Why is zero waste important?
The Zero Waste Lifestyle brings together concepts like circular economy and looking at things like people’s shopping habits, changing views towards consumption and living in a more sustainable way. “Going zero waste” is a journey and a change in mindset that should alter our approach to resources. In its deepest meaning, it is not about recycling and diversion from landfills but about rethinking production and distribution systems to prevent waste from being manufactured in the first place.
Getting deeper into the zero waste lifestyle is about picking the right fights and this will vary for each person. It is important to seek out the changes which are most feasible and best fit in with our individual lifestyles. Some advice for anybody is to start small and look for the easy changes that can have the biggest impact. It’s impossible to jump in and be zero waste from straight away because it is a lifestyle change. A good analogy is training to run a marathon. You wouldn't go out on the first day of training and run 26 miles. You start at a comfortable distance and built it up from there. If you start out with too much it will become overwhelming and it’s likely that you won’t make meaningful changes that stick long term.
A way to comprehend what our consumption of resources and waste output actually means is by looking at what is called Earth Overshoot day. This is the date each year that a country has already consumed the resources which can naturally be renewed in a year. So ideally we want every country to have a date which is 31st December, or even better later than that meaning we would be using fewer resources than can be renewed.
These figures per capita which gives a clear picture of much any country is consuming as a small country with a lower population could actually be consuming more per person.
Looking at some commonly thought of polluters out there. The US’s overshoot day in 2018 was on March 15th, China was June 15th and the UK fell between these on May 8th. At this rate, if the whole world lived as the UK does, then we would need almost 3 planets worth of resources.
Calculate your own overshoot day with this free online carbon calculator.
One of the most useful tools for getting into the zero waste mindset and move towards living a waste-free life is the 5 Rs of zero waste, popularised by Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home. These actions should be followed in order from top to bottom to help prevent unnecessary waste.
The 5 Rs of zero waste
The best way to start living a more sustainable lifestyle is learning to refuse unneeded items. Imagine all the free handouts and marketing we receive. From junk mail that comes through the letterbox and all the receipts we get every time we go shopping.
Think about the time it takes you to deal with that waste to make sure it is sorted and recycled effectively and on top of that, there is then the resources needed to transport and process this waste. And that is just a few paper items. If we learn to refuse unneeded items then the demand for it will be lower, meaning that less will be produced in the first place.
Obviously, we cannot refuse everything in life. It’s undeniable that we need certain things, so the next step is to think about reducing what we need.
The aim of reducing what we consume is to relieve the stress that is currently put on the planet’s resources and is leading to the multiple climate and environmental crises we face.
This could come in the form of reducing the amount of energy needed for our daily activities, for example, walking more rather than driving or finding alternatives to everyday items that are less wasteful.
The next step is to look to reuse items as much as possible before they become useless. At some point, they may be useless to you, but think could others find a use for them? That pair of jeans you love so much that doesn’t fit anymore, or that gadget that you no longer use are both treasures waiting to be donated to your local charity shop for somebody else to cherish and give a new home.
Other ways that we can reuse items include rethinking how it could be used, repurposing it’s use into something different or seek out a way to repair the item if you don’t have the skills or knowledge how to fix it yourself.
If an item is no longer reusable then the next step is to look at how it can be recycled. We all know about the kerbside facilities that are available to use at home (even if it is a little confusing at times what items go in what bins), but more and more there are extra ways to go a step further to make sure items are disposed of properly.
Looking at even common everyday items, there are already alternative ways in which items can be recycled that are destined for the black bin. The Bare Alternative works with TerraCycle, a company that provides waste collections for typically hard to recycle items.
There’s a great saying that “Recycling is a great place to start, but it's not the place to stop” and that’s because there are three other actions to take before we look to recycle.
The final action for any item is disposal. Rotting refers to the process of returning resources back to the earth when it comes to the end of an item's usefulness, so seen as the last resort in the 5 Rs.
The difference with rotting organic or food waste is that it closes the cycle and the waste is reusable again, whereas if the item is non-organic and is sent to landfill or incineration, then the cycle is broken and the resources are no longer useful.
Source: Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson
There are so many parts to living a low impact or zero waste lifestyle that it can be hard to know what to look to first. Below are some of the most important issues that we look to tackle at The Bare Alternative with more information to help explain why this is a problem and what we can do to find solutions.