Several months ago, I started a journey towards zero-waste living: one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Why and how do people go zero waste? How long does it take? Experiences within the community differ but all follow the same path. Every zero waster always goes through 3 distinct stages.
The first stage is the one that I name “the wake-up call”. It occurs when what you read, watch and learn deeply scares you and opens your eyes to how the world might end up. Zero-waste living becomes then your goal. The second stage is a period of transition. You decide to take action and switch to waste-free alternatives. The last stage is a constant calling into question of those allowing you to find even more environmentally friendly, practical or economical solutions.
THE WAKE-UP CALL
Plastics are not only toxic to produce, consume and recycle, but those that do get recycled degrade in the process, are made into non-recyclable products (downcycled), and are therefore destined to end up in the landfill.
My journey began with a close friend of mine who lent me “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson. She was always talking about how great this book was and how much she has learned. I had to read it and well… I wasn’t disappointed. The first part is a gripping page turner that woke me up. While sharing her background and findings, the author made me really pause and think about plastics that surround us. The second part provides tips on how to reduce waste in day-to-day life.
I won’t explain here the reasons why I adopted a zero-waste lifestyle; it will be the focus of another post. However, let me give you a first glimpse of what caused a major turning point in my thinking. In her book, Bea Johnson discloses that all plastics degrade during reprocessing and are thus downcycled into non-recyclable items destined to end up in the landfill. Only glass, steel and aluminium can be recycled infinitely. “Why on earth haven’t I learned this sooner?” was my first reaction followed by a long and shrill “Oh my god!” [Janice, get out of here! (๑^ں^๑)].
Plastics are indeed everywhere! Knowing that a simple plastic bottle can take up to 1000 years to decompose, it’s fair to ask ourselves what kind of world our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc. will inherit. Will it be a huge pile of garbage? Numerous organizations fight to prevent such a scenario. And as every action – however seemingly small – counts, I’ve decided to join the zero-waste movement along with Zero Waste Europe and Zero Waste Belgium.
1 | Refuse what you do not need. 2 | Reduce what you do need. 3 | Reuse what you consume. 4 | Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. 5 | Rot the rest.
Having realized how much waste I was generating on a daily basis, I’ve started to take measures to reduce them. It marked the beginning of my transition towards zero-waste living, which is still ongoing. The transition stage is aptly named since you can’t possibly stop producing waste overnight. You finish the packed products you’ve already bought; you look for waste-free alternatives that suit your reality; you buy long-lasting items; and you gently make understand family and friends that you’ve become allergic to packaging. All of this takes time: from several months to a year.
Nothing is more effective than the 5 Rs of Bea Johnson to get started: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot (Compost). The first and second Rs prevent waste, the third one supports thoughtful consumption, while the last two ensure a proper processing of discards. Applying the rules in order results naturally in very little waste.
THE CONSTANT CALLING INTO QUESTION
Zero Waste is an idealistic goal, a carrot to get as close as possible.
Even though the 5 Rs are strictly applied, absolute zero waste stays impossible today according to Bea Johnson. It’s obvious when you think about it. Everything isn’t available in bulk, e.g. drugs. And products that are, don’t come from large jars made of glass. I love these zero-waste icons but themselves are the result of waste generation through their production chain. Zero-waste living is a vision, an idealistic goal to which we can attempt to get as close as possible. Any action undertaken to this effect can only benefit the environment.
The transition stage gives thus way to the next once you’ve minimized – and not completely eradicated – waste. Then you keep seeking for even better alternatives in environmental, financial and practical terms by interacting with other zero wasters and staying tuned. This is where the richness of zero-waste living also lies: you never stop learning and growing.