Complete Guide to The Zero-Waste Lifestyle
Zero waste is NOT about buying zero waste products. Choosing reusable products made from sustainable materials can help reduce waste in the future. And we do need to buy consumables such as hand wash, toothbrush, and kitchen scrubs. But there are many other ways to achieve zero waste lifestyle without spending money.
Zero waste products often cost more than conventional products, and this gives the impression that zero waste lifestyle is for people who can afford. This is not what zero waste means. In fact, if we keep buying eco-friendly products that we don’t need, we are still creating unnecessary waste and using resources at an alarming rate. More about biggest myths about Zero Waste.
Waste free living is not only better for the environment, but should also improve our health, save our time and money.
What does zero waste mean?
The definition of zero waste according to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is “The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” The goal of zero waste is to send no waste to landfill, incinerators, and the ocean. While producers are responsible for all the processes to deliver their products to the user, we as a consumer need to think how much to consume, how to use the products, and how to dispose of them.
Zero waste refers not only to keeping waste out of landfill, but also encouraging our society to be less wasteful at all stage of the chain from resource extraction to discarded material management. Ideally, the resources extracted from the nature remain in use for as long as possible before being returned to the earth with little to no environmental impact.
An example of zero waste is organic farming. Food is grown natural methods without harmful chemicals and delivered to buyers with minimum packaging and transportation. Food scraps are composted and used to improve the soil quality.
Why zero waste is important?
When we throw a rubbish into a bin, the rubbish doesn’t automatically disappear. Someone has to sort it out and most of them are sent to landfills. The land is limited, and rubbish left in landfills are harmful to the environment. They release a number of harmful gasses into the air and leachate enters groundwater and pollutes the land and drinking water.
How about recycling?
Recycling is the last resort, not the main solution for zero waste. The fact about recycling… According to the studies, only around 30% of what we put in a recycle bin is recycled and only 9% of plastics get recycled. Many materials such as plastics and paper can be recycled only limited times and they are actually down-cycled. For example, recycled plastic from a water bottle is not good enough to make another water bottle and will be used to make carpet. The carpet made from recycled plastic cannot be recycled anymore and will be sent to landfills. Other materials such as aluminum and glass can be recycled infinitely but require a lot of energy to recycle.
At our current waste levels, the recycling industry cannot keep up with the demand. While recycling is one of zero waste solutions, we cannot heavily rely on recycling. Putting extra resources and emissions into the recycling systems does not make sense as redesigning resource management and product life cycle is a better solution for the future.
How do we achieve zero waste home?
Manage food waste
- Plan your meals in advance and buy food only you eat. You will need some stock for emergency, but don’t let the food go out of date
- If you cannot finish food quick enough, cook and freeze them
- Use vegetable and fruits scraps for soup stock, re-growing, or composting
- Before disposing of sauce bottle, food cans, or milk cartons into a recycle bin, give a quick rinse to clean
- Meat/fish bones or daily products can be disposed into a green waste bin
If you don’t have a garden to use compost, you can give to others. Soils on the Earth is becoming severely degraded due to a combination of intensive farming practices and natural processes. There are plenty of farmers needing good organic matters to improve the soil quality.
Once your food waste is zero, you won’t need bin liners (plastic bags) in your bin anymore. You will rarely have wet and stinky items to throw into a bin. You could use scrap paper or box to keep a bin clean.
Repurpose what you already have
- You don’t need to get rid of plastics to make a zero waste home! Using plastic items doesn’t mean you are not eco-friendly. If your plastic containers, cups, toothbrushes are still usable, use them. Until you have to buy another one, you don’t need to swap it now.
- When you have empty bottles and jars, repurpose them. You should have more than enough and don’t need to buy new jars or bottles.
- Use old towels, bedding, and t-shirts as cleaning cloths or wipes. If you can sew, make re-usable shopping and produce bags.
- Bundle up kitchen metal cutlery and take them with you. It is not necessary to buy a set of to-go cutlery
- Downsize cleaning products to 1 or 2. For most part of house cleaning can be done with baking soda + vinegar + citrus peel.
- Repair or upcycle furniture rather than replacing to new one
Every time you see new products especially eco-friendly ones, it is very tempting to buy. But make it a habit to ask if you need to buy it. The more you bring home, the more waste you will have to deal with.
We do have the power to make a difference in the market by saying no. Do you really need another free pen, name badge, promotion bag, extra packaging, etc? Be aware that you create a demand to make more of that every time you take one. When you reuse and repurpose things in your house, you can minimize spending for new items.
Recycling is not for free. Someone has to pay for all the processes involved. Most likely, consumers and businesses are paying as a tax. Recycling is basically manufacturing process, and this is why recycling is the last option.
To help the recycling industry, we need to do our part to optimize the amount of materials get recycled. Average home in developed countries have about 300,000 items made from variety of different materials. A simple item such as a shampoo pump bottle is made of 4 to 5 different materials. You can imagine how difficult sorting materials for recycling is.
We encourage you to learn how to recycle different items correctly and we made a House Waste Disposal Guide for you. Download it for free.
The rubbish you put into either general, comingled, or green bin is easier to track. You can see how much waste you created with your eye. There is invisible waste such as water and electricity. These are hard to track daily and we don’t think we wasted them. However, we should minimize using these resources as much as we can.
Did you know electricity is the biggest contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions? Reducing the amount of waste can reduce greenhouse gas emissions but don’t forget reducing electricity usage too. Here’re what you can do:
- Switch off electrical devices and appliances when they are not in use
- Insulate your house roof and walls to minimize extra cooling/heating
- Save hot water
- Next time you purchase electrical devices or appliances, choose energy-efficient products
- Install renewable energy system
Did you know freshwater available to human is only 1.5% of the water supply on Earth? The total amount of water on our planet doesn’t change but clean freshwater has been threatened by overdevelopment, pollution, and global warming. Water is becoming more precious commodity.
Also, using in-house water requires energy to deliver the water to your home. Reducing the amount of water, you use can help conserve both water and energy. Here’re ways to save water at home:
- Use water-efficient appliances
- Take shorter showers
- Turn off the water when you don’t need
- Regularly check leaky faucets
- Maximize the use of rainwater
Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle can be challenging depending on your current daily routine. You will have to unlearn wasteful habit at some level and practice mindful consumption. Try to make small incremental changes like starting a compost pile, repurposing household items instead of purchasing new one can begin your zero