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What Is Zero Waste?

What Is Zero Waste?

The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) defines Zero Waste as, “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, packaging, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products and materials without burning, and without discharges to water, land, or air that threaten environmental or human health.” 

Zero waste is, in part, a goal to completely eliminate all the negative impacts that waste disposal has on the planet and all life on it. But even the most diehard proponent of zero waste recognizes that, for most households, generating absolutely no waste at all is impractical, if not outright impossible.

A more important question to ask might be, “What is zero waste to the average everyday consumer?” 

Zero waste, as it relates to the everyday person, is not just an end goal; it is a set of guiding principles that facilitate environmentally responsible behaviors and lifestyle changes with the purpose of advancing humanity toward a more balanced existence with nature. Completely eradicating trash from your life is an unrealistic expectation. The idea is to get as close to zero as you can. In other words, living a waste-free lifestyle means aiming for the moon with the goal of landing amongst the stars. 

To truly understand the spirit of the zero waste movement, there are a few more questions that need to be asked–and answered. 

A laptop, a reusable stainless steel tumbler with a silicone straw cap, a small ceramic coffee cup and saucer, and a bamboo cover notebook on a white kidney-shaped coffee table

Why Go Zero Waste?

Knowing your “Why,” is essential for living a rewarding zero waste existence, not to mention one of the 5 Things Every Zero Waste Newbie Should Know. Take a moment right now to ask yourself why you personally want to live sustainably. Maybe you are passionate about preserving a clean planet for future generations to enjoy. You might be concerned about plastic toxins and chemicals in plastics leaching into your food & drink and harming your health. Perhaps you realize that going zero waste can save you a lot of money in the long run. 

Whatever your zero waste reason may be, it’s important to understand your purpose and to always stay connected with the source of your inspiration to live a waste-free life. Plus, when you consider how human behavior and consumption habits are impacting the quality of air, water, soil, and life on the planet, you likely will be asking yourself, “Why would anybody NOT go zero waste?” 

As overwhelming as these statistics may seem, don’t fool yourself into thinking that one person can’t make a difference. If that were true, the zero waste movement wouldn't be the powerful force in the consumer market that it is today. Each individual, and every sustainable decision, makes an impact in our collective push toward a greener future.  

  • 40% of the lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or normal aquatic life
  • 150 million metric tons of plastic circulate the ocean, with 8 million tons added each year
  • The ocean is the planet’s largest carbon sink, and it stabilizes global climates
  • Plastic shopping bags average about 12 minutes of use before being discarded
  • Each plastic bag can take 500-1000 years to decompose in a landfill 
  • The Amazon rainforest provides 20% of the planet’s oxygen
  • A single rainforest in Peru contains more species of birds than in the entire United States 
  • The world’s forests are home to 80% of the planet’s terrestrial wildlife
  • 15 billion trees chopped down every year for human consumption 
  • Coral reefs support 25% of all marine species despite covering just 1% of the ocean floor
  • 75% of the planet’s coral reefs currently face an existential threat, largely due to marine pollution
A reusable recycling bag filled with cardboard, two glass bottles, and a Zero Waste Store taped packaging box

Who Can Practice Zero Waste?

Don’t let “zero waste” intimidate you from taking action. The term is not expected to be taken literally. The zero waste lifestyle isn’t about being perfect; it’s about doing better. And since everyone can always do better, that means ANYONE can go zero waste. 

The idea is to be more aware of how much trash you generate on a regular basis, and then swapping out your own wasteful behaviors with greener, more sustainable habits. You can find a sustainable swap for just about any household item you use on a regular basis. With so many new brands and products hitting the market, going zero waste has never been so convenient. 

But you don’t have to spend money to start your zero waste journey. You can start by decluttering your house of useless junk, and rehoming, recycling, or repurposing your excess items. If you have a garden, you can start replanting fruits and vegetables and/or use a backyard composting system to turn your organic waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer.

One of the most effective ways for quickly reducing personal waste is by simply saying NO–something that anybody can start doing right now. Say NO to single-use products. Say NO to plastic-wrapped food. Say NO to bargains and freebie that you don’t immediately need. Say NO to business cards and pamphlets, when you can instead, just take a picture. Get into the habit of saying no to unsustainable items and gifts, because you can’t throw away something that you don’t have. 

Going zero waste is not a race, so adopt eco-friendlier habits at your own pace. By staying motivated and always striving for better–not perfect–anybody can start living their most sustainable life right now!

Two round stainless steel lunch boxes filled with salad and Rainier cherries. To the left is part of a baguette on a wax wrap, and on the right is a green utensil sleeve

When & Where Should I Practice Zero Waste?

There is never a wrong time to make a sustainable choice. It’s not meant to be a fad or phase that you go through. Nor is there some sort of internal switch that can be turned off & on when its convenience. Living sustainably means that all your decisions throughout the day are made with the environment always kept in mind. Most people start by cleaning up their act, by greening up their house first. But the fact of the matter is waste can happen anywhere and at any moment, day & night.  

  • How many reams of paper do you use at the office throughout the work week?
    Can you think of paperless processes for performing your work tasks just as effectively?
  • Do you use a disposable cup for every cup of Joe you pour in the break room?
    Why not replace all that waste by bringing a reusable coffee mug with you to work?
  • How many plastic spoons & forks do you go through during the week eating out?
    Carrying a personal set of reusable utensils takes care of that.
  • Is it really necessary to jump in car for every errand you need to run?
    Maybe some of those places are close enough to walk or bike to instead.

When you start paying closer attention to all the waste you generate throughout week, at home and away from it, you’ll likely discover many wasteful habits, of which you never knew was harming the environment. So it’s important to always remain vigilant about the trash you toss out, because when it comes to leading a rewarding & successful zero waste lifestyle, consistency is key!

A book titled

How Can I Start Leading a Zero Waste Lifestyle?

Now that you have a better understanding of what zero waste is, the methodology behind the lifestyle, and the spirit of the movement, the only logical question you should be asking now is, “How do I get started?” 

When it comes to living our most sustainable life, we all have plenty of room for improvement. Because of the growing green demand, innovative new brands are constantly being introduced to the market, making the zero waste lifestyle more attainable, zero waste products more accessible, and zero waste decisions more practical than it’s ever been. 

So while there is no wrong way to get started on your zero waste journey, there are 5 Things Every Zero Waste Newbie Should Know: 

  • Know Your “Why?”
  • Know Your Waste 
  • Know What You Have 
  • Know How to Buy 
  • Know It Takes 21 Days

And whether you’re a zero waste rookie, or a seasoned vet, relying on The 10 Green Commandments to guide you along the way will help you live your most sustainable life.