There is a growing movement called Zero Waste going on, where the idea is not to simply live without plastic, but to live without generating any trash at all, avoiding anything that needs to be thrown away * and that might end up in the landfill, the ocean or any other uncontrolled environment.
*Note that throw away is simply a mental escape that we create as a society. We believe we’re throwing something away when we take out the trash from inside our homes without remembering that, in the end, this whole junk remains inside, on the planet.
Because plastic exists in abundance, are so “easy to dispose” and so harmful to the environment (from the extraction of raw material, manufacturing and even when they end in recycling), these materials gain prominence in the idea of Waste Zero, and to me, end up being a challenge in itself.
Having said that, today I would like to share the 5 steps to Waste Zero that I have used as guidance and gradually incorporated into my routine. These steps are based on the model suggested by Bea Johnson, who inspires me a lot and who is one of the pioneers of the movement. As follow:s
5 R’s to Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot
The first step is actually a lesson that should be applied to many aspects of life: Learning to say no.
To reduce waste, we must learn to refuse everything we do not need. It starts with very small steps, and in my case I started by boycotting everything that comes in plastic, mainly the single use and disposable one like plastic bags, water bottles, straws, shops and event goodies and products with easy replacement by a version without plastic or without any type of packaging (fruits and vegetables, for example).
Whenever we accept something, whether it is something that is bought in packaging, a taste of a new product in disposable cups or plastic sticks, the coffee in the waiting room or an advertising pen in a conference, we are creating demand for more oil to be extracted to produce more and more useless items to fill in our days (and our oceans).
To refuse is a simple act, but it requires a certain amount of courage, after all, people offering us things and willing to be kind and nice to us. Today I can say that this is the best step in my journey, I am able to say “thank you, but I have enough pens already”, and I consider doing so one great political act and boycott of futility.
If the first rule is Refuse, the second rule is, almost automatically, Reduce. When we refuse products that are hard or even impossible to recycle, we are already reducing our consumption, which nowadays is so frenetic and unstoppable. We put an an to the “Wanted, purchased it,” and start the “Do I really need it?”.
The industry teaches us, for example, that for every part of our home we need a different cleaning product, a product for the floor, a product for the mirrors and windows, a product for the toilet and shower, a product for x, y, z. .. In our home we have used only three products for the entire house cleaning: vinegar, baking soda and soap. Besides it being way cheaper and not having to create space to store loads of cleaning products, it is natural and non-toxic, it does not pollute the water and does not need gloves to work with.
One thing that Bea talks about is also going through a process of decluttering, that is, getting rid of things we do not need and reducing the amount of items we have at home, in the wardrobe, in the kitchen cabinets, hidden in the basement waiting for the “what if I need this someday 10 years from now”. This is extremely important for the future of this lifestyle as well, given that decluttering does not necessarily mean throwing it away, it can be repurpose in the second-hand market or be donated to those who need it or were willing to buy a new version of it.
Reducing means feeling satisfied with least, with enough, and getting rid of the excesses and the anxiety of always wanting more things, more products, more of the same.
Reuse means replacing everything that is disposable with an easy reusable option. This is where our trips to the farmers’ market come in place, allowing us to buy all the fruits and vegetables we need in our own cloth bags, without stickers and without extra plastic packaging, it also comes with researching for establishments that provide products in bulk so you can refill your own bags and jars with all the food you need.
It also counts with second-hand objects. In need of a new jacket? Why not taking a look at some thrift shops before going straight to the mall? A dress for a wedding? Can you borrow or rent one? A new chair? Books? Did you allow yourself to notice the great amount of second-hand shops around you? 😉
Reusing gives me a unique feeling of being in control of my choices as a consumer, since I need to organize myself for shopping before going crazy and in a rush to the grocery store or to the mall. I need to know if I need rice or pasta or both so I take enough jars and bags with me, for instance.
Reusing also makes me happy because it reminds me of times much like those of our grandparents, where they’d buy things in bulk from the fellows in their communities, but with the plus of awareness and technology we are allowed today. Imagine if you could order milk on the internet, specify the days for delivery, and it would come straight from the farm to your doorsep in glass bottles?
4, 5. Recycle & Rot
I decided to join the last two steps of Bea’s original pyramid because for me it is one or the other, since they help us solve what to do with what we still need to discard. Either we’ll have things to Recycle, or things to Compost. There is no Trash option, everything is either used a hundred percent or shouldn’t even have ended inside your house, you see?
For recycling, we clean all items to make sure there’s no grease or even possible compost additions, and we try to separate paper, glass, tin, plastic to see if there is anything that can be reused at home, here in Amsterdam there are specific collection points for each type of item and most local supermarket chains collect glass bottles such as from beer and wine.
About composting, at our home this part is the one that is still more confused, we are just learning and doing our first composting cycles, and I must say that this is a good use of the plastic material: compost boxes (although there are other ways, like wood or glass, for tiny apartments I think plastic composters are the ideal).
In times when we talk so much about experiences, living the moment, mindfulness … Living zero waste has shown me that most of the things we think we need are useless, stupid, and futile. It helps me to hit the pause button in the business we call life, it takes me closer to what is around me and show me how I transform everything I touch without even realizing it.
It makes me healthier and decreases the amount of junk food I consume, nowadays the only delivery allowed is pizza (because we are crazy about pizza!) and if we do not find what we want to eat without packaging or in easy-to-recycle packaging, we roll up our leaves and get messy in our kitchen (Rafael is now a specialist in the creation of biological yeast, for example). So living zero waste also teaches us to cook healthier and better food, and to have patience!
To live zero waste takes me to the farmers’ market and makes me smell the vegetables around me for the simplest pleasure of doing so, it takes me to try apples from the young sellers so it can help me decide which one I like best, it gives me enjoyable conversations with the lady from the mushrooms’ stand so I understand each type of mushroom is cultivated.
Subjects that I never thought would interest me now begin to make sense, like urban gardening, for example.
I’m still far from producing zero waste, but just knowing that it’s possible and, far beyond that, it’s fun and it allows me to learn and explore new things is both motivating and rewarding.
John once said that all we need is love, love is all we need. To live zero waste is pure love.
Extra! Extra! Watch the bellow TED Talk by Bea Johnson and learn more about this person and her incredible zero waste lifestyle: