Zero waste is a philosophy advocating for the indefinite cyclical reuse of materials and resources, often in a way that mimics how resources are reused in nature (e.g. composting). The idea of zero waste has been around for a while, since the 1970s, but has recently been adopted as an individual lifestyle, thanks in large part to Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home. The goal of a zero waste lifestyle is to produce zero waste.
However, “waste” is rather ambiguous in this context. It can refer to garbage sent to the landfill, or garbage and recycling, or sometimes garbage and recycling and compost.
Additionally, I don’t like the phrase “zero waste”. It’s unreachable, depending on how waste is defined, and thus misleading. And it encourages perfectionism, which is exclusionary and off-putting. I prefer to talk about “waste reduction” or a “low waste” lifestyle, which everyone can adopt to some extent.
So the question becomes:
Why would anyone want to adopt a low-waste lifestyle?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. I’m sure you can find at least one that appeals to you!
The primary motivation for a lot of people trying to reduce their waste production is that it’s good for the environment. Waste reduction goes hand-in-hand with sustainability, allowing you to have a smaller carbon footprint and encouraging you to use fewer resources.
Fortunately, reducing what you use also means that you save money. Bea Johnson estimates that her family reduced their spending by 40% from living the typical American suburban lifestyle to a low-waste lifestyle.
And there are potential health benefits to such a lifestyle. When you avoid packaging, you end up eating a lot more minimally-processed whole foods, which are generally considered better for you. (Here‘s a WebMD article summarizing Michael Pollan’s stance on eating.) You avoid plastics, which are known to leach various carcinogenic and hormone-mimicking chemicals, among others, into anything they touch. And you can reduce stress levels by simplifying.
Simplifying your life is pretty big right now. See The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, among a hoard of less-famous decluttering books.
Living a low-waste lifestyle is the perfect canvas for crafts and DIY, which I love (and also appeals to people interested in self-sufficiency)! You can learn new skills, like breadmaking and soapmaking and sewing (they’re all easier than you think!), while entertaining yourself and fulfilling basic needs. It’s very gratifying 🙂
To get started, see this post for easy tips on waste reduction!
And here are some zero-waste bloggers who often have helpful info: