Saturdays with Shavara
Zeroing in on the Zero-Waste Movement
Happy Saturday Green people! By now most of you have heard of the new-ish term “Zero-waste,” with the exact definition being up for some personal interpretation the best description I found was as follows; The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products packaging and materials without burning and with no discharge to land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health, according to the EPA. In layman’s terms the goal of living a zero-waste lifestyle aims to prevent waste from ever coming into existence, and when it does (because ultimately some waste will exist) disposing of it as environmentally responsible as possible.
Bea Johnson is referred to as the “mother” of the zero-waste movement, which she began practicing in 2008 with her family. Johnson’s sustainable lifestyle choice involves the well-known Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, but with two additions; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. The idea is that if consumers “refuse” what they don’t need and learn to live with less, then the consumption of resources slows down dramatically. Composting, which refers to “rot” is another great way to deplete the amount of waste produced, by diverting organic material back into the earth to serve another purpose. I have seen firsthand that with accessibility people are more than willing to make sustainable lifestyle choices, which is evident in the growing number of cities, municipalities and states implementing bans on single use plastic, curbside recycling and “green” education.
Now the question is; how do we make living zero-waste accessible to the masses, and for that matter why do we even need to?
The vast majority of us unknowingly make the linear economy model the most common practice, which is one that takes natural resources from the earth, uses them and then dumps them back into the earth i.e. “the take, make, and waste” approach. The goal should actually be to operate within a circular economy, which closely mimics our greatest example… nature. A circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting all of the value from the resource and then repurposing the materials that would otherwise be thrown away. Basically, my somewhat humorous take is that the creation of a circular economy is inspired by Mother Nature, who teaches us that behaving like animals is the best way to live a zero-waste lifestyle. Scientist have noted that in nature there are a multitude of purposes for everything produced, which ensures that there is no waste. On the flip side of nature being the sustainable “all-stars,” you have the good ol’ humans, who on average produce 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Our legacy continues with the fact that companies tend to only change their production practices when consumers demand it, therefore it’s people like you and me that ultimately control what’s to come. A huge benefit of the circular economy is that it evaluates the entire life cycle of a product in a few ways; product design, its use, and management of materials once it reaches the consumer. There is “pre”-thought that goes into products made in a circular economy, which aims at eliminating waste before it’s even created.
There is a ton of evidence supporting the environmental necessity for people to move away from the traditional linear economy, and instead work towards a circular one. Our consumption of natural resources has become such an issue that we now recognize an official day, “Earth Overshoot Day,” where we have consumed all of the resources sustainably available for the coming year. The rate in which we consume natural resources to make products such as single use plastic, Styrofoam, packaging material etc. requires about the same as 1.5 earth’s per year. Achieving zero-waste is not about being perfect, rather taking a hard look at what you are consuming and understanding that you have power over your personal contribution to the waste stream. The zero-wasters of today are paving the way for future generations by making a commitment to improving the health of our environment.
No one said change was easy, but it’s oh so worth it… so for now I’ll leave you with the new goal and my new and improved manta; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.
KOB’s Very own Blog Contributor,