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BlogA new philosophy: Zero Waste

A new philosophy: Zero Waste

What is the difference between garbage, residue, and waste? What are the five rules to start reducing waste? Read more to find out.
Álvaro Martín · News · Sep 2018

People take many things for granted: the Earth revolves around the Sun and around itself, day is followed by night, babies cry at birth, we will die and our body will return to our ecosystem in a new form... These are issues that do not depend on us. But others do depend on the action of men. Some of them we have internalized so much that we would not know how to live without them. Wrapped foods, take away food and beverage containers, weekly or monthly cleaning and hygiene products, disposable cutlery, glasses and napkins, annual sales on clothing, accumulated marketing flyers in our mailbox ... It is our daily routine, it is everywhere. We not only believe that they are indispensable, but we do not even think about how to reduce them. And at night, when the garbage truck resounds through the silent streets, it seems that the garbage disappears ... But no, because part of that garbage is transformed into waste: waste that is not recycled and ends up in a landfill or incinerator.

Statistics are just numbers. And these numbers might not be tangible, but our visual culture can help us visualize the problem: each person in this world creates an average of 1.5-2 kg of garbage per day. Multiply that by 7.5 billion people who live on the planet... That is about 15 million tons. Imagine!

If the emblematic Eiffel Tower weighs about 10,000 tons ... that means that the mountain of garbage that we cause in a day is equivalent to the weight of around 1,500 Eiffel towers. Not that far away, in Spain, a family of 4 people generates more than 2 tons of waste per year. The problem is that only 14% of it is recycled, which gives you an idea of ​​the impact it has both on the environment (rotting under the sun or polluting seas and rivers), as well as on our health or on the economy.


Clarifying terms: garbage, residue and waste

Garbage are all the remains of human activities that, at first glance, are no longer useful to those who used them. Inside the garbage, we find waste and residue. Residue is the part of garbage that will not be recycled, because it has no value for the user, because it cannot be recycled or is polluting or a toxic product. Example: hospital waste, radioactive waste and solid waste and materials from different industries.

On the other hand, Waste is that which can have a second life, either by reusing it or by recycling it. Here we find plastic or glass containers, metals, clothing, paper and cardboard and organic waste. All of them can be transformed partly or as a whole and can then be recycled by specialized companies (or by people, to a certain extent).

What is Zero Waste

Throughout our lives we make the mistake of buying impulsively, fueled by the option to discard the purchase after little use if it isn’t to our liking or if we finally don’t need it. This attitude has negative implications that go beyond our environment. Unnecessary consumption involves many people (often immersed in miserable work systems) and the management of waste / residues greatly affects the environment.

Before becoming reusable or recyclable waste, the idea is that the waste is not generated in the first place. To live a sustainable life, we must simplify. The Zero Waste lifestyle consists of learning to suppress, as far as we can, the bad habits of uncontrolled and unnecessary consumption. The idea is to live a more conscious life and more focused in the present, that respects the environment. The key is to make intelligent purchasing decisions based on willpower and spend time learning about healthy diets, food distributors without packaging or second-hand sale sites. Moreover, if we have time, skill, creativity and a certain interest in crafts, the reuse is based on the counter-cultural movement DIY (Do it yourself). The drivers of this philosophy ensure that this protects the environment and reduces the economic expense in waste management.

In short, the fundamentals of Zero Waste is the responsibility and personal commitment to be a promoter of simplicity. And this leads to a life more based on experiences and not on belongings

A person holding waste on a glass jar

Inspiring references: it is possible to store your monthly waste in one glass jar.

"My family and I have achieved a life that is rich in being, instead of having. A simple life based on experiences and not on objects." In 2006, Bea Johnson and her family moved to downtown San Francisco and discovered they had no space in the new house for 80% of their stored belongings. She started a blog where she explained the first changes with her shampoo, makeup, market purchases and clothes. The family began to reduce their consumption and discovered that, in addition to leading a healthier life than before, they produced very little waste, so few that it all fit in a jar. Little by little they discovered that "when you live with less, you have more time for what is important." Her blog, interviews and social networks like YouTube did the dissemination work on a large scale. Bea was consolidated as an inspiration for the Zero Waste movement when she published the book Zero Waste Home in 2013.

Five rules to start reducing waste

In her experience, Bea Johnson defined the 5 R's rule: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (reincorporate or compost).

  1. Refuse.

    Not only refers to avoid capricious impulses to free merchandising products or the gifts of events (keyrings, pens, T-shirts ...) The mental process is broader and is don’t take what you do not need. Society is full of consumer stimuli that design a way for us to live and consume. This first step is very important because if a product does not fit into your life, it does not need to be in your life.
  2. Reduce

    Reflect on the objects you have, on what use that you give them, and if you really need to continue acquiring it in the future. No caprices. Think before you buy.
  3. Reuse

    Use reusable materials such as bottles / bags with which to go to the store to fill them in order to avoid the use of one-use containers. On the other hand, society has taught us that when something is broken, it is thrown away and a new one is bought. The ideal is to fix or find a new life to your objects under other forms. Converting is a stimulus for creativity.
  4. Recycle

    As last resource, you should try to reuse everything until there is no other choice but to recycle it (glass, cardboard, plastic, organic ...). You have to classify the products well so that they go to the corresponding container. Above all remember that organic is essential because it can contaminate soils and groundwater if it is not thrown where it is due.
  5. Reincorporate / Compost

    The best option is to give a second life to all organic materials: Use the food waste as fertilizer for your pot plants or in your garden.

Effects of a life without waste

When taking stock, in pragmatic terms, Bea Johnson explained that thanks to her new way of life, family expenses had been reduced by up to 40%. More important: she thinks that her life is more in line with her values ​​and real needs, thanks to her resistance to consumerism (needs that companies and brands create).

In addition, your family will have improved their diet and their health. By keeping food in glass containers, they keep all their flavor and properties and are not contaminated by the plastic ones. Bea has also become an expert when it comes to recovering objects: the jeans that fall short become shorts and with the leg surplus she makes fabric bags (she also redesigns used sheets as bags) to carry her shopping. "Having less clothes makes it easier to choose what we wear. We always end up wearing the same. "

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Álvaro Martín
Redactor de contenidos
Nature lover and sustainability expert. Technical and content writer.

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