One small step for us, one giant leap for the planet: how to achieve a zero-waste society

By Shannon Bergstrom

Updated Jul 21, 2022 at 12:40 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

We live in the age of terrible wastefulness. Everything we, as a society, surround ourselves with is now disposable. However, the way we usually dispose of the things we no longer need or want is slowly suffocating us and our planet. From technology, furniture, and vehicles to everyday items like toothbrushes, clothes, and makeup—it all finds its way into landfills and oceans.

Still, there is a way out of the trash chaos we have created, and it lies within the principle of zero waste. Many individuals, communities, and cities around the globe have already implemented such a lifestyle. But what does making zero waste mean? And more importantly, how can we become a zero-waste society?

Let’s find out, shall we?

What is zero waste?

Zero waste refers to a set of principles created to improve the resource life cycles, make sure all products are reused, and prevent waste. Basically, zero waste promotes reducing, reusing, and recycling as opposed to the “take-make-consume-throw away” pattern.

Generally speaking, zero waste does not mean zero trash. Having no trash sent to landfills, incinerators and oceans is the ultimate goal—an ideal rather than a hard target. But with zero-waste principles, we can continually get closer to achieving that goal.

This approach isn’t new. Ancient civilizations and pre-modern societies leading up to our grandparents’ generation naturally lived by this concept. But in the modern era, the no-trash idea arose in the 80s with Daniel Knapp, who started the zero waste movement.

How can society become zero waste?

Zero-waste societies start with individuals becoming more aware of their habits and making an effort to change their practices. Such communities then move on to putting pressure on governments and businesses to adopt more sustainable alternatives, ban plastic and fossil fuel use, and start a recycling reform.

But what precisely do we, as a society, need to do to achieve zero waste?

1. Stop buying new things (except for food)

In a documentary called The Story of Stuff, which speaks about how our culture is obsessed with consumption, Annie Leonard introduced a shocking truth. She said that 99 per cent of the things we harvest, mine, process and transport are trashed within six months.

Still, we are always in pursuit of ‘more’. For example, two pairs of jeans are good, but eight is better. One car is enough, but two are better. It doesn’t matter that we will exchange them for a newer, better version in a matter of months.

So, the first step in creating a waste-conscious society is helping individuals think about how much trash they produce because of their constant desire for more. Furthermore, we need to shed some light on the idea that less means more in the long run.

2. Stay away from all disposable products

In 2018, the US alone generated 292.4 million tons of waste, according to an EPA National Overview on Waste and Recycling. In other words, each day, every person in America threw away 4.9 pounds of trash. Therefore, we need to cut down on our disposable product use if we want to declutter our planet and avoid creating more islands of trash in our oceans.

Living trash-free is quite achievable, according to the growing zero waste community. In fact, Kathryn Kellogg, an advocate for a zero-waste lifestyle, says she makes only a jar of trash a year. Her secret lies in purchasing fresh food instead of packaged and making her own products like deodorant and all-purpose house cleaners.

3. Change the way we travel

Cars and planes have become our primary modes of transportation. However, think about how much better shape our planet and we would be in if we burned our calories instead of fossil fuels.

So, if we are striving towards a zero-waste society, we should use active forms of transportation, such as walking or cycling. For greater distances, instead of each of us driving, we should opt for mass transit trains and busses to get to the desired destination.

4. Eat local and seasonal food

As a consumer society, we are used to doing all our shopping in one place, such as a big supermarket. But most products we buy at such places, including the food, come in plastic packaging. So, while it takes us maybe a week to go through the food we buy, the plastic wrappers will stay in the landfills and oceans for a few hundred years or so.

Instead, we should buy as much food as possible from local farmers’ markets and support grocers and bakers who sell and use locally grown food and ingredients.

5. Save energy

We can’t exploit without limits because our sources are limited. Instead, to become a zero-waste society, we should put more effort into reducing our energy consumption and exploring no-energy ways of completing our daily tasks. For instance, we can use solar-powered computers and phone chargers.

Also, we can make one day a week, or at least a month, an ‘eco-day’. We should turn off our phones, computers, appliances and lights that day and simply enjoy being in the moment.

6. Reduce water use

Did you know that an average person in the US uses around 90 gallons of water per day? But we can reduce our water imprint by implementing small changes regarding the way we brush our teeth or wash the dishes, for example.

7. Think about others

The zero waste movement is about becoming aware of how our actions and carelessness affect other people, our planet, and ultimately, our future. Also, it’s about reconnecting with both people and the environment. So, to become a true zero-waste society, we need to appreciate what we have, become charitable and give back.

All we need to do is take a few small steps and inspire others to do the same. That way, we can clean up both our planet and our future.

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