As a follow-up to my post from yesterday, I want to talk more about ‘zero waste’. What is it? Is it unrealistic? Do you prefer an alternative term? Does it really matter?
I have been tossing around these and other questions recently, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you. I would love to hear how you feel about this, too.
Zero waste is a phrase which first entered my consciousness about 5 years ago when I stumbled upon a blog by Bea Johnson. More about that later, but apparently the term ‘zero waste’ was first coined in the mid 1990s. This is what Wikipedia has to say:
Zero Waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. No trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. The process recommended is one similar to the way that resources are reused in nature. The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:
Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health
Zero Waste refers to waste management and planning approaches which emphasize waste prevention as opposed to end-of-pipe waste management. It is a whole systems approach that aims for a massive change in the way materials flow through society, resulting in no waste. Zero waste encompasses more than eliminating waste through recycling and reuse, it focuses on restructuring production and distribution systems to reduce waste. Zero waste is more of a goal or ideal rather than a hard target. Zero Waste provides guiding principles for continually working towards eliminating wastes.
Advocates expect that government regulation is needed  to influence industrial choices over product and packaging design, manufacturing processes, and material selection.
Advocates say eliminating waste eliminates pollution, and can also reduce costs due to reduced need for raw materials.
I mentioned Bea Johnson’s blog earlier. You can take a look here. Many people find her style and enthusiasm inspiring. I do not. She presents herself with an almost evangelical zeal which I find irritating and I believe that could turn away many who want to dip their toe in the water because they simply do not feel that they can measure up to her exacting standards.
The following quote is an excerpt from her bio on the blog:
This blog and my bestselling book, Zero Waste Home (available in 12 languages), have launched a global movement, inspiring thousands of people throughout the world to live simply and take a stance against needless waste.
Good on Bea for having the idea to grab a catchy slogan “zero-waste” and market the concept but I take exception to the notion that she somehow invented the idea of seriously refusing and reducing waste. Her timing was perfect – by 2008 there was a critical mass, particularly in parts of the USA and Europe, of people who were prepared to hear her message. There are people in Australia, and globally, who have been living and promoting this ideal every day for close to 40 years yet there is barely an acknowledgement of their contribution in paving the way to allow this 2008 epiphany to occur.
Meanwhile, through this blog I am trying to connect with other concerned individuals to gently encourage you to begin to make the changes which will reduce the waste produced by your household.
As with everything, people have taken zero waste and put their own spin on it. For some, it is about eliminating all plastics. For others it is rejecting single-use plastic items such as supermarket bags and straws. Still others are keen to replace disposables with reusable alternatives – handkerchiefs instead of tissues, cloths instead of paper towel, lids instead of plastic wrap and so on.
Whatever you call it, there are a couple of things I would like to remind you about.
It is not a race to zero.
Start slowly or the changes will not be sustainable.
Remember the hierarchy – recycling should be the last resort – not the first option.
Perfection is virtually impossible due to the way our society and economy are structured.
Do what you can but don’t be disillusioned.
Choose your battles.
And finally, any reduction that you and your family make with respect to what is sent to landfill is a good thing.
Personally, I am not terribly comfortable with the term ‘zero waste’ in the context that many people choose to use it. I prefer something as simple as rubbish reduction. However, our goal is the same.
It is easy to become complacent because you have cleverly managed to take you own glass jar to have it refilled with some type of foodstuff, therefore it is zero waste. Unless you go to the farm and pick the vegetables or milk the cow directly into your glass bottle I do not consider it zero waste. The dry goods in bulk bins travel to the shop in packaging (generally plastic-lined) and the milk is transported in some type of vessel. Whilst this may sound extreme, I am simply trying to point out that a true zero-waste meal is a bit of a myth unless you are foraging for all of your food.
I believe that single-use plastics are a very good place to start reducing your rubbish.
Take fabric/reusable bags or boxes to carry your groceries home.
Make or buy lightweight bags for buying fruit and vegetables. Remove plastic film from your life. If you have not got it you will find an alternative.
Wash and reuse (as many times as possible) any plastic bags you already have in your possession.
Consider your shopping list. Look for items with less packaging or able to be bought in bulk.
Take you own containers when buying products that are not pre-packaged – meat, dry goods, deli items.
Look for loose fruit and vegetable produce rather than pre-packed.
Try growing even one or two vegetables or fruit depending on your location and living arrangements.
What do you already do to reduce the amount of rubbish which your household produces?
What changes would you consider implementing in 2017 to reduce your waste even further?
great thought provoking post
i have an extremely hard time doing away with all the plastics, i have reduced my rubbish from weekly bin to about 4-5 months, i don’t buy as much packaged items as i used to, can’t eat them, that helped.
what gets up my nose is all this health & safety crap, do tea bags really need 5 layers of packaging? most items can be packed in solid cardboard or tin, like it used to be, surely there’s less harm to the environment when they make these types of packaging?
i do struggle with the meats though, i use freezer bags to freeze them but i will not reuse them (got very sick from food poisoning cos bags weren’t washed properly) sure i probably use too many but i haven’t found another way to store meat yet.
thanx for sharing
It sounds as though you are doing a great job. I agree with you re the supposed health and safety issues. I think it has gone a bit med.
Hi Fairy, great article and wonderful tips to at least reduce our waste. I noticed you are in Maleny. There is a new online community called Spare Harvest developing on the Sunny Coast that you might be interested in. Its for reducing garden waste by sharing what we don t need anymore with our community. I signed up and have recently meet some nice people sharing my herbs and plants. It feels good to give it to someone who will use it rather than throw it in the bin.
Hi Helen, Thanks for your comment and for mentioning Spare Harvest. I will definitely look into that as it sounds interesting.