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April 29, 2019

Redefining Trash with the Zero-Waste Lifestyle.

 

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Nature produces no trash.

The ultimate goal of zero waste is to move in the direction of nature. Instead of throwing stuff away thoughtlessly, all resources are absorbed fully back into the system.

Zero waste means sending nothing to the landfill. This is accomplished by reducing our consumption to only what is needed, reusing as much as possible, and recycling or composting the rest.

It is a process, so don’t expect to go from normal to zero waste overnight. Even if going 100 percent zero waste seems difficult, you can start with incremental goals to take baby steps toward a fully waste-free life.

I’ll be honest. My family and I are not producing zero waste, but we are producing a lot less with each passing year. Living in the woods in rural Guatemala where there is no trash pickup service has led us to become more conscientious about the products we buy and the waste we create as consumers.

We have the goal of zero waste, and we are getting there. Most of our food waste is composted. We have a dry composting toilet that enables us to reuse our waste to grow our beautiful garden. We don’t have a car and opt to walk or take taxis. The toughest part is the plastic. It can be hard to find food items around here that are not packaged in plastic.

Not-so-fun fact: in our disposable society, the average American adult sends over four pounds of trash to the landfill every day.

Zero waste seeks to redefine the present system, in which resources are taken from the Earth and, sooner or later, dumped into enormous, toxic holes in the ground.

Zero waste means living with the intention of not wasting resources and instead utilizing high-quality, bulk, and biodegradable products. It’s making the radical choice to boycott such common things as single-use plastics.

As a bonus, changing our consumption habits helps bring about economic, personal, and environmental rewards. Zero waste is a replacement for the traditional, linear economy with its “take-make-dispose” model, which produces vast islands of floating trash. In contrast, the zero-waste movement promotes a circular economy. 

Connecting people through zero-waste initiatives helps inspire community, partnerships, innovation, and sharing. The economic potential of recovering and reselling valuable materials represents new business opportunities that can help to grow a local, circular economy.

How can we personally benefit from reducing waste?

Being zero waste naturally leads to a more mindful lifestyle. Going zero waste means fewer visits to the supermarket, since the vast majority of foods sold there are packaged.

Why buy an expensive product at the store when you can make a natural version at home using simple ingredients? With the zero-waste lifestyle, shopping becomes less frequent and automatic and turns into a more conscious activity. Zero-wasters minimize household food waste by cooking an appropriate amount of portions, not letting food rot, and buying only what we need.

The ingredients you find at the bulk store and farmer’s market provide everything you need to create balanced, healthy meals and snacks at home. A zero-waste diet naturally comes with fewer saturated fats, sugars, additives, and preservatives. Going zero waste goes hand-in-hand with reducing meat consumption and eating more vegetable protein, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats. If you are accustomed to chowing down on ready-made foods that come with a heap of plastic and cardboard packaging, going zero waste will require you to come up with creative alternatives.

How does reducing plastic waste benefit the environment?

Adopting the zero-waste lifestyle is a powerful way to do your part in conserving nature and its precious resources. We can gradually shift our linear consumption habits into more circular, sustainable ones.

Zero waste helps conserve resources and reduce pollution. As we know, the present rate of consumption on the planet is unsustainable. Logging in the forests, mining for silver and gold, and drilling for oil requires loads of energy and results in pollution and often violent conflict between indigenous communities and corporate powers.

Reducing and reusing means fewer products are made, as people purchase less and demand products that are designed to last longer. Recycling, though not a solution in and of itself, does help keep waste out of landfills and provides manufacturers with recycled materials for the creation of new products. 

Single-use plastics are starting to be outlawed in Europe and some American cities and states. These disposable items include plastic shopping bags, styrofoam cups, take-out containers, and plastic straws and utensils. Each individual consumer can choose to reject single-use items and replace them with their own glass or metal containers, canvas bags, reusable water bottles, and bamboo straws and utensils.

One person’s trash is another’s treasure.

In the zero-waste movement, “waste” is reframed as a resource for something new. Resources can be endlessly recirculated through our economy instead of being used once and then tossed.

Given the detrimental effects of trash on our planet, zero waste is becoming more prevalent—and urgently necessary. Adopting this lifestyle requires a giant paradigm shift and some serious effort, but transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle offers a myriad of benefits at all levels.

A zero-waste strategy needs to ensure everyone has access to the education, tools, and resources needed to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste in their local community.

We each have a role to play in protecting and caring for nature.

author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Image: Gary Chan/Unsplash

Image: Ecofolks on Instagram

Editor: Kelsey Michal

Environmentalism 101 with Waylon Lewis.

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala!