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What Is Zero Waste?

My wife and I are going “Zero Waste”.

I’ve mentioned this term a few times on the blog, but I wanted to describe a little bit about what it is and why we’ve chosen to do it.


What is Zero Waste?

According to Wikipedia, zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused.

For us, we’re trying to waste as little as possible in an effort to help the environment, break from the addiction to stuff, and to spend and purchase with conscious intention.

We first heard about zero waste when we watched a TED Talk by Bea Johnson. She lays out the basics in the video and also has great content on her blog.

5 R’s of Zero Waste

You may have heard “reduce, reuse, recycle”, but Zero Waste adds “Refuse” and “Rot (compost)” to that list. It also challenges the idea the we should recycle as much as possible.

The 5 R’s work as a hierarchy where you refuse first, then reduce, then reuse, recycle, and finally rot. Recycling is not even in the top three. While it is better than discarding waste, it is not an optimal solution.

Here are some ways we’ve started to implement this zero-waste thing.


A couple simple steps that we’ve taken to refuse have been buying tumblers and buying bulk groceries. We take our stainless steel tumblers to restaurants that us plastic cups. That way, we can refuse the one-time use cups. We also buy almost all our groceries in bulk. That way, we can use our own reusable bags and refuse the plastic bags and other packaging.


We had lived a relatively simple, minimalist life before, but we took the challenge to close off one of the rooms in our apartment. We don’t have to heat or cool that room anymore which saves on our power usage. We keep the door closed and live in the other rooms.


I already tipped my hand with the reusable bags, but we also reuse microfiber towels, and store food in mason jars or other reusable containers instead of one-time use plastic bags or the like.


One lesson we’ve learned is that plastic is hardly ever truly recyclable. Plastic can at most be recycled once or twice, then it is down-cycled. Once it is down-cycled, it cannot be recycled again and when disposed of, it goes to the landfill. Glass and metal are truly recyclable, so if we do end up using something that will be discarded, we try to make it glass or metal.


We had never composted before we stumbled onto this zero waste lifestyle. We live in a third story apartment and don’t have available space to compost ourselves. We collect our compostable material in 5-gallon buckets and are currently looking for a good solution on where to drop it off. We’ve used Mom’s Organic Market, but it is a pretty long drive for us.


Zero Waste Fail

Please know that we aren’t perfect. We still waste things. We see it as more of a process and learning experience where we are reshaping our habits of consumption. We’re trying to take small steps towards eliminating as much waste as we can. We have not arrived.

Just last week, I wanted a smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe and without thinking, forgot a reusable cup. I ordered the smoothie and as soon as they brought it to me, I realized I had just taken a non-recyclable styrofoam cup, a plastic straw, a plastic lid and a paper straw wrapper. Fail. It happens. It was a learning experience. It was also delicious! Next time, it can be both delicious and zero waste.


We’re not the only ones!

Here are some resources for more zero-waste content:

Nate & Chelsea Riedy. Our real-life, personal friends. They BLOG about breaking conventional rules around the life you’re “supposed” to live.

Bea Johnson – BLOG / YOUTUBE / TED Talk

Kathryn KelloggBLOG / YOUTUBE

Lauren Singer BLOG / YOUTUBE



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