Based on the term, you can probably figure out what zero waste means – it refers to methods of waste prevention by utilizing reusable products and limiting the waste that goes into landfills and incinerators. Despite the simplicity of the concept and numerous attempts to encourage the public to become more environmentally conscious, recycling is underutilized. The EPA estimates that while roughly 75% of waste material can be recycled, only about 30% are being transferred to recycling centers. In addition, recycling itself is not a perfect solution and can still result in excess waste and negative impacts on the environment.
Many gardeners neglect recycling and other waste-reducing tactics when attending to their yard work. However, leading a zero-waste lifestyle is important for a myriad of reasons, from supporting the economy to minimizing your carbon footprint and maintaining a healthier environment. Keeping waste from ending up in landfills or on the side of the road is one thing, but this lifestyle change can improve your life, inside and out. Below are a few benefits of zero-waste or low-waste living, as well as tips on how you can incorporate them into your life.
1. Save money
Although the initial investment may seem costly as you switch from traditional products to reusable products, you will save money in the long-run. A higher upfront cost, say of a roll of reusable paper towels, will even out and save you money in the long run over continuously buying rolls of disposable paper towels. On a larger scale, the same can be said of our raised garden beds. They are built to last for 20+ years, so the higher upfront cost is worth not having to replace your garden beds multiple times within that 20 year span.
2. Promote a circular economy
The zero-waste movement promotes a circular economy, which is a model of production and consumption based upon extending the lifespan of products. A departure from the linear model of production, a circular economy emphasizes regenerative product usage and the strengthening of community bonds. By reusing these products, further product value and new jobs are created. On average, recycling creates 10 times more jobs than trash, and composting creates twice as many jobs as landfills.
3. Live healthier
By choosing to participate in the zero-waste movement, you are limiting your exposure to inorganic and processed foods. You will start to notice that your usual groceries, take-out, and material goods generate a lot of waste. Gardening is a great way to combat this waste and have a more sustainable food source. If you make your own food to avoid excess waste, you will in turn start eating healthier and more organically.
4. Encourage self-growth
Trying the zero-waste lifestyle is a great way for you to overcome obstacles and move along the path of self-actualization. As you begin to pursue various methods of waste reduction, you will learn which ones work and which ones don’t. This refining of methods will start to create habits of mindfulness and intentional living. Zero-waste living inherently encourages mindfulness by making you aware of the impact your actions have on the people around you, your personal environment, and the environment at large. Like with every challenge, there may be times when you are frustrated, but you shouldn’t give up. By learning to persevere through adversity, you are gaining fundamental values such as patience and resilience, which influences positive self-growth.
5. Set an example for others
Your impact can go so much further than just yourself. Share your methods and goals with others and encourage them to join you on the journey to zero waste. Once people realize the benefits and the importance of the zero-waste lifestyle, they will be persuaded to join. Don’t be afraid to speak up and get your company to integrate zero-waste policies in their offices and encourage others to do the same in their daily lives.
How to Start your Zero Waste Lifestyle
It can be intimidating to start a zero waste lifestyle, but don’t be deterred! Fortunately, there are many resources you can consult for advice. Below are some simple tips for beginners, many of which are budget-friendly.
1. Start slow
The most common reason that people fall out of a zero waste lifestyle is they try to cut out waste entirely, all at once. This does not work for most people and will add unnecessary stress to this journey. Remember, starting with creating less waste overtime is far better than creating zero waste for a few days and giving up.
2. Stop buying fast-fashion
Fast-fashion is a business model prevalent in the clothing industry that focuses on pushing an influx of clothing with cheap prices and made from low quality materials onto consumers. Fast-fashion is considered detrimental because it often exploits workers in impoverished countries with low labor standards in order to keep the costs of production low. Additionally, fast-fashion is known to create tons of waste. Landfills all over the world are overflowing with trashed clothing from businesses and consumers alike. Some of the leading fast-fashion brands to avoid are Forever 21, Shein, Urban Outfitters, and Topshop. Instead, look for sustainable clothing brands, secondhand shops, and long-lasting pieces made from quality materials.
3. Be a more conscious consumer
On a related note, take a step back and take stock of how you shop and what you purchase. Understand where the product comes from, what materials or ingredients is it made of, the packaging being used, and examine the amount of waste produced during its production and after its purchase. Keep these in mind as you make your selections.
In a consumer market that is saturated with materialism, it is easy to overspend on unnecessary items. Being picky in your products not only cuts down costs, but it also helps avoid overconsumption. If you are a particularly crafty person, DIY projects are a great way to reuse old materials and to cut down on unnecessary costs of new items.
4. Try vermicomposting
Composting is a great way to use food scraps and other biodegradable materials to create richer soil for your garden. Growing your own food or selling at a farmer’s market is a great way to cut down on food and grocery waste. For those that dislike traditional composting systems or lack the space for a large outdoor composting system, try vermicomposting. Vego Garden has an in-ground worm composter that is designed to be placed in existing raised garden beds. Learn more about vermicomposting here. This is a great way to continue the reuse and recycle method.
5. Use reusable items
Incorporate reusable items whenever possible into your daily life.
A few ideas:
- Using cloth towels instead of paper towels
- Bring metal or glass water bottles instead of buying disposable plastic water bottles
- When shopping, bring your own bags made from canvas, mesh, or recycled plastic
- Pack your own lunch when going to work or school
6. Learn how to preserve foods
Instead of buying jams and sauces from the grocery, you can research how to preserve your own, especially if you grow tomatoes or fruits. By preserving your own food, you can keep your harvests from going to waste while also having fun.
7. Transition to online reading
While there is no denying the joy of relaxing with a new printed book, you should try to only purchase books you really enjoy. Making the mistake of purchasing a badly written book can be such a waste. There are programs you can join where you can read books online with a free trial, or you can check books out at your library. You should also refrain from buying newspapers and magazines and choose online subscriptions as an alternative. This is not everyone’s perfect tactic, but it might work well for some people looking to create less overall waste.
8. Repurpose items
There are many things you can repurpose instead of simply tossing them into the garbage. Instead of discarding your old clothes, they can be used as cleaning rags. think creatively about how you can repurpose old household items or maybe look online for some ideas.