1. Too many goods can be bad: Why zero waste
We all have a rudimentary understanding that waste is bad. It’s instilled into kids at a young age with adages such as “waste not, want not.” Yet still as a species we humans create a shockingly large amount of waste. So, let’s explore the question of WHY waste is bad.
First and foremost we must discuss waste management and soil contamination.
In an ideal world everyone would recycle items such as waste plastic, glass, and paper. They could then get repurposed and reused and their life cycles would begin all over again as renewable products. Unfortunately, many people irresponsibly dispose of items that could otherwise be recycled, and it is then that they end up in landfill sites where they sit for hundreds and hundreds of years without biodegrading or breaking down. As a result, they pollute the ground, poison the soil, and have a negative health effect on anything that lives on or in the land. Insects’ homes will become damaged; crops will grow with defects; the planet will look messier and untidier. All because items such as plastic, glass and paper were improperly disposed of.
Another side effect of people wasting items would be water contamination.
This is where unnatural objects find their way into bodies of water where they can kill or be consumed by fish and other animals living there. Underwater wildlife will consume tiny particles of plastic that have found their way into the natural habitat that they call their home. More and more we are farming these very same fish and they end up on our dinner plates – still containing particles of plastic that we then consume as
we eat the fish. We have then polluted our own bodies with the waste plastics that we failed to dispose of properly in the first place.
We have discussed how waste can cause damage to the ground and to the water, but by throwing away things such as waste food we are also contributing towards air pollution too!
A large amount of food waste ends up as landfill, and after it is dumped it starts to rot and decompose. While this is undeniably good for the soil, it does produce a large amount of methane gas which rises up into the air and contributes to the destruction of our atmosphere and the ozone layer.
These environmental issues all have an impact on us as humans, and there are definitely negative effects on society. As well as the health effects of our world and ecosystem being polluted by waste, there are also ways our daily lives are affected in a more immediate and direct way. For example, there are people in the world who are desperate for food, clothes, medicine, many things that we consider absolute basics – and not just in far-flung third world countries. Sometimes people in desperate need are on our very doorsteps. But instead of donating, reusing, recycling or passing on things, we just throw them away without a second thought when other people may have been able to find a use for them. Wasting is an inconsiderate act.
So here is our extensive and thorough zero waste guide that will hopefully help you start to live a cleaner and more sustainable life!
2. What is the Zero Waste movement?
Zero Waste is a movement pioneered by blogger Bea Johnson in which she encourages the recycling and reuse of as many items and products as possible. Her aim with Zero Waste is to prevent waste entirely as opposed to dealing with waste as and when we continue to produce it.
She encourages people around the world to live by the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ model: a set of principles where something is born (e.g. paper is created from trees), used for mass produced products (e.g. the paper is used to produce newspapers) and then after use it goes on to start its life again (e.g. the paper is recycled and can be reused and repurposed for some other product or item). This is in contrast to the ‘cradle-to-grave’ model, which ends with something being thrown away never to be used again. There are always zero waste alternatives!
By stringently following this cradle-to-cradle model Bea and her family were able to reduce their waste to practically nothing. Speaking on the Zero Waste Home official website Bea says: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order) is my method to reducing my family’s annual trash to a jar since 2008.”
3. Going Zero waste: make it easy
Many people are willing to try to go waste free (or at least significantly reduce their waste output) but in this day and age it’s not as simple as just deciding that you’re going to use less plastic or throw fewer things away.
Many products come in packaging that will ultimately end up being discarded.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, medicines, food, toys, games…these things come with useless packaging that serves no other purpose than containing the items within. Things like bubble wrap, Styrofoam, plastic wraps etc. While many companies are trying to cut down on packaging, it is still down to the consumers to search for items with little or no packaging. Easier said than done, but it is possible!
While many products come in useless packaging, a lot of that is recyclable!
If you took a look through your trash you would find that the majority is recyclable, and it is our responsibility to make sure we dispose of it responsibly and correctly. Having separate bins in the house makes life easier as you are able to separate the different materials into their respective trash cans as you go instead of throwing it all away into the same place.
One of the biggest challenges we will face is breaking old habits.
We might have the best intentions to try and do better for the environment and create less waste, but sometimes we will subconsciously crave a certain snack or something that will result in waste plastic or waste food that will have to be thrown away. Habits are hard to break and when the urge strikes you just have to be strong and resist!
Creating less waste requires strength, will, and forethought. No one has ever said that it was going to be easy, but you have to persevere if you want to change your ways of thinking and living. It will be worth it in the end!
4. How to incorporate zero waste in our everyday lifestyle
Despite what many people might think, there are lots of different ways we can incorporate zero waste into our everyday lives. Granted, some are more obvious than others, but we’ll try to broadly cover a few of the ways you can reduce the environmental and social impact of what you throw away.
Firstly you can minimise the use of plastic bottles and containers by taking reusable bottles and reusable containers to work and when you’re out and about. You’ll have no need to buy plastic bottled drinks or quick snacks from any shops or vending machines, so you’ll have no rubbish to throw away! Plus, if you use your own reusable items you’ll be able to take home anything that you don’t eat or drink to enjoy later.
Let’s consider when you go to a restaurant or a theme park or anywhere like that. You’re going to get thirsty and order a nice old drink, and the chances are it’s going to come with a plastic straw. That plastic straw is just going to get thrown away and dumped into a landfill eventually, so why not try using a reusable straw. They’re small, discreet and compact, easy to store away and take out when you need it!
Shopping second-hand is a great way to get some amazing clothes at even more amazing prices. Many people donate clothes that they have grown out of or maybe don’t like anymore to charity shops or thrift stores. Similarly, you could check online auction sites too. You might have to do a little bit of digging to find exactly what you’re looking for, but it is possible to find amazingly fashionable and trendy clothes (and more) second hand.
And don’t forget that if you do go shopping you need to take your reusable shopping bags so you don’t end up buying plastic ones that will go to waste.
And what about at home, how can you incorporate Zero Waste there? Well aside from being conscious of what you throw away, there are other things you can do: got some old bedding? Reuse it as a play mat for your kids, or to cover furniture while decorating. Need to wash some clothes? Wait until they’re actually dirty and need a wash as opposed to just doing them because that’s the day you do your washing.
There are of course plenty of other fantastically useful blogs out there that deal with reducing waste so go and check them out!
5. How to create less waste when cooking
Everyone loves to get into the kitchen and cook something amazing, but very often with cooking comes a lot of waste. As well as there often being a lot of packaging, many times a lot of food ends up in the trash too. But how do you put a stop to that and create less (or no) waste while cooking?
There’s nothing better than some snout-to-tail, root-to-stem cooking! 99 times out of 100 you can usually eat every single part of whatever it is that you’re cooking. With fruit and vegetables there are so many different ways of cooking every part of them and preparing everything – including the parts that normally wouldn’t make it to the plate – into a delicious meal.
Stems for example are filled with fibre and can be chopped, sautéed, grilled, roasted, added to soups or even pureed into smoothies. The roots are a delicious garnish that tend to be discarded by most people. Similarly, fruit and vegetable peels are wonderful things to add to a meal to give it more texture and flavour.
If you enjoy yourself some meat products, then even there nothing has to go to waste! There are so many delicious and flavourful cuts of meat that you can enjoy, many of the organs can be prepared and cooked in various exciting ways, and even bones can be used to make stock and gravy to enjoy with your meal.
But what about when you’ve finished cooking and you’ve still got some left? Does it go in the bin? Of course, it doesn’t! There are many ways that you can store food so you can enjoy what is left another day.
One of the best tips would be to remember that when it comes to saving your waste your freezer is your best friend. Almost anything and everything can be stored in a freezer and, if properly wrapped up and preserved, they will be fine to take out, defrost and enjoy for months or even years to come! Just be sure that you properly seal the container or bag that your food is in otherwise it might end up with freezer burn which will ruin the flavour!
So as you can see nothing has to go to waste. But even then, you will find you have a few items left that are no good to be used in food, so what then? Well banana peel can be rubbed on bug bites to help relieve the redness and itching, shattered egg shells can be used as an abrasive for cleaning pots and pans, and dried out corn cobs are a great replacement for wood chippings when grilling.
And then of course there is the old classic of having a compost heap. Throw any food waste in there, wait for a good few months, and eventually it will mulch down and you will have wonderful fertile soil to use in your garden!
No matter what you decide to make when you’re in the kitchen, there’s no excuse for any of it to go to waste!
6. How to do zero waste when on holidays
People seem to think that living that Zero Waste life is an impossible task when you’re away. How do you make sure you keep up that sustainable living when you don’t have all your usual home comforts and routines? Luckily, it’s not as difficult as you might think – it just takes a little bit of thought and preparation to ensure that your getaway is as waste free as possible!
First off you want to take a reusable bottle with you so you can take your own drinks while on the go. It saves you having to buy plastic bottled drinks that may well end up just getting thrown away. A good tip would be to take an insulated bottle – if you want to take a hot drink out it will stay warm, but the insulation will also help cold drinks stay cooler for longer too!
Bamboo cutlery sets and tiffin containers are a fantastic way of making sure that no waste is created at mealtimes while you’re away. Bamboo cutlery saves on having to pick up the plastic alternatives at fast food restaurants, and when they are damaged and can no longer be used, they are easily recyclable because they are made of wood. The tiffin containers are basically a reusable lunchbox that will keep food hot or cold for periods of time, so you can take a meal with you wherever you go!
Finished eating? Okay, well it’s time to reach for your cloth napkins! Cloth napkins are a great alternative to the disposable ones offered at many eating establishments. They’re incredibly handy to have around as not only can you use them while eating, but you can use them to dry your hands if they get wet, carry things around in, etc
While away it is always handy you have a small foldaway reusable bag to ensure that you aren’t picking up pesky plastic bags if you purchase any souvenirs. They’re strong and sturdy yet can be folded away unto small, easy to store away and conceal packages.
But what about actually getting to your holiday destination? Well depending on the length of the journey and the number of people going, sometimes driving, or even taking the train can be the most environmentally friendly and economical option. Planes infamously pump out a lot of harmful gasses into our atmosphere, so if you can avoid flying that is always going to be preferable. If flying is your only option, then you should get a seat in economy as flying in business class results in a massive three times more harmful emissions per person.
And if you still feel bad about travelling and the carbon footprint you’re going to leave behind then you can always look into a carbon offset scheme. These are a great way of paying the planet back for the pollutants that you put into the environment when travelling. For a small fee they will plant trees and develop waste management plants. If you calculate your annual carbon footprint you can buy offsets accordingly. Similarly, you can pay to plant trees through various Forest Service Plant-A-Tree programs. It’s a great way of giving back!
7. How to teach kids about zero waste
Creating less waste is an important mission, and it’s not one that is the sole responsibility of adults. As parents we have a responsibility to teach our children the importance of living a sustainable life and aiming to live a zero-waste lifestyle. Our children look up to us for advice and knowledge and as a conscious parent it is important that you pass that on to your kids.
You see, children are our next generation and the future of our planet. It is important that we teach them about the dangers of creating waste, the damage it does to the environment, and how disastrous the future will be for our planet if we as a species do not change our ways, create less waste and clean up our act.
It is not us and our generation that will truly suffer the consequences of a wasteful society. It is our children, and our children’s children. We are at a pivotal moment in history, but it’s not too late to make a course correction to narrowly avoid disaster. They should not be the ones that suffer as a result of previous generation’s wastefulness and inability to change.
So, let’s talk about the various ways your children can start to live a sustainable lifestyle free of waste!
8. How kids can create less waste at home
Kids grow fast. Maybe a little too fast sometimes! You buy them some lovely clothes and before you know it, they’re already outgrowing them. Encourage your children to help you pick out clothes that don’t fit anymore, fold them neatly and place them into a reusable bag and take them to a charity shop or a thrift store to donate. Your child will learn the value of clothes and understand that just because something doesn’t fit doesn’t mean it has to be thrown away. Someone else might be able to use their clothes instead!
Similarly, kids tend to gather a lot of toys and games over the years, and sometimes older toys get used less and forgotten about as the years go by and they collect more things. It’s a great exercise to teach your child that toys can be donated too or passed on to other children that might not be so lucky to have as many amazing things to play with!
Kids are creative little things and they love doodling, drawing pictures and coloring in. But instead of using reams and reams of paper there are other alternatives around the home! For example cardboard boxes can be opened up and used to draw on. Similarly old paper bags can be flattened out and they make the perfect drawing surface.
We can’t imagine that kids enjoy a trip to the supermarket but encourage them to help you shop in bulk! They will learn that the more you buy, the cheaper it is per item! If you can take your own bag and weigh out what you are buying you could always get your kids to help you get the perfect amount. As well as being a wonderful tip to help save on waste, it’s also a valuable lesson in money saving and getting the most out of your money!
Making things at home is always fun, and kids always enjoy a good science experiment! So why not look into creating your own toothpaste using only a few ingredients. There are many different ways that you can make your own toothpaste, and the process is quick and simple! By making your own products like this it teaches children that they don’t have to go out and buy products in their packaging that will end up getting thrown away and going to waste.
And finally kids always love a good challenge, so why not make going zero waste into a fun competition?! See who can create less waste in a day. And then maybe extend it to a week, or two weeks! Before long the zero-waste habit will start to become the norm and your children will find themselves living a sustainable lifestyle free of waste without any thought or effort!
9. How kids can create less waste at school
Kids spend a large portion of their time at school. It’s where they get an education, it’s where they meet new friends and start to form bonds that may last a lifetime, and it’s an important part of many children’s lives. But when it comes to being at school kids need to stay conscious about creating less waste and making the most of what they have, so let’s explore some ways in which schools can help children go zero waste.
Paper is one of the biggest resources in a school, and everyday tons of it gets used and then thrown away. Children should be encouraged to think about creating a paper reuse centre where they can collect old (but still usable) paper. If there is still a blank side, it is still useful and useable! Kids should also always try to use both sides of their notebook pages when possible. They will be able to get twice as much work in their notebooks if they do that!
Let’s talk about lunch! Children can take their lunches to school in reusable containers and lunchboxes instead of plastic bags that are going to get thrown away. They can take their own bamboo cutlery to enjoy their food with, and when it comes to drink then a reusable and refillable bottle is the best idea. All this saves on packaging and plastics being thrown away and going to waste.
If there are food items your child doesn’t want, then maybe a food share table is a good idea. Kids can place unwanted food items on there and if another child would like to take something then they are able to. Anything that is left at the end of the lunch period can be donated! It’s a lovely way of not letting anything go to waste!
A fun task for kids to do in school would be to conduct a waste audit. They can find out what the school’s trash is made up of and plan how they are able to reduce, reuse and recycle whatever they find. They could even do some data collection and counting which would incorporate some maths skills to!
Children are eternal optimists and they can see the bright side of everything. Even in the face of this waste-disaster that we have brought upon ourselves they are still able to see the positive and may surprisingly have better ideas about how change the situation for the better than some adults!
10. Zero Waste lifestyle: let us do it
As you can see there are many ways in which we can change our lifestyles for the better to accommodate less waste. Living a sustainable existence is a dream for many but it’s a dream that is totally achievable in this modern day and age. We have all we need to go waste free, it just takes will and strength.
But we can’t do it alone! We – that is the human species – need to wake up and realise that we cannot continue as we have been doing. The time for change is now and if we want to preserve the environment and wait and water on our planet then we need to do something about it.
Earth is a delicate thing and it is balanced on a knife edge. If we continue as we are – frivolously wasting and harming the environment – then it will fall and the planet as we know it will never be the same again. It will set in motion events that cannot be undone. All because of humans’ reluctance to not waste. If we make a change however the world can thrive, prosper, and grow.
It can be likened to smoking: A smoker may reach a point in time where their lungs could recover if they stopped smoking and gave themself that chance. However, if they refused to stop then it would reach a point of no return, where their lungs are too far gone and too damaged – or polluted – to recover.
Luckily, we have time. Not very much of it, but a little bit. Enough to steer our fate clear of the iceberg it’s heading towards. We have the responsibility to teach our children how to deal with their waste responsibly and treat the world and the environment with the respect that the previous generations haven’t. We must set them an example and take the lead! This is our one and only home and we must preserve it!
So, when it comes to creating waste you must think about what you do with it and always remember the 3 R’s: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Think about Bea Johnson and the Zero Waste movement. Think about the cradle-to-cradle model. And most of all remember that it’s not too late to change! A single person can change the world! Be the spark that lights the fire that changes our future for the better!
This article has been written in collaboration with ReduceWasteNow.
The children audiobook is available right here