Zero Waste

What is the Zero Waste movement?


It’s pretty self-explanatory: you don’t produce any waste.

It can get endlessly more complicated than that, but, for the sake of my sanity and yours, I’m keeping it super pared down.

My sustaina-spiration (I’m making it a thing.) Katheryn Kellog created a phenomenal eBook providing a crash course in going zero waste, which can be accessed by subscribers to her blog here. But here’s the gist of the movement’s 5 basic tenets:

  1. Refuse

Just say no. No to a straw in your cocktail, no to the plastic bottle of water being handed to you, no to extra napkins or ketchup packets. The more crap you refuse, the less crap you need to worry about generating.

2. Reduce

What do you really need? Probably way less stuff than you currently have. If you make a conscious effort to examine all your material possessions and evaluate each for their necessity in your life, you may be surprised by how few of them serve a tangible or legitimate sentimental purpose.

3. Reuse

Steps 2 and 3 are the real moneymakers of the movement. If you’re buying less, but you’re buying high quality items that you can use the crap out of, just watch how quickly you’ll break even on those purchases – and how much you’ll save thereafter.

4. Rot

Compost isn’t just for food scraps. You can compost cardboard, natural fabrics, and many other organic materials. Not only are you preventing that waste from entering landfill, you’re transforming it into earth-enriching soil that can replenish the land.

5. Recycle

There’s a reason that this step comes last. “True” recycling is rare – it’s essentially limited to glass and aluminum (which can be infinitely recycled into the same substances, but which require massive amounts of energy to do so). Almost everything else we chuck into the recycling bin is actually “downcycled”. This means the items are reduced to their component parts, and are turned into a substance of a lower value. If you couldn’t refuse, reduce, compost, or reuse it once again, then recycle it.

An important disclaimer is that the “zero” in zero waste is almost never actually “zero”. There are certain items, such as contact lenses and condoms, that are necessary and important to many, that really must just be sent to landfill. It’s also incredibly difficult (and nastily complex) to calculate the upstream waste that even the most devout greenie generates. Even that gluten-free, fair trade, vegan toothpaste they use required energy and raw resources to manufacture, transport, and sell. Not to mention that any form of vehicular transportation – EV’s included – involves pollution, whether in the manufacturing or fueling process.

What’s important is not to feel like attaining that magical “zero” is the ultimate aim; it’s not. For me, the goal is to think holistically about my choices, and strive – to the best of my ability – to make changes that will minimize my negative environmental footprint in the long run.

I’ve written here about my game plan to tackle the 5 R’s and minimize the amount of waste I generate.