What is zero waste, anyway?

IMG_8651To break down the concept of zero waste, there’s only one person we can REALLY learn from. If you have any familiarity at all with the waste-less lifestyle, surely you know of Bea Johnson, the goddess of the movement. She has had a huge influence on my desire to embrace the zero waste movement. I’ve religiously watched her Youtube videos, over and over and over again. Because who wouldn’t want to live like Bea? In one of her videos, she explained what zero waste wasn’t. So let’s start there, shall we?

“Zero waste does not promote recycling.”

-Bea Johnson, Zero Waste Home

Wait, what? But I thought recycling was good?

Let’s take a look at what else she says.

“Zero Waste is a philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible.”

Like it or not, the things you recycle–glass, paper, aluminum and plastic–are all still considered waste. While recycling is great for the things you’ll inevitably have to purchase in cardboard, it shouldn’t be seen as the end-all be-all for creating a greener lifestyle. Bea created a system that goes beyond the 3 basic R’s of reducing, reusing and recycling. Here’s the graphic she created (because who doesn’t love a good graphic?):


Let’s break it down:

  1. Refuse – Refuse what you don’t need (i.e. freebies, single-use plastics, junk mail, receipts when possible, etc.)
  2. Reduce – Reduce what you don’t  need and can’t refuse (i.e. reduce shopping activity, buying only what you need, try to find produce without stickers, etc.)
  3. Reuse – Reuse what you consume and cannot refuse or reduce (i.e. eliminate wasteful consumption, buying reusable products such as shopping bags and food containers or products in packaging that can be reused)
  4. Recycle – Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse (i.e. paper goods, receipts, aluminum cans, glass where available, etc.)
  5. Rot – Compost the rest (fruit and veggie peelings and cores, cotton balls, nail clippings, coffee grounds, etc.)

It’s a lot to tackle all at once, but zero waste living really is a process. I’m at the recycle stage right now, but I have food allergies that make bulk food shopping (i.e. zero packaging foods) difficult, so I’m trying to find ways around that.

If you have any interest in going zero waste at all, I’d highly recommend grabbing Bea Johnson’s book. It’s one of my best references–and she really has figured out ways to eliminate waste in EVERYTHING she does. Get one for yourself! (maybe even a used one from Amazon perhaps?)

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