ZERO WASTE: ISN’T RECYCLING ENOUGH?

SUSTAINABLE LIVING ZERO WASTE
Single-Use-Plastic-Sustainable-Jungle

Unfortunately, not by a long shot. But first, here’s some background…

It may surprise you (as it did for us) that “Zero Waste” is actually not a new concept. Its genesis comes from a name of a California based company, “Zero Waste Systems Inc.” which was founded by Dr Paul Palmer (PhD chemist) back in the 1970s.

Zero Waste is not the same as recycling. It’s a much much bigger concept. It’s the goal or strategy to completely eliminate waste, not manage it. It addresses the source of the problem, creating a circular economy or “cradle to cradle” approach. In contrast, recycling focuses on the garbage problem itself at the end of an item’s short or single-use life – it’s the solution to the traditional linear or “cradle to grave” system that has come to be the norm today. On a practical level, Zero Waste means no waste is ever created because the single-use or short-term item is replaced with a product which is designed to last and with the purpose of being able to be reused, repaired and/or recycled over and over again.

Zero Waste International Alliance’s internationally accepted definition is probably the most well-known summary of what Zero Waste is:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. 

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

5 REASONS TO STRIVE FOR ZERO WASTE

Much like the growing sustainable and ethical trends in the cosmetics and body care industry that we’ve written about (cruelty-free & vegan, organic & natural & palm oil free) there’s an increasing awareness around the world that we absolutely need to be more conscious about what we buy because it has a direct impact on the future of the planet and our own healthy existence. We’ve set out below 5 undeniable reasons why we should support Zero Waste initiatives and ideally all work towards a Zero Waste lifestyle wherever possible:

The world’s population is growing at an incredible rate. The United Nations estimates that by 2030 it will have reached 8.5 billion and ~10 billion by 2050 . The problem is a limited supply of resources (including space). If we continue to consume the way we do, buying short-lived products, and do not change our “throw-away culture” then we’re eventually, probably sooner than later, going to run out of them

Even more urgently, a huge percentage of the trash that we create ends up in the ocean and, more sinister still, most of it, some 60-80%, is plastic (bottles, caps, plastic bags etc.). According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation Report (presented at the World Economic Forum), plastic production has increased 20 times (!) since 1964, will double again in 20 years and quadruple by 2050. The Report estimates that at least 9 tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year – that’s an entire dumpster’s contents dropped into the ocean every second – sickening! There will be more plastic in our sea by weight than fish by 2050. This is tragic for our ocean life but also for us humans as this plastic releases toxins, consumed by fish that ultimately end up on the dinner plates of millions of people around the world

There’s an inordinate amount of garbage being produced per person.  Currently, the average adult is responsible for 0.64kg per day of solid trash, by 2025 that figure will more than double to an average of 1.42kg per day, that’s 2.2 billion tons per year! The proliferation of waste is having a real and detrimental effect on our environment. The need for bigger landfills and increase in incineration contributes to the production of methane gas, toxic compounds such as dioxins (linked to cancer), and other heavy metals which all add to the significant climate change challenge we all face

This one was a real eye-opener for us – recycling is not even close to enough. Most of the waste created in the manufacturing of products occurs long before the garbage actually hits the landfill (see the point below). Sadly, even though we’ve all been diligently recycling over the years, only 5% of plastics are actually recycled effectively. 40% go to the landfill and a third, as we’ve mentioned above, find their way into our delicate ecosystems (oceans, fresh water lakes and rivers). Having said that, recycling is definitely better than not recycling and it is the next best thing to adopting a Zero Waste lifestyle

On the positive side, we agree with Eco Cycle that Zero Waste is one of the fastest, easiest and most effective solutions to climate change. The accumulation of greenhouse gasses (i.e. waste) is in large part due to the industrial activity to extract, refine, shape and produce the products we use every day. In fact, the EPA estimates that the industrial sector alone accounts for 21% of the USA’s entire greenhouse emissions. But even bigger than that are the industries that sit behind, and are driven by, our consumption, like transportation and electricity which add up to a whopping 56% of USA’s total greenhouse gasses.  Much of this services the ever-increasing demand for single-use, poorly-designed and short lived products. Now if every product is designed to last, be reused, repaired and recycled, this would significantly lessen all that activity and directly reduce the amount of waste and greenhouse gasses being created  

EASY AND IMPACTFUL ZERO-WASTE LIFESTYLE CHANGES

When it comes to purchasing what should be long-lasting consumables (e.g. homewares, electronics, furniture, clothing), the ideal would be to opt for durable products of the highest quality that can be easily repaired, reused and finally, if it stops working altogether, recycled.

We’ll be writing a lot more about Zero Waste lifestyle strategies but in the meantime, here are some things you can do now with very little effort that will, over a lifetime, have an impact that cannot be understated.

Buy a high-quality drink bottle which can be refilled and reused over and over again. Ban The Bottle estimates that in the USA alone some 50 BILLION plastic water bottles were purchased last year and only about 23% were recycled. When you consider the energy, carbon emissions and the money expended on this particular industry and the fact that much of the waste created goes straight into our oceans, it makes perfect sense to use a stylish reusable water bottle instead

Get yourself a reusable coffee cup for perpetual coffee refills. Carry your cup estimates around 25 BILLION styrofoam cups are tossed away every year, and again, only about a quarter of which are actually recycled. What’s more is that Styrofoam cannot be wholly recycled and will therefore linger in landfills or our oceans for many hundreds of years  to come.  If you’re worried about asking your coffee shop to fill up a reusable cup, don’t be! So many amazing people are doing this already and many coffee shops are offering discounts if you bring your own cup. If you’re still not convinced, Trash is for Tossers’ Lauren Singer has created a fun ‘how to’ video to give you a leg up

This is a big one! Avoid plastic and disposable forks, knives and spoons by either simply asking for proper cutlery or carrying your very own quality set of portable utensils. In Pramod Parajuli’s (PhD) research piece “A Life Cycle Analysis: A Plastic Fork”, he uncovers the “ecological, economical and social implications of the plastic utensil economy”. The amount of waste and pollution created from the production, distribution, consumption and disposal of plastic utensils is hard to comprehend. We’re pretty sure that if consumers were even just mildly aware of the effect this insidious but unconscious habit is having on our planet most of us would opt for sustainable solutions, like portable utensils. If you need further motivation, watch this video of a turtle’s plastic fork nightmare (warning: many of you are animal lovers like us – this is a distressing video!)

Swap your plastic shopping bags for high quality reusable shopping bags. Dodging plastic is definitely a recurring theme in this article and plastic bags are one of the worst offenders. According to Ecowatch, 1 million plastic bags are used every minute and they will, like most plastic, be here for much much longer than any of us. Reusable shopping bags are actually super easy to carry with you as they’re light and easy to fold-up and store away. It’s just about building the habit…

Takeaway containers are another huge contributor to single use waste. Think of what the average person plops in the garbage at the end of a trip to McDonalds! Managing waste from quick service restaurants is a tricky one as we’re all busy and often need to eat on the go. Here are a few ideas to minimise takeaway waste and/or help your local foodaries build their own zero-waste awareness:

  • Pick quick service restaurants that will let you eat on proper plates with proper cutlery (albeit quickly)
  • Bring your own container and ask the restaurant to pack your food in there for you
  • If you must buy something to eat on the go, opt for restaurants that offer eco-friendly biodegradable or recyclable containers and use your handy portable utensils from point 3 above
  • Bring your own lunch! Being a little more organised and packing lunch is also so much healthier for you

WHAT ABOUT LIMITED LIFE CONSUMABLES?

We spend a lot of time on this site discussing the sustainability ethos of beauty products. It goes without saying that when consuming limited life products, where possible, we should be trying to reduce our consumption through only buying what we actually need, buying in bulk and where feasible, making our own beauty concoctions. As most of us will continue to buy beauty products we should prioritize products that not only tick our most important sustainability check-boxes but also brands that have conscious waste avoidance / management policies (e.g. recycled packaging, recyclable packaging, renewable energy / energy efficiency, reuse of rinse-water, alternatives to plastics wherever possible).

SUMMARY

Zero Waste is the future. It has to be. The world is not getting smaller, population growth is not slowing, our resources are finite and we need to, have to, come up with a plan to make this planet a sustainable home for all.  This is not going to be easy. But we, as conscious consumers, have the power to adopt a lifestyle that will contribute to a natural, beautiful and sustainable future.

We’re really excited to explore this ethos and share with you the insights, tips and tricks we’ll be developing to strive for a more sustainable and Zero Waste lifestyle – watch this space.

In the meantime, tell us how you feel about this. Do you have tips, tricks, suggestions or zero waste hacks to share?  Get in touch or leave a comment, we’d so love to hear from you!

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