Since the beginning of time, the Earth has provided us with all the resources and materials we need to survive, and we have taken from her to the point where a multitude of environmental issues have arisen, threatening the health of the planet: the ozone layer is depleted, our water and air are polluted, countless species are going extinct.  Climate activists and scientists have called upon governments, world leaders, and corporations to take action to protect the environment; meanwhile, many people are looking for everyday initiatives they can take to reduce their carbon footprint. One example of individual action comes in the form of the zero waste movement. 

The idea of living a zero waste life has become a movement that has spread in popularity during the past few years. Although the idea of living a zero waste and sustainable lifestyle has existed for decades, the movement was officially created in 2002 by Richard Anthony, after he noticed that many papers written for a resource conference focused on trash incineration instead of the bigger problem of waste as a societal issue. Anthony decided to set up a workshop at the conference that focused on zero waste living. Since the conference was a success, Anthony decided to host another one which helped the movement gained traction, attracting environmental experts, activists and international organizers to create the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA). The ZWIA sets guidelines to help businesses and governments to adopt zero waste policies. Easy access to the internet and social media in recent years has allowed people to share their experience with living a zero waste lifestyle, many YouTubers and bloggers upload content to document their journey and to help other people. 

In its most simple form, zero waste living aims to send nothing to a landfill or incinerator. You reduce what you need, reuse as much as you can, and send very little to be recycled, composting what you can’t. In a more complex way, zero waste aims to restructure the way our economy and society operates. We currently run an economy where people extract resources from the earth and then dump them back into a landfill. The concept of living zero waste would create a world where trash doesn’t exist and ensure that resources are returned fully back into the system instead of discarded. The ZWIA officially defines zero waste as, “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” Although the zero waste movement is firmly rooted in policy change, large scale innovation, and reform, it has recently evolved to include individual responsibility and climate action. 

The average Canadian will produce nearly 673 kilograms of waste per year with only approximately 20% of that waste being recycled. The World Bank has predicted that waste production for all countries will rise 70% by 2050 and has urged that immediate action be taken. Large-scale action like regulating carbon emissions of massive corporations is the responsibility of policymakers, which makes individual activism seem unproductive; however, our independent contributions are still necessary. Every choice you make has some kind of impact, and those small choices add up to bigger results. Living zero waste is a way for people to take personal responsibility to help the environment and help create a healthier planet. 

Unfortunately, individual action falls short because many people are not able to adopt many of the initiatives living zero waste entails. Not everybody has access to bulk stores, many people can’t drink the water from their taps, and a lot of individuals can’t afford to exclusively buy locally grown organic food– if they even have access to it in the first place. The playing field is not equal for all people who want to pursue this way of life. Structural and policy change will be necessary so that everybody is able to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but we cannot sit idly by until that happens. 

Switching to a completely zero waste lifestyle overnight is unrealistic and near impossible. Change takes time and each individual will have unique circumstances that affect the level of zero waste they can live with. It isn’t necessary to spend a ton of money on starter products or to completely overhaul your life in order to begin living zero waste. Here are five of the easiest and cheapest ways to begin the transition to living a zero waste life.

1. Maximize the use of unsustainable products

Plastic Tupperware, toothbrushes, storage containers, water bottles, beauty products, etc. are not very good for the environment.  The goal of zero waste is to minimize the number of such products together. Throwing these products in the garbage and purchasing all new ones overnight sort of defeats the main objective of zero waste living. You should maximize the utility of your unsustainable products until they are no longer able to be used. In the best interest of both sustainability as well as saving money these products should be unusable before discarding them. 

2. Glass Jars 

Glass jars can be used to hold pretty much anything: pasta, oatmeal, buttons, pens, pencils, leftover change, sauces, homemade beauty products, the list goes on. Glass provides a great alternative to plastic and it is one of the most recyclable products. I’m sure if you look in your kitchen right now you have a pasta sauce, mustard, or jam jar that can be used to hold something or to take to Bulk Barn with you. Instead of recycling or throwing out your glass jars after they’ve been used, clean them out and put them to good use. If you don’t already have some, ask your roommates or purchase some at a thrift store. 

3. Thrift Stores and Second Hand 

The best way to live with zero waste is to use up the products that already exist in the world. If you can you should try to buy second-hand clothing, furniture, dishes, and other household items. This is a great way to prevent items in good condition from going to the landfill before their time.

4. Metal Straws

I’m sure you’ve heard of the metal straw craze and the dangers of single-use plastic. I’m sure you’ve heard a million times you should invest in a metal straw and, honestly, you really should! Switching plastic products after they’ve served their purpose to glass, metal, and bamboo products is a great way to live zero waste. Metal straws are an easy and relatively affordable first step to take. Verde on Princess Street sells many of these products including a three dollar metal straw that will last forever. 

5. Avoid plastic produce bags

Even produce is not immune to endless plastic. Avoiding the plastic produce bags that are available at the grocery store is an easy approach to begin your zero waste lifestyle. The best way to avoid these is to shop at farmers’ markets but if that is not an option for you, try purchasing reusable cotton or mesh bags. Another way to avoid using plastic produce bags is to avoid pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. If you have an old shirt or bed sheet that is beyond repair, search up a tutorial on how to turn it into a produce bag. 

The planet is changing at an unprecedented rate that has never been observed before. Immediate action is required on many fronts to protect the Earth. Although the transition to a zero waste lifestyle is not possible to complete overnight, those who are able should try to adapt aspects of the lifestyle. Our individual choices lead to collective action which can yield policy reform. We must fight to make the movement as accessible as possible so we can bring about real change. The Earth has provided for us for centuries, and for centuries we have taken from her, now it is time to give back.


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