Moving Toward a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Cassandra Rosas

It can seem like not a day passes by without more bad news concerning the environment. In the face of such huge reported problems, it’s easy to feel helpless and be discouraged. But there’s an effective approach that everyone can take to reduce their impact on the planet’s resources, and it involves working toward a zero-waste lifestyle.

What is the Zero Waste Lifestyle?

Modern society can be hugely wasteful of resources, whether through uneaten food, unnecessary packaging, or excessive use of energy.

Embracing a zero-waste approach means looking at every area of your daily life, and considering if there’s a way of approaching it with greater thrift.

The idea is that while every step may be a small one, the combined results can be huge – and they only increase as more people become involved.

Essential First Steps

Moving toward zero waste is a project that never stops growing and developing, but getting started needn’t be a major disruption to your lifestyle.

Here are just three changes you can make that will have an immediate impact on your carbon footprint, and can serve as a basis to build a longer-term approach around.

1. Using Glass Jars

Glass jars are an excellent way of storing dried goods in the kitchen. They’re more attractive than Ziplock bags or Tupperware containers, and can be reused again and again.

They can also be taken to loose-goods stores and filled direct, avoiding the need for extra packaging.

2. Use Grocery Tote Bags

Reusable cloth bags can help you make a dent in the billions of plastic and paper grocery bags that are used and discarded each year. They needn’t cost much to buy, and can last years if treated well and washed with care.

For full zero-waste brownie points, you could make your own totes out of old cloth shirts or sheets.

3. Prioritize Reusable Items

Many other single-use everyday items can be replaced by reusable equivalents to reduce plastic pollution.

Buy sturdy plastic or metal drinking straws instead of disposables, buy a good reusable water bottle instead of relying on bottled water on the move, and use old rags for cleaning rather than single-use cloths.

Moving On: Using the Five Rs

The Five Rs concept was devised by Bea Johnson, a leading light of the minimalist living movement, building on the original Three Rs of reduce, reuse, and recycle which were introduced in the 1970s

Adding two extra Rs of refuse and rot, the new Five Rs add up to a comprehensive approach to keeping your own waste footprint to an absolute minimum, without needing to live a spartan or self-denying life.

While even these small starts can add up to a big difference, there’s a handy way of approaching a more advanced level of zero waste lifestyle.
1. Refuse

You can start working on your waste footprint by refusing the unneeded items which are thrust toward you almost every day. From marketing magazines, leaflets and flyers, to promotional gifts and other freebies, there’s no reason you need to accept whatever you’re offered just because it’s free. And in any case, the vast majority of these free items are barely glanced at or used before finding their way to the trash.

Don’t accept single-use items or unnecessary packaging if there’s a readily available alternative. Always consider whether there’s a recyclable or reusable version of a product which you can buy instead, to stop wasteful items from entering your life at their source.

2. Reduce

Reduce the overall amount of things you buy wherever you can. For example, plan a week’s menus in advance, and shop only for the ingredients you need, rather than buying things out of habit and wasting a proportion of them. You’ll spend less at the store, and discard less at the end of the week.

For items other than foods, decide whether any particular purchase is for something you’ll genuinely use. And if it is a justifiable buy, aim for quality so that the resources consumed to produce the product are likely to give lasting value.

3) Reuse

Rather than throwing something in the trash when it’s no longer needed, consider ways to put it to a new use, just as with re-purposing glass jars for storage. Likewise, if an item is broken or damaged, see if it can be repaired rather than discarded.

And if an item is in good condition but simply unwanted or unused, consider donating it to a thrift shop so that it’s not wasted in the future.

4) Recycle

Most everyday items today can be bought in recyclable packaging, so choose these whenever possible. Not only will the act of recycling preserve resources, but as you vote with your wallet recyclable materials will increasingly become the standard option.

5) Rot

Lastly, any vegetable scraps from the kitchen or trimmings from the garden can be rotted down into compost if you have the yard space. However, don’t add meat or dairy to your compost as they’ll attract pests and risk disease.

These tips only scratch the surface of the many ways you can cut your garbage generation down to size. But remember: zero waste is an aspiration and a direction of travel, and not a hard and fast rule. Modern life means completely eliminating waste is probably impossible, but every step you can take toward being trash free is an important one with real-world results.

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