The zero waste movement is picking up speed as entire Instagram accounts, online retailers, and bloggers dedicate themselves to activities that promise to eliminate plastic pollution, reduce food waste, and help us live more sustainable lives.
But what exactly is “zero waste,” anyway?
Essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like: zero goes to waste, nothing goes to landfill, and everything is effectively used up, reused, recycled, or otherwise kept in the cycle of limited resources on our one planet Earth. But zero is a tall absolute, so zero waste is more of a guiding principle businesses, governments, and individuals can use to make progress.
Making the decision to go zero waste is a big step, as “normal” everyday life includes so much of the opposite, like buying new (and cheap!) instead of repairing, tossing in the trash instead of recycling, and all that single-use plastic all over everything.
So is it achievable for the average person?
It can be scary and overwhelming to think that you will never throw something out after going zero waste, and there is a misconception that zero waste products are more expensive, but it is possible to go zero waste on a budget. The easiest way to start is to break down the process into different steps and determine ways to reach your zero waste goals, your way.
First, audit your trash.
The best way to figure out your starting point and where you want to go on your zero waste journey is to audit your trash. The goal of a waste audit is simple: figure out what you throw out, how often, and how you can change your habits.
There is no set timeline for how long you should collect your trash before conducting an audit, but as a rule of thumb, a week should be enough time to provide you with valuable insights. The only supplies you’ll need are heavy-duty gloves, trash and recycling receptacles, and a way to record your data.
In the same way that you might scan the refrigerator before you go grocery shopping to see what you have and what you need, a waste audit can help you determine how much waste your household is generating and how that waste can be responsibly disposed of in alternative ways.
Start composting to reduce food waste.
Did you know $218 billion worth of food is thrown away each year? That’s about 30% to 40% of all food produced in America. When this organic waste is placed into trash bags, the time needed for these materials to decompose increases from weeks to years. Fortunately, you can help to properly break down organic materials and food scraps in your own backyard!
You don’t need a fancy bin to start your composting journey. While it may not be as neat and tidy as composting in a bin, heap composting is one of the best options for newbies because no structures are required to get started.
If you don’t have a lot of green space at home, there are alternative options to convert your kitchen scraps into soil nutrients. Check your county’s website to find out if there are drop-off composting programs in your community, such as at your local farmer’s market.
As a reminder, it’s important to keep all plastics, even those labeled biodegradable or compostable, out of your at-home compost bin or pile. The marketing of plant-based plastics as “sustainable” is a prime example of greenwashing, as these plastics will only degrade as they were intended to, in an industrial compost facility with just the right temperature and microbes.
Introduce reusables into your daily routine.
While it may seem like “zero-waste” is becoming the new buzzword on the block, reusable products have been around since the beginning of forever and you probably already own many of them. Do reusable water bottles, thermal coffee mugs, and canvas shopping bags ring any bells? Without much effort, you can ease into a zero waste lifestyle by opting to reach for one of these reusable items instead of their single-use counterparts.
Of course, reusables don’t do you, or the environment, any good if you don’t remember to use them. To avoid forgetting your canvas bag or thermal mug at home, try storing a few bags in your trunk and keeping a clean, empty mug in your car’s cup holder!
For products that come in complex packaging (i.e your favorite ice cream or shampoo), it’s more difficult to make a direct swap when there are limited zero-waste alternatives available. Luckily, TerraCycle’s new division, Loop recently went nationwide, offering a convenient solution to shop for products from your favorite brands in durable, reusable packaging. The future is refillable, after all.
Leverage your purchasing power.
As a consumer, the most effective way to limit waste is to buy less and reduce the amount of excess “stuff” in your life. Of course, there will be situations where you need to purchase an item you do not have. In these cases, opt to buy from companies who practice responsible production and disposal.
It’s not always easy to determine if companies have these practices in place, but businesses who are actively working to limit their environmental impact will want consumers to be “in the know” and they will likely be more transparent about their packaging and waste management methods.
As you research the companies you’re buying from, consider the following questions:
- Does this claim to be green or eco-friendly without the actions to back it up?
- Is their waste typically sent to landfills or other countries?
- Has this company partnered with TerraCycle to bring their packaging back into the supply chain? (Psst! Search through the list of brands (including top beauty and toy companies) that currently offer free recycling programs in partnership with TerraCycle!)
Remember, when you vote with your dollars, you shape the economy to reflect the future you wish to see.
The Bottom Line: Zero-Waste Solutions Are Available with TerraCycle
Time for some real-talk. Even if you apply all of these zero waste tips and tricks to your everyday life, you likely won’t be able to eliminate all waste all of the time. Our waste experts here at TerraCycle designed the Zero Waste Box™ system to ease that burden and offer people a convenient, all-inclusive recycling solution for hundreds of typically non-recyclable items.
Ready to embark on the next phase of your zero waste journey? Take this quick quiz to find out which Zero Waste Box system fits your recycling goals!