It all began with a photo of a small trash jar. Bea Johnson, the founder of the zero waste lifestyle movement, challenged people to reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating or drastically reducing garbage that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
Johnson’s family generates less than a litre of waste per year, and her how-to book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste was an instant best-seller. She shares her five rules for producing as little waste as possible in it:
- Refuse things you don’t need
- Reduce what you do need
- Reuse or upcycle items you consume
- Recycle any materials you cannot reduce or refuse, so they can be transformed into other things
- Rot or compost everything else
Many people are enthusiastic about the zero waste lifestyle, and they use the hashtags #zerowaste and #zerowasteliving to share their ideas and success stories on Instagram. It’s a significant step toward a greener future, especially given that Canada is one of the world’s most wasteful nations. We generate 510 kilogrammes of waste per person per year, which is sent to over 10,000 landfill sites. About 2.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are included in this figure.
Here’s how to get started living a waste-free lifestyle:
Just say no
Small, everyday items, such as plastic produce bags, disposable coffee cups, and plastic straws, can quickly add to the trash heap, so refuse anything you don’t absolutely need. Instead, use reusable alternatives like grocery tote bags or ask your local coffee shop’s barista to refill your coffee mug. Due to current COVID restrictions, some larger chains have suspended refill services.
You should also politely decline hand-me-down clothing, furniture, and decorative items that you know you won’t use or enjoy.
Purge your stuff
Donate items you don’t wear, use, or need to reduce your overall possessions. You’re not only reducing waste, but you’re also giving back to the community. Once you’ve gotten used to purging, try to stick to the “one in, one out” rule, which states that for every item you bring into your home, something similar must leave.
Make a date with your closet and bookshelf, and donate or donate anything that doesn’t “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo suggests. Holding a clothing swap, selling items online, and shopping at thrift stores are all sustainable options.
Instead of throwing things away, reuse them. Rinse out your glass spaghetti sauce jar and use it to store other foods, for example. Instead of paper towels, use microfiber cloths. They are machine washable and cost less than $5 per pack at your local dollar store. You get the picture.
Let materials have a new life
It’s great to recycle paper, glass, metal, and plastic, but don’t just throw things in your blue bin and hope they’ll be recycled. Learn the recycling rules in your area; otherwise, items will end up in the landfill. In fact, only 9% of Canada’s plastic waste was recycled in 2019, with 86 percent ending up in landfills. Contamination occurs when food remains in containers or when paper and plastic are mixed together, resulting in the entire recycling bin being destined for the landfill because it cannot be repurposed.
We only recycle about 11 percent of our waste in Canada, owing to a lack of markets for all of the plastic we recycle.
Break it down
Composting your household waste saves tonnes of garbage because most landfills contain around 60% organic matter. Our flower beds and vegetable gardens benefit from the nutrient-rich fertiliser it provides. If your community has a green bin programme for organic waste, it’s simple to fall into the habit of throwing food scraps in there.
Some easy ways to go zero waste
- Use your own containers to buy food in bulk.
- Buy shampoo and soap in bars instead of bottles.
- Wash windows with newspaper (this also helps reduce streaks—an added bonus!)
- Plant a vegetable garden to cut down on plastic-wrapped produce from the grocery store.
- Make your own stock from chicken bones or veggie scraps instead of buying it.
- Swap out plastic toothbrushes and cotton swabs for compostable bamboo ones
- Buy toilet paper that’s individually wrapped in paper, not plastic.
- Invest in a bidet, like Tushy or Brondell, and avoid the need for toilet paper in general. If more people adopted bidets into their homes, somewhere around 15 million trees could be saved! Contrary to belief, a bidet uses less water than toilet paper. A bidet uses roughly one-eighth of a gallon of water, while it takes about 37 gallons of water to make a single roll of toilet paper.
- Cover leftovers with a plate, not plastic wrap.
- Shop at farmers’ markets where they’ll take your egg cartons and berry baskets back.
- Use reclaimed or eco-friendly materials in your home renovations.
In a room-by-room breakdown, Bea Johnson offers more great trips and hacks. While adopting a zero-waste lifestyle will not happen overnight, there are simple steps you can take to get there. See how many small, eco-friendly steps you can take to get started on your zero-waste lifestyle!