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Sustainability – What Zero Waste Really Means

Moving as close as possible to zero waste is a key element in sustainability. But if you are trying to live in a more eco-conscious and sustainable way, you need to make sure that you understand what zero waste really means.

When you think about living a zero-waste lifestyle, you may think about switching out more harmful plastic products with alternative options and recycling plastic and other materials that do come into your home.

But zero waste is not just about what you buy. It goes far beyond recycling. Living a zero-waste lifestyle means thinking holistically about all areas of your life and considering a wide range of different sorts of waste. You need to think not only about the waste which leaves your household but also waste generated externally to enable your way of life.

Zero Waste Means Following the Five ‘R’s

The five ‘R’s of a zero-waste lifestyle are: refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle. Many people new to aiming for a zero-waste lifestyle begin with recycling. But the other steps come first. Recycling alone is not enough to prevent waste in modern lifestyles.

We must:

  • Refuse items and options which contribute to waste, in our homes and in the wider world.
  • Reduce our consumption in general – buying less as well as buying better.
  • Reuse items we already own for as long as possible and make full use of second-hand, reclaimed, or upcycled items and materials.
  • Repair items and ecosystems to prevent waste of all materials and resources.
  • Recycle both at home (through composting and other sustainable strategies) and through municipal systems.

Top Five Strategies for a Zero Waste Home:

  1. Grow at least some of your own food, and learn how to cook from scratch and preserve it.
  2. Make use of plants for other things you need – natural cleaning products and household items, for example.
  3. Learn upcycling and age-old skills to keep items in use for as long as possible.
  4. Live by the adage that everything in your home should be useful or beautiful, ideally both, and remember that less is more – reduce clutter and simplify your life.
  5. Delve deeper – be informed and make sure you understand the true costs of everything you buy and do.

Zero Waste Means Thinking About All Types of Waste

If you truly want to live a zero-waste lifestyle, then it is important to look beyond the most obvious, physically tangible types of waste. Of course, many people will focus on materials issues like plastic waste and food waste. And these things are indeed important. But to really eliminate waste from our lifestyles, we need to look at other forms of waste, such as:

  • energy waste. (Especially in the use of finite and polluting fossil fuels rather than renewables.)
  • water waste. (The squandering and pollution of precious freshwater resources.)
  • waste of land and ecosystem degradation and destruction.
  • excessive and wasteful use of finite natural resources. (Such as mined materials…)
  • waste of human life, human time, effort, and skills.

It is only when we take a holistic approach that we truly begin to appreciate how much may be wasted in our names.

To truly move to a zero-waste lifestyle, we need to look long and hard at the impact of each one of our personal choices concerning all types of waste.

Zero Waste is Not just About the Waste That Leaves Your Home

To live a zero-waste lifestyle in the home, in following the five ‘R’s, we can reduce the waste associated with household materials use. But it is important to remember that much of the waste that is generated before items reach our homes: in agriculture, manufacture, and processing.

To truly embrace a zero-waste lifestyle, we need to take a cradle-to-grave look at everything we buy and consume. It is not enough simply to look at the waste that leaves our own homes. We must look at where everything comes from and the waste generated earlier in supply chains.

It is only when we look more broadly at waste in our societies and their systems that we see how much more there is that each of us can do.

While becoming truly ‘zero waste’ is not something that can happen overnight, we can all work towards it, one step at a time, as we strive to be more conscientious and thoughtful in all we buy and all we do.

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