By Magdalena Knapp, Editor
According to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 the average American produced about 1600 pounds of garbage, which is around 4.4 pounds of trash a day. Much of this trash then ends up in the ocean, killing millions of animals each year. The true extent of the problems caused by garbage is as of yet unknown, but we will find out shortly if people do not cut their production of trash back. The zero waste lifestyle started as a way to combat this issue.
Zero waste started with the idea to produce as little trash as possible in one year and soon became popular through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. People who follow the zero waste way of thinking, otherwise known as zero wasters, collect the trash they have produced in a marmalade jar and upload a picture of it at the end of the year. What started as a fun trend soon became a lifestyle for these people, encouraging more and more people each year to live the same kind of life.
What is it like to live the zero waste lifestyle? When and how did this all start and is it possible to live that kind of lifestyle in our consumer society, where everything is based on quantity? What obstacles has a person to face every day living this kind of lifestyle? These questions are answered in the following editorial.
Zero waste means that you cannot buy or consume anything that produces trash. Your household should be free from whatever is not compostable or recyclable. Although zero wasters try every method they can to live completely without producing any trash, it is simply not possible to live with literally zero waste. The primary goal is to limit garbage production as much as possible and to guide other people in changing their lifestyles in order to create a natural cycle where all manufactured materials are reused. Zero waste is an effort to change a society that, over time, has become focused on consuming and producing more than they could ever possibly need.
An example of how fast the average human being creates trash, perhaps without even noticing it, is the act of creating a PB&J sandwich. At least one piece of trash results from this process and it happens millions of times a day! The Earth has turned into a landfill. The ocean is full of plastic, the cities are full of trash; the most prolific feature of our society has become what we leave behind post-consumption. A major philosophy causing this issue is the idea of “out of sight, out of mind”. If people do not see the trash, it is not their problem. The trash that is stored in our world is essentially a dormant supervolcano that will erupt sooner or later.
A zero waste lifestyle could help to save the planet. In our modern interconnected society, zero waste has become a social-media phenomenon, merely a hashtag on Instagram. Shia, a YouTube- and Instagram-blogger from Germany, offered to discuss a few aspects regarding the Zero Waste lifestyle. Zero waste lifestyle to her is something that everyone has to decide for himself whether to live it or not. As mentioned above, zero waste does not mean literally zero waste to Shia, but to make an effort to minimize it as much as possible. “It is not about being perfect, but about choosing the more or even most sustainable option available to you. All I wanted was to reduce my trash here and there. In the end, each and every single step turned out to be a lot easier and more doable than I expected, and here we are now!” explains Shia.
A common concern is cost: some people think a zero waste lifestyle is more expensive than a “normal” lifestyle where you buy whatever you want without thinking about the impact of that item on trash production. Shia explains that it depends on how you choose to spend your money; she chooses to invest in organic food items, public transportation passes, and an apartment with great access to public transportation. Zero wasters only buy what they truly need, which is not a lot. She only buys to replace things, not to add things to her belongings. The rule is: quality over quantity. A great example is her water bottle. “They last for a lifetime. Unless I lose it I will never have to think about buying another water bottle for the rest of my life!” she adds.
Shopping can be a huge project for zero wasters. They usually go shopping in the bulk section, which reduces waste from packaging because the food is stored in bins. The purchased items can then be placed in bags or reusable jars that zero wasters bring with them. In most bulk markets, you can buy anything from flour to shampoo, and you can even get small containers if you do not already possess one. Many cities have farmers markets. Before entering the store, armed with glass containers and cloth bags, you have to make sure to have a detailed shopping list. Preparation is everything. Most zero wasters plan and cook their meals beforehand, so if they do not have enough time to cook, it is not necessary to eat pre-packaged frozen food. Just like that, shopping goes easier, faster, and the amount of food gone bad is often reduced because you do not buy as much.
For Shia, a person’s own expectations are often what make it most difficult to live the zero waste lifestyle. “We somehow expect to go zero waste overnight. But changing habits take time and practice,” says Shia. According to Shia anyone who wants to can minimize or drastically reduce their trash and adopt more sustainable habits. She also explains that not one of us should aspire to be “zero” waste because it is simply not possible within our current societal structure. It is possible however to do everything we can to produce as little trash as possible.
The most important thing regarding zero waste and people who are interested in it, explains Shia, is to just start. “Start with something that is easy for you. Most plans fail because people feel overwhelmed and never start or start to big and get worn out. Also, don’t be a perfectionist. There is no such thing as perfect in life, and that’s okay.”
At first, zero waste just seemed like a fun thing to do, to post pictures of jars of trash on Instagram, but it really evolved into its own way of living. You start with something small to reduce your production of trash, and discover soon that you can do much more. You can save the environment and many animals simply by thinking critically about your way of living. Living by the zero waste lifestyle you might not notice changes in the environment at all, but a more dramatic change can also occur in your personal life. You may look at things in a more critical way, it will force you to have a more socially and environmentally aware lifestyle, and you’ll also influence people within your own personal environment.
Remember: zero waste is not something that comes overnight. It takes time and effort, but the results will be worth it for both yourself and the environment.