The zero waste lifestyle has become a bit of a buzzword over the last few years, which is great as it has raised so much awareness, but just considering waste does not go far enough.
When looking at waste we need to assess the whole supply chain, the production process and disposal of the items we buy, which can become overwhelmingly complicated. I do not blame you if all of this makes you feel like a rabbit in headlights, you are not alone. But hopefully, we can navigate this minefield together.
What Is A Zero Waste Lifestyle?
Zero waste is a lifestyle approach that is based on encouraging recycling, reducing waste, repurposing items and working to throw fewer things away. The four R’s of a zero waste lifestyle are:
You may have seen headlines of people reducing the waste they generate at home every year to a single jar. This is an extreme example as the goal of zero waste is not to produce no waste but rather to lower the waste you generate in everyday life as much as practically possible.
Why is Reducing Waste Important?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “away”, our waste collects in all kinds of surprising places including the stomachs of sea birds and marine animals. Studies have shown that plastic can be found in 90% of sea birds, shocking right? That statistic is enough to make me not want to buy plastic ever again!
Most of the plastic and other items that we throw away is just shifted to another location such as a landfill, the ocean or sometimes a recycling plant. On occasion, our waste is turned into energy by use of controversial energy to waste plants that emit greenhouse gasses. With this said even though plastic and waste a big issue it’s not our only problem, we’re facing a climate crisis and waste reduction is one link in the environmental chain.
A Custodian Against Climate Change
As climate change affects us more and more every year, it is so important to look at our environmental impact holistically and without unhelpful judgement of each other on top of creating less waste. We’re in this together, being a cheerleader and custodian for positive change is much more productive than standing on the sidelines criticising those who are brave enough to stand up and fight while the rest of the world are living their lives blindly led by beautifully crafted marketing messaging urging to buy more stuff! So none of that here, we’ll be winning this battle together right?
I’ve been a marketer for 15 years so I know how that all works. Don’t worry if you’ve fallen into this trap as the game is slightly rigged. But, if you know better, you can do better.
I’d recommend just filtering out the noise and taking time to dig a little deeper so you can make your own informed decisions without the persuasive words of skilled copywriters. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with some incredible ethical marketers who you can listen to, so it’s not all a poisoned chalice.
Living a sustainable life means that you need to look at all aspects of your everyday actions and make consistent manageable changes. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and go a little crazy, but I won’t recommend extreme action as it can breed resentment later on. It is wonderful if you can fit the waste you produce every year into a small bin, but it’s not always an achievable goal for the average busy, working family.
So how can you be a more ethical and sustainable human while reducing waste? I’ve outlined a few basic principles to help guide you in a practical and achievable way below.
Sustainable Living and Reducing Waste is a Journey
Do better every day. It’s as simple as that. Be aware and consider every purchase and lifestyle decision you make more carefully. You won’t get it right the first time, probably not the second time so don’t worry about making mistakes as perfection is unrealistic. As you become more aware you’ll find new ways to make positive changes.
E.g. I’ve recently started to notice that some crisp packaging and my rabbits’ hay packaging bug me tremendously when I have to chuck it in the bin as neither can be recycled. Crisp packets don’t decompose for many years, but it’s my guilty pleasure snack so I will have to look for an alternative. Perhaps making them myself and reusing packaging for something else.
The other really shockingly sad thing is less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. Yes ever! So many things that are marked as recyclable on the packaging is not economical to recycle and ends up in landfill, the ocean or is incinerated. It’s one of the biggest corporate cons of our time. I’ve embedded the Plastic Wars film below if you’re interested to learn more about the great recycling con.
Buy Less Stuff
This is so simple but can be so hard to do. Our modern society has been built around buying more as companies are constantly chasing growth targets, pushing their teams to sell more stuff. Things are also not made to last anymore, especially with the rapid growth of technology, gadgets are outdated almost as soon as you buy them.
As Yoda said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Ask yourself; Do I need this? will I use it for the next x years? before every purchase. This is quite helpful as it makes you think before hitting the buy button, especially on Amazon as it’s so easy to buy things and like magic, it just appears on your doorstep the next day.
Making more conscious purchase decisions will end up saving you a lot of money which you can spend on amazing experiences or a healthy pension plan/early retirement if you choose.
Buy Better Quality and Support Ethical Brands
So here is my challenge to you. If you’ve not done so already, let go of fast-cheap fashion and build a sustainable wardrobe made up of second-hand items you can by from thrift stores or incredible pieces by sustainable fashion brands that last. Skip a few mobile phone upgrades cycles and ignore the urge to get the latest and most shiny pair of whatever. We truly need to re-think why and what quality of the products we buy.
There are brands out there that still produce high-quality and long-lasting items that have a smaller impact on the planet and cost a bit more. But over the life of the item, the purchase cost evens out and will most likely cost you less. As consumers, it’s our job to support ethical brands, with values similar to our own. That’s the only way we’ll really get businesses to change their ways.
Re-use, Repair and Recycle
Re-use, repair and recycle is the motto of zero wasters, and something I have adopted 100%. Our throwaway culture is not serving us anymore so we need to rethink.
There are so many upcycling groups and ideas on Facebook and Pinterest that can inspire us to be more creative, helping us make items new and beautiful again. I’ve also noticed a new wave of upcycling businesses such as Kica Living, who uses old cans and bottles to make beautiful candles and other homeware. Many high-streets have upcycling and charity shops that have amazing items just waiting to be re-used.
Don’t tell my parents this, but I respect the behaviours they demonstrated while I was growing up more and more every day. There were things in our house that looked like new many years later, probably because stuff was made differently then, but also because nothing was replaced just to get the latest new thing. It was used until it didn’t work anymore and then repaired if it could be.
Find Joy in Minimalism
Things we accumulate become our physical baggage in life, it weighs us down, clutters our houses and eventually ends up in the bin as wasted money and materials.
Having clear surfaces, smaller wardrobes and less furniture give us room to move, think, be more creative and enjoy the space we’re in. Every year I do an annual Easter Weekend/May Bank Holiday Spring clean and am happy to say that I have less stuff to throw away every time. So now I can focus more of my energy on maintaining and cleaning. It’s liberating, you should try it.
As I said, this is a journey and like you, I’m still learning so please add your own tips in the comments below. We’d just luve to learn from you as well!