I Tried The Zero Waste Challenge (Introduction to Zero Waste)

Watch the video above for part 1 of my challenge! 

As you may know, I’m a big fan of challenges and trying new things… such as waking up at 5am in the morning every day for a week, drinking a gallon of water every day, etc. The most recent phenomenon I’ve been interested in exploring is the concept of ZERO WASTE.

I’ve been hearing more and more about this new movement which is somewhat in alignment with veganism in some ways. I always thought of myself as somewhat of an environmentally conscious person so I wanted to put myself to the test and see how well I would do at reducing my waste to almost none.

It helps that I have a good friend that is a huge advocate for this lifestyle. He gave me the nudge to try out the Zero Waste Challenge for one week. He also gave me a LOT of guidance on how to get started and information on what it means to be zero waste.

Please read below for an introduction to ZERO WASTE.


The article below is written by @_tidyguy 


What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste is originally an industrial economic philosophy that emphasizes waste prevention instead of waste management. It is an economic model that aims to mimic the earth’s natural cycles, where all discarded materials become raw resources for reuse at their end of life rather than becoming toxic waste. The end goal is to create a circular economy, where resources cycle indefinitely in use. This is in contrast to our current linear economy, in which resources are extracted, processed, manufactured, used up, and finally disposed of in landfills.

When described as a lifestyle or movement, the simplest objective of zero waste is to send nothing to the landfill, which is achieved through reducing disposables, reusing items, recycling when necessary and composting the rest. Generally, the mission is to lower one’s environmental impact.

Why Zero Waste?

So, what makes zero waste important and relevant today? Simply, it is one answer to the problems posed by our current linear economic model and it tackles the unintended consequences caused by how we produce consumer products. Zero waste challenges the linear model of product production by considering a product’s life cycle from beginning to end.

Plastic waste is the major target of the zero waste movement because it embodies exactly where the linear system is brokenthe end of a product’s life. Plastic’s use has proliferated and it has revolutionized how products are manufactured since the 1960s and continues to do so, however, its disposal is tricky. Plastic cannot actually biodegrade back into natural materials. Instead, it degrades over the course of hundreds of years into granular pieces called micro-plastics that leach toxins into the environment and wreak havoc on wildlife. One might suggest that recycling old plastics into new products is the “zero waste” answer to this dilemma, but in reality only about 10% of plastic placed in recycling bins is ever actually recycled due to technological limitations or economic infeasibility. That other 90% ends up in landfills or in the ocean due to imperfect waste management systems.

Though our economic model is not circular, our environment is. Plastic dumped in the ocean slowly degrades and sea creatures ingest these microplastics mistaking it for food. If a sea creature doesn’t die from a stomach full of plastic, it passes the debris up the food chain and onto the dinner plates of those that eat fish. Plastics also leach harmful chemicals like BPA, which are absorbed by the human body and can lead to diseases, cancers, and disruptions to bodily functions. These chemicals poison wildlife, or if the plastic is buried in landfills, it can leach into groundwater reservoirs. In every way plastic is disposed of, harmful chemicals and/or microplastic debris circle back through the environment and adversely affect wildlife, humans, and our habitats.

Living a zero waste lifestyle is a way to live in closer accordance to the earth’s circular ecological systems by minimizing one’s landfill waste, which often consists of plastic. Other materials like paper, glass, and steel can be recycled infinitely or composted back into raw materials that do not leach harmful chemicals or impact the planet in the way plastic does. In a way, leading a plastic-free life (or as close as possible to one) aligns to living a zero waste life.

Getting Started

Eliminating waste from everyday life rightfully seems daunting, but the forerunner of the zero waste movement, Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home, outlines the “5 Rs” that help eliminate waste and promote a zero waste life. Here is a brief overview of the “5 Rs” and tips and tricks to kickstart living a zero waste lifestyle:

  1. Refuse. Refuse single-use plastics like cutlery, water bottles, and food packaging. All of these are single use, often cannot be recycled, and are not compostable.
    • Refuse: plastic grocery bags, single-use plastic food packaging, tea bags (they are lined with plastic), plastic or styrofoam to-go containers, plastic cutlery, plastic single-use plates, single-use water bottles.
    • Exceptions: Continue to use up multi-use plastic items before replacing. This includes personal care product packaging, toothbrushes, soap bottles, etc. As these products are finished up, consider transitioning to sustainable alternatives.
      • Tip! Avoiding plastic packaging is not always realistic. If necessary, buy food in the largest package to reduce the overall amount of waste.
  2. Reduce. Where possible and accessible, minimize resource consumption. This is a broad principle that can be applied to several areas like: reducing reliance on disposables and reducing items sent out for recycling.
    • Reduce purchasing products new (and shop secondhand where possible); try to reduce reliance on anything single-use, whether plastic or not.
    • Reduce recycling where possible. Though things like tin cans, wine bottles, and glass jars can be recycled (and are more likely to be recycled in facilities than plastic), purchasing them still creates demand for extracting resources. Recycling requires a lot of energy, so reducing overall recyclables is crucial.
    • Reduce food waste. Attempt to plan meals weekly and only buy as many groceries as needed to prevent excess food waste and composting.
  3. Reuse. So how can you refuse single use plastics confidently, and reduce your reliance on packaged products? By swapping to reusables! Use a reusable water bottle, bring forks and knives, swap paper towels with cotton dish towels, fill your pantry with package free bulk items, etc.
    • DO: Reuse what you already have! Plastic tupperware is a multi-use plastic and will live for a long time. Stock up on bulk goods with the containers you already have. Use silverware from home and create your own clothes and bulk bags from old sheets or shirts. Zero waste preparedness kits can be made for free!
    • DON’T: Go out and buy all new products to help you live zero waste. It is often unnecessary and expensive. If you absolutely need to buy something to assist in low waste living, visit secondhand stores!
  4. Recycling. Refusing, reducing, and reusing should dramatically curb the amount of recycling produced. But for what remains, opt for cardboard, steel, and glass containers, as these are far more recyclable items than plastic. Check with your local recycling facilities for what actually can and can’t be recycled.
    • DO: Recycle cleaned out cans, glass containers, and cardboard (or compost if possible). Make sure everything you put into recycling is thoroughly cleaned of any food remnants and is dry. Recycle thick and hard plastic containers if necessary.
    • DON’T: Recycle soft plastic packaging, wrappers, styrofoam, or food-covered wrappers. These aren’t recyclable. Leftover food may contaminate other recyclables.
  5. Rot: Compost, compost, compost! When you can’t reduce your food waste or reuse your scraps, compost the remainders. Know what can and can’t be composted in your system. If your city has an industrial composting system, then a wider range of compostables are accepted than what can normally be composted in DIY systems. Composting should immediately divert up to 40% of your home’s trash and should handle all of the “wet” waste.

Following these 5 steps should immediately curb a great deal of waste. But remember to not beat yourself up too much and try to start with small, easy swaps that you can commit to rather than taking on several unrealistic changes all at once. In reality, it takes months and even years to transition to a “zero waste” life, and even then, zero doesn’t mean zero. No matter what, we still live in a linear economy and as such a true zero waste life is impossible. Always choose to aim for progress over perfection!

written by @_tidyguy 

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