Zero-waste living is understandably a confusing and daunting term for many eco-conscious consumers. How can someone produce no trash? In reality, that’s basically impossible in today’s society. But, as unintuitive as it may be, zero-waste living isn’t measured on a lifestyle that produces no trash. Rather, it’s a systematic philosophy that all waste can be minimized or part of a sustainable cycle. In other terms, composting and reusing are your best friends, and nothing produced ever enters the landfill.
A less intimidating way to think about a zero-waste lifestyle is as “minimal- waste living.” No one’s perfect. Sometimes we eat our favorite raw energy bars wrapped in plastic or fail to use the last bit of a lipstick before it parishes. But, in total, we aim to get increasingly better at reducing what we throw away. We think this is a more practical approach for beginners, as it leaves us feeling less defeated and encourages us to not give up when we’re not perfect.
This post explores some of the harmful forms of waste and some easy ways to avoid them!
Growing Landfills: Soft Plastics, Water Bottles, and Packaging (Oh My!)
Plastic is the most common material to use for packaging. It’s easy to see that plastic is all around you; it’s used for the wrappers of your favorite candies, your tube of toothpaste, the cellophane to wrap your leftovers. The production of plastic is currently around 343 million tons each year, and that number is continuing to rise. So, where does all that plastic go?
The truth is, it goes a lot of places. 50% of all plastic is used only once and then is either tossed in the trash where it ends up as landfill or becomes litter and enters the ocean or other parts of nature. Even more disturbingly, less than 9% off all plastic ends up in landfills. Plastic is not easily biodegradable and on average takes 400 years to degrade. It also contains toxins, including many that leak into the atmosphere when exposed to air and humidity. To us, plastic is a creepy packaging that we try to opt out of.
So how do we avoid such a prevalent material? Our first tip: Always pack the essentials. What a person’s essentials are will vary, but we have a few things that are always stuffed in our purses before leaving the house: a glass water bottle, a fold-up grocery tote, reusable produce and grain bags, and a travelers mug for our coffee fixes. If we’re headed to a restaurant, we’re also sure to bring a glass tupperware for the leftovers (even though we end up eating it all in one sitting :/). Asking a restaurant to put leftovers in your own containers feels awkward at first, but it’s easy to get over when you realize that they’re typically happy to do it.
Other than being prepared, the next step is to stop purchasing plastic as much as possible. While your friends are opening a bag of Ruffles, enjoy the healthy perks of munching on a homemade snack. And, when you can, go for glass and reuse it before recycling. We love mason jars for just about everything you could imagine: food storage, makeup brush, holders, and vases. While glass does take a long time to decompose, it is a less toxic material and holds integrity as it’s recycled, so as long as you reuse, reuse, reuse, it’s a great option.
Once you start omitting plastic from your life, you’ll quickly realize how much processed food is wrapped in plastic, and with that comes BPA and other icky toxins.
Food Waste: A Global Problem
Food waste is a problem that is caused by and affects countries across the world. Globally, we throw away 1.3 billion tons of food each year, which equates to about ⅓ of the food that we grow. Agriculture is a major cause of land degradation and, with our current patterns, 30% of agricultural land is used to produce foods that go to waste. For a break down of these and other numbers, check out this awesome visual representation of annual food waste.
Today, 815 million people suffer from hunger and malnourishment, so there’s no justification for food waste. And for fighting global warming, it’s one of the most important challenges to solve. It accounts for around 8% of climate pollution and is a huge source of methane. On top of this, so many resources go into creating this wasted food – including water, land, and pesticides (ew). While huge political and societal change is needed to solve this problem, it’s important that individuals play their role, too. BONUS: you’ll also save money!
First and foremost, the obvious way to reduce waste is to be a better shopper. In addition to buying food in smaller batches, put thought into the food you do buy. Do you really need the cinnamon swirl bread and the extra-fancy almond milk? Put one back and save it for next time; it also helps make food feel more sacred. As old fashioned as it sounds, making a list can be both a time saver and prevent you from buying duplicates of food. We also like to plan meal for the week that use some overlapping ingredients so that we can use every last mushroom in the fridge!
There are also many ways to “upcycle” food scraps so that they don’t have to go to the dump. Mix your citrus rinds with white vinegar for a cheap and environmental all-purpose cleaner. Have leftover fruit or veggie pulp from the juice you made this morning? Mix it with some cream cheese and herbs for a yummy spread. Throw eggshells in your garden for an organic fertilizer. Basically, the world is your oyster, so get creative.
Of course, there will always be some food scraps that just have to get thrown out. In these cases, the best thing to do is make sure you’re disposing it properly. When even biodegradable items like paper end up in a landfill, it can take an insanely long time to decompose since everything is compressed and not exposed to the moisture or air it needs to break down. Make sure all your trash is sorted appropriately and to compost as much as possible. If your city doesn’t have a compost system, start your own! Or write to them explaining why they should.
These are just a handful of tips that can help you easily reduce your waste on a daily basis. We hope that this can help minimizing your waste be less intimidating. Leave us a comment if you’d like a deeper dive into some of the tips we’ve mentioned or if you have some of your own to share!