The average American creates nearly 4.5 pounds of trash per day. But we can learn to make a whole lot less if we adopted zero waste living principles. And who doesn't want to lose weight?
By Andrea Sanders
I started my zero waste journey in 2008, with a help of a brand new blog called Zero Waste Home, by Bea Johnson. At the time, I was working in environmental education, and I was starting to realize that all of the passion I poured into my work sharing ways to protect the environment with the public weren’t always reflected at home. So I wanted to make a change, and that is when I found Bea’s blog.
Bea lives with her husband and two boys in California, where she shares her methods and lifestyle of living with next to zero trash. She has provided inspiration for simplifying my possessions down to the minimum and refusing single-use waste disposables left and right.
After a few years of traveling and moving around the country, I was settling down into a more permanent home, and I perfected my low-waste habits down to a simple and meaningful everyday lifestyle. Curious friends and family members started asking how I was making so little trash, and my once-private lifestyle became an educational experience to share.
So I combined my background in environmental education with zero waste principles and created a nonprofit called Be Zero. Then I created the Trash Diet Workshop as part of Be Zero’s educational mission.
I’ve learned over the last 10 years that a zero waste lifestyle is more than a story about trash; it’s a story about what we value.
When we toss a coffee cup into the trash, we’re collectively saying there is no value in that item. We regard something “disposable” as something diminished in quality, meaning, and intention. The resources that went into the making of that disposable coffee cup—time, energy, human interaction—were all to be lost as soon as it was tossed away moments after its usefulness.
But I believe we can reconnect and put value and meaning back into the stuff we produce. I created Be Zero and the Trash Diet Workshop to do just that.
Our trash tells a story. It gives us insight into what we value collectively as a society.
The Trash Diet Workshop is a 4-hour class centered around my zero waste home. For a few hours each month, I open my home to my community and share the inside story of living without a trashcan. The workshop is practical, approachable, and a simplified crash course into the world of zero waste. We discuss the recent history of trash, plastic pollution, myths of recycling, and the core strategies of zero waste. We create home products out of simple ingredients, and we tour each area of my home to explore how a zero waste lifestyle works and what it looks like in real life.
Start Your Own Low-Waste Lifestyle
In my workshops, I ask my students these questions, that are designed to help us edit what we don’t need and to help resist unnecessary purchases:
Why do I need this?
How will I use this?
Can I do without it?
Is this item repairable?
Will it last?
Is it beautiful? Is it inspiring?
Does this item provide real value to me?
With simplicity as a guiding principle, we become less overwhelmed by stuff. We learn to let go of items we no longer use or need, and start to learn our true wants and needs.
Here are two more ways you can begin to adopt a zero waste lifestyle:
Swap to reusables. Think of anything you use once and toss. From paper towels, disposable razor blades, and even plastic sandwich bags. Swap one of them with durable, long-lasting reusables. When we move from a disposable lifestyle to a reusable lifestyle, we put value and meaning back into our belongings and we disengage from a disposable society.
Support your community and use your voice. Take a closer look at your community; know what is available. From hard to recycle drop-off centers, composting opportunities, community gardens, sharing programs, and farmer’s markets, our communities can become a wealth of support. If there is not much available, start something! Give businesses incentives to make positive changes. Use social media to share your concern (kindly), start a petition, and demand products be designed and manufactured with zero waste in mind.
And remember, all changes take time. Start your journey slowly and mindfully, making small shifts at a time. Your actions really do matter!
Andrea Sanders lives in Boulder, Colorado and is the founder and director of Be Zero, a non-profit with a mission to inspire, educate and activate individuals to rethink their trash and plastic footprint and lead simple and sustainable zero waste lifestyles. Learn more at www.bezero.org, including how to participate in her Zero Trash Talk online.
Photo: Andrea also shares daily zero waste inspiration on Instagram @BeZeroWasteGirl.
Be Zero is a member of Plastic Pollution Coalition.