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Zero Waste Movement 101: What Is It, History & How To

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Zero Waste Movement 101: What Is It, History & How To

For many years, the social and political movement toward a greener Earth around the world has been centered upon the concept of recycling. While recycling is a positive practice that can lead to the re-utilization of materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, it makes up only a small part of the more extreme elimination lifestyle known as zero waste. 

The zero waste movement is a relatively new movement that places an emphasis on the first two words of the common phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Coined in 2008, the term “zero waste” refers to a way of living that focuses on reducing personal waste to as close to zero as possible. This includes the intentional avoidance of plastic packaging, cutting down personal energy usage such as electricity or gasoline, and using sustainable materials like glass and cloth for everyday needs. 

How did the zero waste movement start?

Though the zero waste movement has seen a great deal of growth in the public eye throughout the past decade, it actually got its start in a singular online presence. One of the first mentions of the zero waste lifestyle was on California resident Bea Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Homein 2008. Bea had adopted a zero waste lifestyle with her family of four, and had only been sharing her story on her blog for a year when she was featured in the New York Times in 2009. 

The Times article received mixed reviews at first; Johnson and her family’s way of life seemed extreme and strange to many. However, in 2013, Johnson published a book titled “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste,” providing an easy-to-follow guide for those interested in trying out a zero waste lifestyle. The book grew in popularity, eventually being translated into 27 languages in order to spread the message of zero waste to a worldwide audience. 

Today, there is no shortage of blogs, articles, and social media accounts dedicated to providing information on zero waste living and encouraging people to give it a try. The movement has even inspired the launching of package-free stores (Marie Delapierre opened the very first in Germany) and nonprofit organizations (Natalie Bino founded Zero Waste Switzerland, a group dedicated reducing Switzerland’s business and public waste). 

Since its conception in 2008, the zero waste movement has only continued to grow in relevance and public favor, inspiring more and more people from all walks of life to attempt to reduce their waste.

What is the goal of zero waste?

At its core, the goal of the zero waste movement is to improve the conditions of the planet. Earth has seen unprecedented and continuous spikes in CO2 in the past several decades, which is extremely damaging to the ozone layer as well as to their air we breathe. Dangerously high CO2 levels are the primary catalyst for the global warming crisis we face today, and humans have been releasing an excess of CO2 into the atmosphere through fossil fuel, industry, and agriculture emissions since the Industrial Revolution.

The zero waste lifestyle aims to cut back on, or even eliminate, personal CO2 emissions. This includes cutting back on or eliminating individual purchase of products manufactured by the big businesses who are creating most of the world’s excess CO2. This action simultaneously takes financial support away from these companies and reduces the amount of un-recyclable waste ending up in landfills, which also contribute to harmful CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Long story short, those who practice zero waste are doing what they can to eliminate their own personal contributions to climate change, however relatively big or small those may be.

How can I adopt a zero waste lifestyle?

When attempting to live a zero waste lifestyle, perhaps the most important mantra to keep in mind is this: perfection is not required. Maybe there are certain “wasteful” aspects of your life, such as your car usage or a healthcare item that uses plastic, that you simply are not able to eliminate. This shouldn’t deter you from incorporating waste-reducing practices into your life where you can. 

Being aware of your own habits when it comes to unsustainable packing and practices is the first step. Additionally, adopting aspects of the zero waste lifestyle can save money and even improve health, reducing exposure to carcinogens as well as harmful chemicals often found in plastics.

Here are some simple ways that you can move toward zero waste in your everyday life:

  • Pack your lunch at home. Prepping food at home to take to work or school is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste. The eco-friendliest containers you can use for your food and beverages are glass and metal, which can be used and reused for years to come, while typical take-out plastic and styrofoam packaging is rarely recyclable and will most likely end up in a landfill. 
  • Explore alternative modes of transportation. In many cities, getting around without a car seems impossible. However, finding different ways of getting to your destinations is an easy way to cut down on personal CO2 emissions. Walk, bike, take public transportation, or even consider purchasing an electric or hybrid car. 
  • Buy secondhand. The fashion industry is one of the main contributors to global CO2 emissions. Avoid supporting these companies by purchasing used clothes, shoes, and furniture items when you can. 
  • Go vegan/vegetarian. Like the fashion industry, the livestock industry is hugely damaging to the earth’s climate. Eradicating animal products and by-products from your diet, or even just cutting down your consumption, is an easy way to support the reduction of CO2 emissions worldwide.
  • Use your voice. For many, a big part of the zero waste lifestyle is encouraging companies with wasteful policies to enact change. Many company- or state-wide changes to plastic bag usage, as well as the introduction of sustainable farming and packaging practices, were started by social pressures from regular people, the customers and citizens. In the fight for a more sustainable world, every voice makes a difference, and every action counts.

About Duebest

Duebest began with two best friends over one bowl of egg noodles! We were at a restaurant in lower Manhattan when Daphne pulled out her own personal set of chopsticks. We never would have guessed that this small gesture would spark a whole chain of events! Today, we're doing our best to support the zero waste movement through our line of sustainably sourced products including our on-the-go reusable wooden cutlery set, reusable mesh produce bags, and our reusable glass straw with case