The concept of zero-waste can be very intimidating. The average person produces 4.5 tons of trash a day so it's not surprising that zero-waste living seems close to impossible. The good thing is most of the waste an average person is throwing away can be recycled! Within the 139.6 million tons of waste in American landfills, 30.63 million tons is food, 26.82 million tons is plastic, and 18.35 million tons is paper/cardboard. If all three of those were properly disposed of, we'd be decreasing our waste production by over 50%.
So how do we start? Zero-waste starts with the 3 R's. Yep, you guessed them.
Since you're here, you're probably familiar with the 3 R's already. They go back to our kindergarten days but yet we still struggle with finding ways to implement them in our every day lives as adults. Keep reading as we break down what it means to reduce, reuse, and recycle and what habits we can shift in our daily lives to move towards a more zero-waste lifestyle.
Reduce & Reuse
The key to decreasing the amount of waste we produce is to not create in the first place. The EPA explains that making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy –– from the raw materials extracted from the Earth to the transportation needed to transport the product –– a lot of pollution is released to create new stuff. But why do we need new stuff when we have so much stuff already?
Reduce and reuse goes hand in hand because in order to reduce your waste, you need to reuse what you already have. Here are some easy tips to jumpstart how you're reducing and reusing right now.
- Buy used! Thrift shops, consignment, and reuse centers are all places that sell used items that are less expensive and as good as new.
- Replace disposable items with reusable items! Invest in a reusable water bottle (We love Soma), metal or silicone straws (FinalStraw is perfect for on-the-go), bamboo utensils (Check out EarthHero), silicone storage bags (Stasher is life-changing)...you get the point.
- Borrow or rent frequently used items! Clothes, furniture, bags, party decorations...there's a rental service out there for just about anything.
- If you do need to buy something new, look for companies that are committed to zero-waste packaging. You can do this by steering clear of any company that uses plastic in their packaging or buying items in bulk. If you need laundry and dish detergent, we've got BOTH zero-waste packaging and bulk sizes.
In simple terms, recycling is the process of collecting trash that would've otherwise been thrown into landfills and turning them into new products. Did you know that 68% of plastic jugs do not get recycled? If we were to properly recycle, we would reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators, we would conserve natural resources, we would reduce pollution, we would save energy, and we would help create more jobs.
The EPA lists 3 key steps to recycling.
1. Collection and Processing
First, learn more about what can be recycled and what cannot be. Then, make sure you separate recyclable items from the rest of your trash on a daily basis. This will make it easier to properly dispose of them at curbside collection, drop-off centers, or through deposit or refund programs.
Once recyclables are collected, they are processed in a recovery facility where they are sorted, cleaned, and processed into materials than can be used in the next step: manufacturing.
When recyclable items are turned into materials that can be used in manufacturing, that means new items are being made from recycled materials.
3. Purchasing New Products Made from Recycled Materials
We as consumers close the recycling loop when we purchase items that contain recycle materials or can be easily recycled. Look out for products that have recycled-content, post-consumer content, or is a recyclable product.
So we covered the three R's but what about food waste? If you remember from earlier, the largest contributor to our waste production is food waste. About 94 percent of the food that we throw away is sent to landfills or combustion facilities. Here are some easy ways to tackle your food waste production.
- Plan! Meal prepping helps to save money and time, and if you buy only what you need at the grocery store you won't be wasting as much. Start by planning what you will eat for the week ahead of time, creating shopping lists that include the quantity of each item you need, and double check your fridge and pantry for items you may already have before you buy more.
- Properly store and prep your perishables! Freeze food and fruit to prevent them from spoiling. Prepare your meals ahead of time and freeze them to eat later. Avoid washing fruits before you want to eat them to prevent mold growth.
- Compost! Instead of throwing away your food scraps, learn how to compost them. Check out our "Composting Is Easier Than You Think" guide.
And there you have it! Zero-waste living is a journey and it's one that requires small steps to start. It's rooted in the 3 R's and even though you may think you know them, it's important to re-learn them and execute them at every touchpoint. Once you master the 3 R's, don't forget about food waste. Meal prepping, properly storing your food, and composting food waste are all easy tips to tackling the largest contributor to our waste as humans. So let's get to it Droppers!