What The Heck Is Zero Waste?

Trash is everywhere around us. It’s become something so normal in our lives, we don’t even realize or think about it anymore. We get up in the morning, empty the tube of tooth paste – and toss it away without sparing it a second thought. But what does happen to all the garbage? Sure, you recycle – but does it really get recycled? Aren’t a lot of materials like milk cartons produced in a way that makes them almost impossible to be properly recycled?

Whatever. Out of sight, out of mind. What do we care, it’s not our problem anymore. Or is it?
Of course we know that all the trash we create doesn’t just vanish into thin air. We have heard about all those toxic landfills. We have heard about garbage, that is shipped to some more or less unknown places in Africa and Asia, where people are poisoned because they try to seperate the material by burning it since they have no other technical means. We have heard about our garbage polluting the oceans and the pollution coming back for a dinner date. However, all that knowledge, too, seems to vanish whenever we shop or discard of all the excessive packaging. It is almost as if our daily life had nothing to do with all this craziness.

As a nation, Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person per day (Wikipedia)

The average in the European Union is “only” 3 pounds (1.35 kg). A percentage does get recycled, which is a good start. However, it only fights the symtoms, not the cause of it all. Put simply, we consume too much. We take more than our fair share. The more we consume, the more waste we create. We need to shrink our foodprint.

By refusing everything that will turn into trash in mere seconds or minutes and by reducing our level of consumption we conserve resources. Packaging and disposables had to be produced, using up valuable resources. But because they are designed to only be useful for a very short amount of time, they need to be cheap. This is only made possible by outsourcing the real costs of those items. We, the consumer, are not the ones paying the real costs. The real cost is paid by the humans (very often children) that have been exploited all along the line of production, the environment that is polluted, the animals that are endangered. This way, we take those valuable and limited resources and turn them into waste in just a few moments, leaving behind scorched earth.

Zero Waste is one way to break this cycle. Of course, politics need to change, as does the economy. But that doesn’t mean we as mere individuals are powerless. Zero Waste is empowering, because it helps you to only buy what you actually need, and not what advertisements and PR campaigns tell you you should desire.

People usually assume that living Zero Waste must be incredibly time-consuming. To shop zero waste, you need to bring your bags and own containers to the store. This requires a certain degree of planning, so you would expect it to be incompatible with a busy schedule. But on the contrary, committing to a zero waste lifestyle will save you a lot of time! You will be surprised how much time (and money) you will be able to save by just reducing your overall consumption.

Zero Waste will simplify your live tremendously!

We used to go grocery shopping every other day, and we would also run to the drug store at least twice a week, because we were always running low on something – which makes sense considering we all have hundreds of different, highly specialized products we think we need. Before transitioning into a zero waste lifestyle, I had three eye creams alone. One for during the day, one for the night, and one to prevent those nasty wrinkles. But because those creams were supposed to be for the eye area only (duh!), I also had three different moisturizers for the supposedly ageing skin covering the rest of my face. Ever since I turned hit 30, people keep telling me I’ll have to take extra-care of my skin. I’m sure a lot of the ladies know what I’m talking about. Well, and of course I had body lotion. Only one product (how come?), but an expensive one because I have very sensitive skin that tends to break out easily. And to prevent my feet from getting too smelly I had a deodorizing foot cream. Oh, and not to mention the hand cream every woman seems to be carrying around. Don’t even get me started on my hair care! Or on the wide range of cleaning products that we scattered all around the house because we were running out of shelf space…

Living Zero-Waste has helped us declutter our home and our life. A while ago I was interviewed by Lina-Maria Schön, another fellow blogger. She called my lifestyle a detox for this world. I do believe it is so much more though – to me, it is also a lifestyle detox. It has enabled both my husband and I to work slave a lot less. I now wait tables two days a week and my husband works half-time as a student council and lecturer at a university. Against even our expectations, this lifestyle wasn’t as financially challenging as we thought at first. Even though our income has shrunken considerably and we do spend money on those much more expensive organic groceries, we are still putting money away every month! By downsizing and not spending money on meaningless (and sometimes downright ridiculous) things we can afford to put the money into healthier habits. Instead of buying yet another 80% cotton 20% poly and 100% child labor shirt for 30 bucks that I might not even wear a lot, we rather buy organic produce that will feed us almost a week or spend the money on sustainable energy. We have started to go for quality instead of quantity. By working less and not having to spend all the time caring for stuff we own (like taking the car to the shop, cleaning a big house, mowing the lawn), we now have time to spend with each other (who doesn’t want more quality family time?) and to go on trips (by train of course). To put it in a nutshell: We are happy an we feel we live more comfortable than ever.

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