As a human being it almost seems like a given that you’ll produce a certain amount of trash in your lifetime. It kinda comes with the territory. Right? So much so, that you couldn’t even begin imagine it would be possible to swap out your 3ft. garbage can for something as small as a 16 oz. Mason jar. Permanently. It’s an interesting concept to grasp, I know. But not only is it doable on a personal level, it’s being done on a global scale as well, by people and communities that lead what is called a Zero Waste Lifestyle, and is an idea that’s spreading like wildfire.
An Introduction to Zero Waste
To live “Zero Waste” is to live a life free from the shackles of your trashcan; to live as if garbage didn’t even exist. While the American trash pickup system is convenient, it’s not really necessary. You don’t actually have to send trash to a landfill or incinerator to live as a modern human, believe it or not. Zero Waste is a philosophy that aims to guide people to emulate the past by simplifying your life and reducing your carbon footprint, and by employing natural and sustainable practices.
Many Zero Waste advocates document their progress and measure their success by fitting all of their non-recyclable waste into a jar. That’s one years’ worth of waste, crammed neatly inside the crystal clear walls of a Mason jar. A truly impressive feat given that the average American wastes nearly 4.3 pounds per day, which is 1.6 pounds more than produced back in 1960.
Some also speculate this pragmatic initiative could even be a solution to combating climate change, which is especially beneficial given the recent study showing that the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the primary driver of recent climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history, according to data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
Zero Waste Champions
The movement has gained popularity thanks to committed zero waste advocates; advocates like Lauren Singer. The former environmental studies student was frustrated by a fellow classmate’s lack of concern for the environment. She was angered by all of the food and plastic that was discarded in a trash receptacle in a class where environmental studies was the focus.
When she went home however, she looked in her own fridge and saw that everything was wrapped in plastic. From that moment on she made an effort to live a lifestyle where her values aligned with her environmental beliefs.
Lauren is just one of many that has inspired others and myself, to lead an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
“One of the biggest eye opening experiences of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to generate trash. It was something I had never even considered before. When I really thought about it, it just made so much sense for me to make the transition. I figured, if I truly want to make an impact on the planet, I could do it by reducing my carbon footprint.” –Delayna Fitzgerald
Now we’re seeing entire communities going waste free and reaping some serious benefits. This movement is having such a great ripple effect that people here in the US are starting to take note. So much so, that San Francisco has taken the initiative to try and transition to a waste free city by the year 2020. Now is the time to read up because change is right around the corner.
Ready, Set, Go Zero!
Step 1: You gotta do an audit
So, first things first. How much are you currently wasting? Go through your garbage and see what you’re typically throwing away. Look for things that can be recycled, composted or reused. Especially check to see how much plastic you consume since plastic is one of the biggest environmental offenders. It is created from harmful crude oils and much of the plastic produced nowadays cannot be recycled. Every piece of plastic ever created still exists, and the production continues.
Step 2: Raiding your fridge
When you first become aware of the criteria for living a Zero Waste lifestyle, opening the refrigerator door for the first time can be eye opening to say the least. You may be a bit ashamed at what you find. But no worries! Just by recognizing the problem, you are doing more than most.
Check to see how many items are contained in plastic or other types of packaging. Food makes up a majority of waste as a whole and that includes food packaging. So recognizing what’s in your pantry and fridge is a huge part of understanding how you can go waste free.
After you’ve tackled the two main sources of waste in your home, the garbage and fridge, direct your attention to the other rooms in your house and see how your products such as toiletries and household cleaners are packaged.
Step 3: Out with the old and in with the sustainable
Now that you’ve evaluated your waste and current purchases you can start making the switch to more sustainable products. But don’t just go throwing away your old products. Use them up or donate them first. It would cost you a pretty penny if you decided to swap out every single item right off the bat rather than gradually. If you’re someone who is hesitant to even use your old pantry foods, donate them to a friend, food drive or charity!
Some final words of encouragement
It’s important to remember that changing your lifestyle is never easy and obstacles will always pop-up. However, going Zero Waste is one of the most rewarding, and fun endeavors you can embark upon. Especially since this lifestyle makes a huge impact on the environment. You’re making a difference at every turn.
Over time, these changes become second nature and you can rest assured that your environmental values align with your lifestyle. And when it comes to having access to farmers markets and locally produced goods, living in America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital definitely helps make that leap a little bit easier.
Follow the entire series of Zero Waste articles and to learn more about the movement, follow Eat Farm-to-Fork on social media and author Delayna Fitzgerald on Instagram to learn more about being Zero Waste in the Sacramento region.
All my trash fits in a jar and I’ve never been happier!