Whether you learned it from a grandmother saving the inch-long threads left over from mending jeans or a coworker who eats the same leftovers for a week, it’s an adage we can all agree with. The less you waste, the more you have, and therefore, the less you want (or the more resources you have to get what you want). Reducing waste, or going so far as to become zero waste, can open opportunities in life and contribute to the beneficial stewardship of the planet. When you waste less, you will find that you want less and gain more.
Bea Johnson, zero waste advocate, speaker, author and educator has led a zero waste life since 2008. Her family of four generated just one pint jar of trash for all of 2015. While Johnson demonstrates how possible it is to live a zero waste lifestyle, zero waste living doesn’t happen overnight; it’s an adjustment that takes time and requires flexibility and self-compassion. To get started, Johnson offers five basic rules, in this order, to manage waste:
- Greenhouse gases, produced in landfills, are contributing to climate change.
- Floating plastics in the ocean are killing marine birds and ending up in the bellies of whales. The consequences of plastic pollution are yet unknown.
- When you consume fewer products or less packaging, you are not contributing to the energy required to make those materials.
- Leachates from landfills, the liquid created from material breakdown without oxygen, are pumped and processed at waste water treatment plants. Requiring energy for transport by truck, and energy to run the water treatment process. This is in the order of millions of gallons in a year for Vermont alone.
- Vermont has only one operating lined landfill, in Coventry. No one wants a landfill in their backyard, it’s expensive and it fragments habitat for animals.
- At its current rate of use, the life expectancy of the Coventry landfill is estimated between 7 – 13 years.
The more stuff we buy, the more money we spend and the more time we spend centered on stuff and not experiences. For example, at children’s birthday parties typical gifts include plastic toys, stuffed animals, and other things that clutter up their room and can’t possibly be played with all at once. It is wonderful to be generous on someone’s birthday, but there are other ways to show appreciation. Here are a few tips for going zero waste with kids. When you have less stuff in your home, less time is spent caring for it, cleaning it, fixing it, or figuring out ways to get rid of it.
You can take it slowly on your path toward zero waste, or you can go all out; it’s a lifestyle choice, so it’s up to you. Here a few easy tips to help you get there, take the ones that work, leave the ones that don’t. Revisit these tips and others for a new challenge or idea.
- Make “Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot” your mantra when buying anything.
- Bring a reusable water bottle everywhere.
- Shop in bulk, less packaging, whenever possible.
- Bring reusable bags, jars, or bottles when shopping. Refuse paper and plastic.
- Use non-toxic cleaners and buy fewer products. Clear your shelf and reduce your bill by using one all-purpose cleaner. Or perhaps, go from twenty cleaners down to two or three multi-purpose formulas.
- Make your own non-toxic cleaners.
- Buy reused instead of new—and send things on for reuse. Thrift stores, second hand shops and donations bins or events save money and reduce waste. Second hand finds have unique character.