What is zero waste?
Updated: Feb 27
Personally, I don’t really the term zero waste as it feels really drastic and extreme as it literally means send nothing to landfills. However, when you are new to living more sustainably, (first of all, Welcome) you might be put off by the term as it seems like an unachievable goal. When you just starting your journey you find that you create waste literally everywhere making the term zero waste ever more restrictive.
Defining zero waste
According to the the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) the definition of zero waste is:
The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health.
Most of us think that the zero waste movement started with Bea Johnson (the founder of zero waste home) in the early 2000’s but the term was first used by Paul Palmer PhD in the 1972. He started a company for the reuse of industrial byproduct chemicals, particularly from the newly growing microelectronics industry. He repurposed thousands of tons of all kinds of chemicals. This incredible succes was followed by the creation of the Zero Waste Institute. The institute shifted focus from the electronic world into general waste management.
Even before the 1970’s zero waste was not new. Back then they just didn’t give it that term. Back in the good old days, every thing was made to last. They usually didn’t have the money or resources to purchase or create new items every time. Mass manufacturing of clothing in Bangladesh wasn’t a thing yet. You either purchased quality or (more likely) made them yourself. Shipping resources overseas wasn’t a big thing yet so if you purchased a garment from a store, you were sure it was made with local resources and made by someone who received a decent salary for the time they put into making the garment. Even the groceries back then were zero waste. Remember those glass milk bottles?
The 21st century is known for the rapid growth of the internet and, as information became more easily available, the amount of zero waste innovators around the world continued to grow. One of the founders of the zero wasters as we currently know them is Bea Johnson, who’s Zero Waste Home blog would go on to inspire thousands around the globe. Johnson brought the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot) of the zero waste movement to live and continued to inspire others to create a more sustainable life as well.
Living Zero Waste
So, what does it mean to live zero waste?
First of all, let me start with doing the best you can and what is within the possibilities in your area.
Living more zero waste means living more like they used in the beginning of previous century by preventing waste and making everything you have last to the fullest.
It is a whole systems approach that aims for a big change in the way materials flow through society, resulting in no waste.
Zero waste encompasses more than eliminating waste through the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot). It focuses on restructuring production and distribution systems to reduce waste. Zero waste is more of a goal or ideal rather than a hard target. Zero Waste provides guiding principles for continually working towards eliminating wastes and in the end reducing the need for raw materials.
There is only so much we can do but if more of us continue to desire more sustainable products, industry will eventually give in to give us, the consumers what they would like. This last part is what we in the end aim for to make our planet more eco-friendly and you can see this with the appearance of more zero waste shops around the world.