What is a “Zero Waste” lifestyle?
We are constantly bombarded with huge marketing campaigns and social media blasts, and we’re told we must buy the latest product, otherwise we’re missing out, or somehow lacking something in our lives.
The truth is, the global economy, environment, and our health are all at risk because of the way we currently live our lives.
Natural resources are slowly dwindling, putting excessive strain on the environment. The more we demand of the planet, the less able it is to give us what we need. In addition, the economy across the world is extremely volatile, making it far more attractive to purchase goods from overseas. Within all of this, we’re suffering health-wise, but we don’t wake up and smell the coffee, changing our habits from negative to positive. The Zero Waste lifestyle recognizes these things and teaches that the things we do directly impact the environment and our lives in general.
The Zero Waste lifestyle is about recycling, reusing, being more eco-aware, simplifying, and thinking twice.
The benefits of adopting a Zero Waste lifestyle are:
• Saves money
• A happier life, which focuses more on experiences than owning material goods
• A positive impact on the environment and sustainability
• Reducing overall exposure to harmful chemicals and synthetics
• Supports local businesses, especially those dealing with organic goods
• Helps with diet, by offering a leaner, healthier option
• Saves time
The 5 Rs to remember
The Zero Waste lifestyle revolves around five specifics, all beginning with R.
Refuse — Do not buy or accept what you don’t need
Reduce — Cut down on what you do use if you can’t refuse it
Reuse — Reuse the things that you can’t reduce or refuse, maximizing its usage, e.g. reusable batteries
Recycle — Whilst, not the first option, you can recycle the things that you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse
Rot — The last resort is to use composting as nature’s way of getting rid of waste. Composting allows nutrients to be taken back into the soil, so it’s important to ensure that you’re allowing only specific items to rot, e.g. natural.
“Reusability is not only about eliminating disposables, but it’s also about buying durable quality when replacements are needed”.
A Zero Waste lifestyle doesn’t focus entirely on recycling, and that is actually one of the last resorts of the topic.
When we throw something away, we think that’s the end of the story, but nobody really stops to wonder where it went. The Zero Waste lifestyle is based on avoiding waste as much as possible, but it’s not specifically about promoting the idea of recycling. Whilst it’s unavoidable much of the time, recycling is considered the fourth option, with handling waste materials in a different way considered more beneficial.
Change your kitchen, the heart of the home
The kitchen is certainly the heart of the home, the hub of everything that comes, goes, and all the meals that are made, but more waste is generated here than anywhere else in the house.
Our author realized just how much we rely upon manufacturing when she glanced at the ingredients in Dijon mustard. She quickly realized that it was easy to make it herself, therefore cutting down on waste and saving money. From there, she began making kefir, and then cheese. It’s easier to make items than you might think, and the Internet is certainly a good source of information.
By focusing on buying products, we’re losing the natural connection with being able to make things with our bare hands. This is something which has allowed us to survive through the centuries and something which has been passed down through the generations.
Going back to the basics and learning how to make things yourself will allow you to connect with your children and loved ones, save money, avoid the allure of mass marketing and production, and do your bit for the environment at the same time.
The kitchen is often considered to be the heartbeat of the home, and a place where everyone gathers to talk, create, eat, and drink tea or coffee. This is also the number one hotspot within the home for the waste.
Our kitchen cupboards are constantly cluttered with gadgets we’ve never used, and we have more plates and other items that we will ever use. Decluttering is the way forward and realizing that not everything you own has a use.
Our author suggests you should get rid of anything which isn’t used regularly, anything which is a duplicate, anything which may put you and your family’s lives in danger, if you only keep it because you think you should, or if it’s a tool or gadget which has a very specialized use. If you could use the space for something more suitable, again, that’s a reason to declutter.
You should only keep what you really need, and you should consider going down the reusable line for anything else. For instance, you could use a pile of old rags instead of disposable paper towels, and you could have a stainless steel water bottle for everyone in the house, instead of plastic bottles.
Grocery shopping is also something within the kitchen which leads to clutter. Make shopping lists, buy in bulk, and use meal planning to cut down on what you buy. Always go with organic, fresh produce and make meal batches, freezing them until you’re ready to eat them. You can easily use leftovers too, e.g. kale can be made to make chips, and stale bread can be collected to make bread, putting at a later date.
Declutter your bathroom and streamline your beauty regime!
The bathroom is the second biggest culprit in terms of waste, and it is often a spot which is full of the latest beauty and wellness products. We are bombarded with marketing campaigns which tell us that we simply must buy this product to be attractive, or we must buy that product to have the softest skin. Much of the time it is simply consumerism gone mad, and learning to avoid such marketing endeavors can be a good route towards decluttering the bathroom of these types of products.
We all yearn to save time, at any cost (including the environment), so we buy into time-saving tricks that marketing campaigns promise. But who is disposability really benefiting in the end?
Beauty and wellness products are often laden with chemicals and additives which can be very damaging to health, as well as to the environment. Our author realized that even a simple exfoliator may include plastic-containing beads. These make their way into the water supply and damage the environment.
The best way to declutter your bathroom area is to look at every product in there and question whether you actually use it, whether it is dangerous to health (does it contain BHA, BHT, DEA, parabens, petrolatum, etc), whether you are simply keeping it because you feel you ought to, and whether you could use that space for something more useful.
The bathroom’s also a spot which can benefit from reusables and there are many items here which can be used for composting, such as bamboo or wooden toothbrushes, cotton wall balls (100% cotton), facial tissues, sea sponges, nail clippings, and tampons, to name a few.
Home remedies are often just as effective as medical routes, however, you should always take the advice of your doctor too. A few options our author highlights are gargling salt water if you have a sore throat, taking an oatmeal bath and using olive oil if you are suffering from eczema, and drinking coffee for gout problems.
Clear your mind with a spot of bedroom decluttering
We spend a large proportion of our lives sleeping, and that means we need to ensure our sleeping environment is as stress-free as possible. Bedrooms are often far more cluttered than they need to be, and that doesn’t create the most restful of environments.
Bedroom furnishings can often harbor dust and other allergens, which can cause problems with health and also carry the risk of releasing chemicals into the air.
It’s possible to look into organic options, such as organic mattresses, but our author suggests decluttering to be just as effective. Be as minimal as possible, with the following suggestions prove useful:
• Ensure that technology is kept out of the bedroom.
• Avoiding storing workout equipment in the bedroom.
• Dresser furniture are huge dust harborers, so avoid wherever possible.
• Keep chairs out of the bedroom, as they simply serve as somewhere to throw clothes.
• Avoid decorative pillows and other soft furnishings as they just clutter the space.
• Cut down on the number of duplicate linen sets you own.
One possible sticking point in decluttering a bedroom can be the wardrobe. We often own far too many clothes because we want to look good and be the most fashionable amongst our social circle.
Downsizing your wardrobe will take questioning of every single piece, so pull everything out and ask yourself whether you’ve worn it lately, is it outdated, and is it broken? Do you already have something similar? Do you keep it simply because you feel you have to? Anything which doesn’t fit the bill can be cast aside. You should also repeat this process regularly, to ensure that your wardrobe doesn’t slowly start filling up once more.
Our author also suggests ways to stop habit shopping, such as only shopping at predetermined times of the year, and keeping an inventory of the clothes you own. This will save time, money, and keep your wardrobe streamlined. In addition, you should buy second hand whenever possible, repair any pieces which have rips or tears, and purchase items which have more than one use.
Become a Zero Waste cleaning and gardening expert
Mass marketing has led us to believe that we need to clean everything with different specialized products, and as a result, we own far too many, and all of it takes too much time.
Simplifying your cleaning routine and ensuring regular upkeep will save you time and money, whilst also reducing your impact on the environment. Many cleaning products contain harmful chemicals which can impact not only on the environment around you but also on your health and that of your family.
Basic products, such as vinegar, can work fantastically well as cleaning solutions, and you simply need to dilute it down a little with some water and store it in a spray bottle. You can also look toward water-based cleaning materials, and avoid anything which is laden with chemicals.
Adopting a streamlined attitude to your cleaning and maintenance also means giving yourself less work to do. Choose surfaces which are easier to clean, reduce the amount of flat surfaces you have within your home so you don’t have to dust as much, avoid using floor space for furnishings, cut down on the areas where you allow your pets to roam, and make sure that you store food in containers which are airtight, to avoid pest issues arising. You could also think about opening a window after you have had a bath or shower, to reduce the chances of mold build up.
Laundry is a time-consuming task and one which can also impact on the types of cleaning materials you need to purchase. It’s possible to cut down your laundry to just once per week, provided you’re organized and mindful. This will save you time and money on your electricity bills and detergent costs.
Keep a minimal wardrobe to reduce how much washing you need to do, wear things more than once if at all possible, and encourage everyone in your household to treat stains when they happen. These are all ways to stick to once per week laundry.
Your garden is another area which can be streamlined, especially in terms of the time it takes to keep everything looking tidy. Stick to plants which don’t need much maintenance, e.g. low watering requirements and less trimming; you can achieve this by choosing plants which are endemic to the region you live in. If you have weeds, instead of using weed killers which contains harmful chemicals, simply spray straight vinegar onto the troubled spot instead.
Magically create more hours in your day with Zero Waste
Do you constantly spend your time saying you’re busy? Most of us say we’re busy but we don’t really understand what busy is. Albert Einstein once said that “if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Our author disagrees with that notion, stating that a tidy, decluttered desk is not a sign of an empty mind at all! By having a streamlined working area, you can focus on the task at hand, and achieve higher levels of productivity.
Look at your working environment and ask yourself if you really need to know what is there, questioning its usage and value. If you need to clean and dust it too much, is it worth the time? Can you use the space for something else? Do you actually use everything on your desk?
Most people choose to bulk buy their office items, e.g. pens and paper, but this is damaging in terms of encouraging the ability to waste. It’s far better to purchase what you need when you need it, and therefore avoid waste in the first place.
Instead of buying everything in large amounts, and therefore causing a problem in terms of where to store it, stick to smaller amounts, but also think about reusables. You can purchase reusable pens these days, and refillable automatic pencils are a very good option too. Instead of purchasing highlighters which often run out quickly, how about using colored pencils?
The other point in terms of productivity is the digital world. How much time do you spend on social media or checking your emails?
We are constantly switched on, living in a world which is connected 24/7. We never have time to breathe, to just “be” and that can be overwhelming for the mind and body. We don’t live in the moment anymore, and it’s also draining in terms of energy efficiency, with electrical devices always on charge or connected to a wifi box.
Instead of always being available and always connected, try deleting your personal social media accounts and sticking with business ones only. You should also turn off your cell phone if you’re working and dedicate a certain amount of time per day for Internet-based activities. Streamline your inbox and your desktop, regularly cleaning out your bookmarked pages and your favorites list. The other point is to only check your emails a set number of times per day, e.g. three; once in the morning, once after lunch, and once before the end of the day.
There is such a thing as being too connected. Overusing digital devices is not only environmentally draining (requiring the latest electronics and massive server farms running nonstop to keep trivial pieces of information available), it can also be detrimental on a human level
From time to time, escape from the digital world altogether!
Family life and Zero Waste can cohabit with success
Whilst it’s certainly a personal choice whether to have children or not, the US Census Bureau puts the world’s population at a staggering 7 billion at the last count.
This staggering fact means that in a few years, there will not be enough resources to maintain the growing population, and if we want to avoid the risks of overpopulation we need to change the way we look at reproduction.
Some people choose not to have children, or to adopt instead, with this very issue in mind. Most people choose to protect themselves against surprise pregnancies but may want children in the future. That in itself is a choice which can only be made by the person concerned. Nobody can tell you whether you should or shouldn’t reproduce, but it’s important to remember to educate your children about the environment and the responsibilities we have with regards to it.
Our author talks about the changes they made when embracing the Zero Waste lifestyle, and how they transitioned their children into the lifestyle too. They did their best to keep a routine and traditions in place, but to also encourage family time and outdoor activities, refusing too many social gatherings which placed stress and burdens on time. They were also mindful of too much TV and digital connectivity and instead focused on experiences and family time, rather than material things.
Streamlining your kids’ toys is a good idea if you want to save space and also help to teach your children the value of material goods and experiences overall.
In order to streamline toys, look at whether anything is broken, whether they actually play with it, why they have it, etc. You should also stick to games consoles which are second hand if possible, and which also use rechargeable batteries, setting time limits for their use. Arts and crafts are by far a better alternative, and you can have minimal supplies, many of which can be homemade or water-based, to minimize environmental impact.
Children living within a Zero Waste lifestyle are certainly not missing out, it simply means the focus is shifted towards experiences rather than “things”.
Handling special occasions without “falling off the wagon”
Living a Zero Waste lifestyle doesn’t mean not celebrating special occasions, it just means doing things in a slightly different way. There is a famous Overhill Cherokee Indian saying which sums this up perfectly: “we should not blindly following traditions — there’s no learning in that. We need to understand them”.
Celebrate times which are special to you in the way you want, but also be mindful of the amount of waste you may be generating. During the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans create a quarter more waste than they do the rest of the year!
It’s simply about changing mindsets. Cut down on the expectations you have and celebrate these special times a little more simply, focusing on time together rather than material items. It’s also a good idea to avoid the big sales which are often attached to these times, e.g. Black Friday, as you will simply end up buying many things you don’t really need. Instead, why not focus on doing good deeds, like helping out in a soup kitchen for a day, and hosting a holiday gathering of friends and family, but using reusable decorations and homemade items instead?
You could also focus on making gifts rather than purchasing them; this is far more thoughtful and has far less waste and environmental affect attached to it.
If you do choose to eat out or travel during these special times, you can continue to do so in a thoughtful and Zero Waste way, without affecting the environment too much. Focus on restaurants which are sustainable and use organic ingredients, avoiding fast food options, which tend to have more waste attached to them. Only order what you know you can eat, and cut down on condiments, rather than simply using them because they’re free.
Of course, you could opt for a picnic in nature instead, using the food you have made yourself and always remember to take your rubbish home with you. Camping is another way to spend time together as a group.
Some people do find it impossible to avoid the carbon footprint which is attached to flying. What you can do is reduce your footprint instead.
Stick to direct flights, reduce the number of times you fly down to a bare minimum, and think about alternatives if possible, e.g. train. When you arrive at your destination, stay somewhere local so you can walk to sightseeing spots, rather than using public transport or taxis.
Living in a Zero Waste manner isn’t about missing out on life or not having the things you want, it’s about changing your mindset and focusing on what is really important. Would you rather have an amazing experience with people you love to look back on, or would you rather have the latest iPhone? Shifting your expectations and your focus will bring you greater joy, a healthier life, and it will certainly benefit the environment overall.
• Open your kitchen cupboards and pull everything out. Ask yourself whether you use what you have in your hand on a regular basis. If not — discard it!
• Streamline your wardrobe by donating clothes you don’t wear to a charity. You’ll have less clutter and feel great at the same time.
• Use natural cleaning solutions, e.g. diluted vinegar, rather than expensive, chemical-laden choices.