Eliminate Trash From Your Life By Going Zero Waste
We live in a wasteful society that solves every inconvenience with a disposable product. Plastic bags, cutlery, Tupperware, packaging; all of these conveniences add up, don’t easily biodegrade, and are often unable to be recycled. Not to mention, all of these products are traditionally made from oil, creating an incredibly unsustainable, dirty, and environmentally devastating cycle. But there are people working to solve this crisis by eliminating trash from their lives and showing the world how to go zero waste.
Landfill and Waste Issues
The Zero Waste Lifestyle
One of the icons of the zero-waste home movement, Bea Johnson, implemented a minimalist mindset within her family, that cut her household’s annual waste down to about a 12-oz. jar of a random assortment of plastics. She has inspired her family to commit to this goal and in so doing, saved money, created a healthy lifestyle, and drastically reduced their carbon footprint.
Her first and foremost rule is to refuse anything you do not need. By saying no to disposable plastics and paper, you are doing your part in eliminating the demand for those products.
Johnson says zero waste doesn’t mean more, but rather less recycling, by preventing waste in the first place. The majority of plastics that can be recycled can only go through that process one time before they end up in landfill.
When it comes to household plastics, glass jars, bowls and bottles make convenient, reusable replacements. And when you go to the grocery store, buying non-perishable foods in bulk to fill those glass jars saves time, money, and the environment.
Zero waste home enthusiasts are thrifty when it comes to toiletries and beauty products. Without sacrificing hygiene, it’s possible to make homemade versions of toothpaste, make-up and facial lotions. Buying castile soap in bulk is their secret to replacing household cleaners, which can double as soap for the shower. And baking soda is another multi-faceted product that has endless applications for cleanliness.
After implementing these zero waste lifestyle changes in her family’s routine, Johnson found they were healthier due to a lack of chemicals in the household and more mindful eating habits.
She also found her family saved about 40 percent of their income compared to prior habits. This allowed them to save money to invest in renewable energy through solar panels, contributing to future conservation and savings. It also allows her family to take vacations more often, cultivating a conscious lifestyle that values experience over material goods.
Cities Implementing Zero Waste Living
A number of cities passed, or are in the process of passing, legislation that aims to target zero waste living goals within the coming years. Some cities, including San Francisco and Portland, are leading the charge, making most municipalities look downright wasteful.
True to its nickname, the Golden City has already achieved 80-percent waste diversion, while Portlandia barely trails behind at 70 percent. But when it comes to urban refuse terminology, zero waste implies only 85-percent waste diversion, not entirely trash-free.
In comparison, that percentile is lightyears ahead of most cities that size, as well as what most cities are even striving for in the coming decades. Dallas, Texas sluggishly plans to hit 60 percent over the next 12 years.
Even in cities with a reputation for being progressive, such as Boulder, CO, waste diversion isn’t where one might expect it to be. While the city is actively working to implement a bullish zero waste program, Boulder’s current system only diverts 34 percent of its rubbish. Although, with its latest plan, involving upgrades for its recycling center, financial incentives for businesses, regulations and advisory programs, Boulder hopes to reach 80 percent diversion by 2025.
The city says 90 percent of the trash that ends up in its landfill is either recyclable or compostable, meaning the zero waste goal is mostly a matter of policy and logistics. In the past Boulder implemented policies with reduced waste intention, including a 10 cent tax on all plastic bags, but some cities took that a step further, banning them entirely.
Zero Waste Girl
Another luminary for those seeking an example in the zero waste movement is Lauren Singer, a.k.a. the zero waste girl, who has become Johnson’s disciple, spreading the good word about the zero waste lifestyle. Just like Johnson, Singer can fit her past few years’ waste inside a mason jar and has become somewhat of an internet celebrity for her refuse-free savoir faire.
While studying at university, Singer found herself internally passing judgment on a classmate for her callous use of plastic bags and disposable goods. As an environmental science major, she imagined herself on a moral high ground, appalled by what she saw.
Then she went home and realized her fridge was packed with plastic wraps, Tupperware, and disposable products. She immediately realized the hypocrisy and dismounted her high horse to join the radical green revolution.
Singer’s youth appeals to the millennial generation that asks, “How can I do this when I live in a city, imbibe, and lead a busy lifestyle?” Her simplistic solutions proved anybody, no matter where you live or what you do, can significantly, if not entirely, reduce waste.
With the craft brewing (and distilling) movement becoming almost omnipresent, you can buy a glass growler and fill it up at the brewery down the street, and this is precisely what Singer does. This is almost always cheaper than buying beer at the store, as is everything that doesn’t have to be packaged. Johnson noted 15 percent of the cost every time you buy something goes toward packaging, so if you eliminate that element, you’ll save at least that much every time.
One brewery is also working on recreating the plastic six-pack rings that are so damaging to the eco-system by producing edible rings. Even when you cut up the rings and feel like you’re doing your part to save the turtles from suffocating, they eat them anyway. For so long, this has been such a destructive issue, that was solved with a relatively simple, zero waste solution that just required conscious effort.
You’ll find numerous organizations these days championing this mindful sentiment by spreading awareness and petitioning governments to implement these policies. This is a systemic problem, as we were brought up in a society of waste. Though most of us are unaware that we even do it; it’s ingrained in our culture. Once we start making and demanding change we can reverse some of the damage we’ve done and create a better future.
New Zealand Gives Maori Volcano Human Rights
In a move to honor its indigenous people and provide retribution for colonialist oppression, New Zealand is giving human rights to a Māori volcano on the country’s North Island. Mount Taranaki will now be afforded all the legal rights of a person and is the country’s third natural feature to be given this designation.
After Lonely Planet – the largest travel guide publisher in the world – named Mount Taranaki the second-best location to visit, officials in New Zealand decided to protect the dormant volcano in a way that honored their native people. The mountain’s entitlement comes after the country gave the same human rights protection to the Whanganui River earlier in 2017.
Mount Taranaki is a 120,000-year-old volcano that is New Zealand’s most frequently hiked mountain. Its new designation would make punishment for anyone who harms the mountain tantamount to harming a member of the Māori people. The local tribes will work in conjunction with New Zealand government to maintain the sacred feature and ensure its protection.
Māori natives hold the volcano to the same esteem as one of their own family members, or whanau, and consider it to be an ancestor. In Māori philosophy, humans are considered to be part of the universe and, rather than domineering the natural world, they consider humanity to be an extension of it like any other feature.
This seems to mirror the ideas of shamanism and many indigenous tribes whose spirituality and religion is based on the ideology of animism, the belief that all material things have a spirit. It is common for indigenous tribes and shamans to explain that all they know about our world came from conversations with plants, trees, and nature.
In western society, we give human rights to corporations in much the same way. Corporate personhood gives these entities names, legal rights, and the ability to spend money in political campaigns, all while remaining entirely separate from the individuals who work there. If we think this makes sense to provide privileges to what is essentially an immaterial concept, then it makes perfect sense that natural features should be given personhood with legal protections.
New Zealand is setting a precedent for the world to follow, and it’s doing it while acknowledging to its indigenous people that imperialism from the 19th century demands retribution. The act is part of an apology particularly for the British Crown’s lack of enforcement of the Treaty of Waitangi – a pact between the Māori and British government originally intended to protect native rights.
Could New Zealand’s example lead to similar actions in other nations with histories of oppression against native people? In the U.S. reparations are rarely made to Native American groups, while indigenous land and protections continue to diminish.