle. Find her on Instagram at @stevieyaaaay.