Understanding Zero Waste

    Zero Waste is a new movement for the 21st century. It is being driven by people who strive to have a positive effect on the environment by minimizing or eliminating their personal waste. It means taking personal responsibility for everything you put in a trash can and taking steps to eliminate the waste that we all create on a daily basis.

    Imagine a world with no trash, no landfills, no floating plastic garbage patches in the middle of the ocean. Imagine a better planet and a better tomorrow. This is a Zero Waste world.

    The ultimate goal is to produce no trash- no trash that will end up in landfills, and no trash polluting the ocean. It is an ambitious goal, not just for individual households but for society as a whole. But like any real change, it starts with one small step after another that leads to changes that are truly meaningful.

    How can this be achieved? By following some basic steps.

    There are 5 basic tenets of the Zero Waste Movement, commonly referred to as the 5Rs. 

    Refuse – just say no to anything that you will just have to throw away later

    Reduce – only but what you need, donate or sell items you no longer need 

    Reuse giving items a second life (sometimes a third and forth life too)

    Recycle check your local recycling guidelines to make sure your recycling doesn’t turn into trash 

    Rot most commonly known as composting

    [There is even a 6th R that is often included in this list- Repair.]

    These 5Rs are in no way perfect, but they will put you on the right path.

    For example: Refusing something does not mean that no trash is created, it is just no longer your trash. Refusing a straw at a restaurant will not stop that straw from ending up in a landfill, nor does it prevent all the waste that was created to produce and distribute that straw.

    But if enough people refuse an item the demand for it goes down, and less and less of it will be produced and distributed in the future, and there will be less of it that might end up in the trash.

    In the case of straws, enough people were dissatisfied with the harm that their plastics were causing the environment that it caused a mini-revolution. Restaurants and other food services are now moving away from plastic straws to biodegradable paper straws, or reusable metal straws, and in some areas the plastic straw is even banned completely.

    However imperfect they may be, these 5Rs are a framework for how we can move forward and create a better, more sustainable future, free from mountains of trash.

    But how do we achieve that?

    One Step at a Time

    There are several steps that can be taken on the road to Zero Waste.

    1. Be conscious of what you throw out during your average day, and try to find better alternatives to those items.
    2. Don’t buy new – buy used and recycled goods, or buy sustainable products whenever you can.
    3. Compost – use small kitchen composters and large outdoor bins for all your food waste.
    4. Look to your community – a lot of areas already have resources in place to help eliminate waste.
    5. Look at your local stores for support – some stores in your area may already be committed to things like reducing plastics, or selling items in bulk to reduce packaging waste.
    6. Be more aware – learn how things are made, and make better choices about what you purchase – some items produce a large amount of waste during production or shipping. Look for better alternatives.

    Most importantly, don’t try to change everything in your life all at once in order to achieve zero waste. It has been proven that too many changes too rapidly can be more challenging and stressful to maintain over the long run

    In the 1952 book by Ray Bradbury, The Sound of Thunder, the inadvertent killing of a butterfly while time traveling in the past, causes major changes 100 years into the future. People readily believe this to be true. However, we have trouble believing that small changes we make today will have any effect on our future. 

    Even small changes can have a large effect. Just keep moving in a positive direction. 

    Zero Waste- personal to global

    Dealing with your personal waste is just the first step.

    There are many pieces to the environmental puzzle to reduce waste.

    If you zoom out from our personal lives and homes, you can lay out the many layers and the waste produced at each level.

    These are the basic levels at which waste reduction and elimination can be tackled:



    Local Community




    Within these steps there are many subcategories and steps that you can take to help reduce waste. 

    Since you are reading this article, you are already committed to making personal changes. The next steps are to take that commitment to your family and see how you can help follow your example. Then reach out to those in your local community to either join efforts to reduce waste already in place or to propose changes through available channels in current waste management.

    Learn what is being done in your state to reduce waste in personal, retail, or commercial spaces. 

    Learn what is being done nationwide and worldwide to reduce waste and see what you can apply to your community.

    The possibilities are endless.

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