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Zero Waste: What - how - why?

Mis à jour : 19 août 2019

Why zero waste?


There is more and more consensus about accepting climate change is real. Hundreds of documentaries have been made, plenty of research has been done and many activists have brought attention to the issue. Still, many people find it difficult to understand all the problems and solutions, due to the complex nature of the problem. This might lead to defeatism and won't bring us closer to any solutions. There is one problem everybody seems to understand though. Plastic! Everybody seems to know plastic is bad and polluting our oceans. Thanks to environmental hero, David Attenborough and the popularity of 'Blue Planet 2', the revealing docu about plastic, the world was shocked to learn about the pollution of our ocean! This is a very visual problem, so solutions to this seem more accessible, hence the popularity of the Zero Waste movement.


What is Zero Waste and where does it come from?


The concept of Zero Waste has been introduced by Bea Johnson, a French woman living in the United States. Bea Johnson decided to use less waste in her daily life and tested it on her family. She came up with the R-hierarchy which is the basis for living a Zero Waste lifestyle. The R-hierarchy goes as follows:

  • Refuse what you don't need (and replace it with an alternative if possible)

  • Reduce what you do need

  • Reuse by giving second life to items and using reusables

  • Recycle what you cannot Refuse, reduce or reuse

  • Rot

Refusing to buy packaged items is the essence of not having any actual waste. Once you refuse convenient packaged options, you are forced to look at alternatives and replacements for your previous choices. If you go to the supermarket, you only need to look at fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds basically. So you might actually be better off going to markets and local stores. The most rewarding way to get your ingredients is to grow it yourself of course. There is a whole new market for Zero Waste alternatives to be found online and in local stores. Plenty of sustainable items, which replace disposable and non-recyclable options, are becoming more popular, such as home compostable bamboo straws, tooth- and dish brushes. From reusable zip lock bags, produce bags and tote bags to water bottles, coffee cups and lunch boxes there are plenty of sustainable alternatives out there. You can even find beeswax wraps, reusable menstruation cups, sanitary pads and the list goes on. If you like to experiment, you can start making some DIY pasta, bread, tortillas, tooth paste, deodorant, soap and much more.


Filling up your own jars and bags with items is easiest in bulk stores. Through bulkfinder.com you can find bulk stores in your region!

Refusing everything everywhere could become very antisocial very quickly. So reducing the amount of waste you create by buying less wasteful items is a step in the right direction. If you make too many exceptions, you might feel you are not really living Zero Waste after all, so you have to find a balance somewhere. When you make your own purchasing decisions and you think outside of the box instead of sticking with the variety of convenient choices, you are bound to get heaps of new ideas and you will be able to reduce a great amount of the waste produced.

The trash you end up with is not necessarily destined to go into the trash. Many items can serve a second purpose. Jars, bags, containers and boxes can be reused for storing food, spices or whatever you like. You can up-cycle old T-shirts into shopping bags or many other items meant for trash can be turned into a piece of art. A lot of items can have a second life before we consider throwing it into the bin. This is another way you can divert many items from landfill.

To the surprise of many recycling is almost at the bottom of the R-hierarchy. It is a general assumption that recycling is an environmental choice, but since there is a lot of misinformation about recycling it is important to consider refusing, reducing and reusing first. Glass bottles and aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable, but it depends very often on the local council whether or not these are actually recycled. On several occasions glass is actually down-cycled into roads for example. Paper and cardboard can be down-cycled into recycled paper, but that won’t go on forever either. The biggest issue is plastic of course. We have all noticed the 1 to 7 kinds of plastics marked on packaging. Depending on where you live most of these are not actually recycled. So it is always a good idea to do some research about your local recycling scheme before buying plastic items. It is also not unimportant to consider the amount of energy needed to recycle items. If something needs to be melted down to be recycled into a new item or it can just be reused to serve another purpose, it is pretty obvious which option is easier on the environment. This is why Recycle is almost down the bottom of the hierarchy. If you do recycle, do it properly.

Everything that is organic should not go into the general waste or recycling bin. It will not biodegrade in landfills and it will contaminate recyclables, making them unrecyclable. Instead, try rotting them, or more commonly known as composting. There are many composting options out there. Even people living in an apartment can use a Bokashi. If you don't have the time, resources or knowledge to compost, you can always give your food scraps to an organic shop or someone who does own a composting bin. If you don't know anyone, you can use the app ShareWaste to find people who are in need of organic material.

Reusable bag VS plastic bag


Buying a reusable bag every time you go to the supermarket is not really an environmental choice. It is actually worse. If you don't reuse the bag, it does not serve its purpose. There are many different studies out there with different numbers, but all of them show the same conclusion. Reusable bags, cotton, plastic or whatever kind of material take up way more energy to produce than the regular disposable plastic bags which are slowly being banned everywhere in the world. Buying one bag, you really enjoy, and taking it with you everywhere you go can be an easy solution. You can own several reusable bags of course, but it is always a good idea to reconsider throwing them away after a couple of times.


Leaving it to the experts


There are hundreds of tips and tricks for implementing zero waste in your life and the people who supply this advice are more knowledgeable and specialized than we are. Therefore we will supply some of our favorite resources we used to learn more about Zero Waste living.


A young and passionate couple travels New Zealand to talk to local communities about waste. They inspired us to start our 6 month experiment.

The website of Bea Johnson, the founder of the Zero Waste movement, supplying many tips to implement in your life.

Max La Manna is a zero-waste vegan chef, sustainability advocate and environmentalist. He wrote a book about cooking with less waste and more plants. He is very active on Instagram and is very knowledgeable when it comes to zero waste living and cooking.

Lindsay Miles created a very resourceful website with accessible ways of getting into zero waste. She wrote several useful books and offers a very positive perspective on the problem.

If you don't want to dig in deep into blog articles, you can just follow this instagram account, which supplies the easiest ecological switches people can make.

This YouTube channel does not necessarily talk about Zero Waste, but it is our all time favorite channel that explains complex environmental issues through beautiful videos. Many complex questions you might ponder before going to sleep are answered right there. Have a look and you won't be disappointed.


See you next time!