When people hear the term "zero waste" their responses range from disbelief to enthusiasm, confusion, overwhelm, or just blank stares. To clarify, I often say that it doesn't really mean "ZERO trash or fail."
Rather, "going zero waste" is a lifestyle choice that creates an end goal to strive for: personal eco skills, knowledge, and insight to hone over time. It means reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill over time (with a goal of zero) as you learn better ways to manage what you have and find more sustainable solutions.
The best zero waste household likely has some trash or things to give away & donate forward, a bit of recycling... and of course, lots of compost. Zero waste is a process and a way of fine-tuning our relationship with our precious natural resources, not an ultimatum.
It's widely acknowledged by most zero wasters that true ZERO trash is not a realistic possibility with our current linear economy and broken recycling industry.
Nevertheless, vast improvements can be made! There's low-hanging fruit for even the most tenacious upcycler, and numerous personal benefits for everyone, no matter where you're starting.
So what are these personal benefits? I'm glad you asked...
10 Ways Going Zero Waste Benefits YOU Personally
1.) More free time
Contrary to popular assumption, a ZW lifestyle provides more free time, not less. It encourages simplifying your home and the things you own, which means less time spent handling, storing, transporting, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a clutter of things you don't truly use, need, or love.
You also save time by developing systems to share or trade goods & services with others in your network, making more time for friends, greening your home, and adopting new hobbies. On a day to day, you'll also find efficient ways to meal plan and stretch ingredients, buy local and in bulk, use and reuse the same cleaning products for numerous purposes, and spend less time on grocery shopping & travel to stores.
2.) Greater quality experiences with loved ones & friends
ZW living prioritizes experiences over objects when it comes to gift giving. But that's not to say you'll never give or get the perfect gift again. Rather, it's about seeking new & creative ways to give experiential gifts. Gifts that also happen to increase quality time spent with loved ones, rather than just another object that takes up space or resources.
Think picnic, trip to the movies, museum passes, gardening class, theater or comedy show, rollerskating, sporting event, concert, etc.
3.) Great financial savings
Focusing on activities and experiences rather than "stuff" reduces what you'll spend on the purchasing, transporting, and need to store, maintain, or repair these items. Just considering groceries, Americans on average waste 40 percent of our food--food that could feed 60 million people a year is going to a landfill instead.
Per person that's about $2,275 worth of food per year.
ZW habits encourage buying bulk groceries, finding ways to reuse scraps, and stretching ingredients, all of which generate great cumulative savings. ZW also reduces or eliminates the need to buy disposable anything. Buying items that are reusable instead means you're also buying higher quality, and more value for your money spent in things lasting longer. Many reusable things can also be purchased secondhand at a reduced cost as well.
Additionally, there are many health benefits (below) that may result in reduced health care costs and illness down the road.
4.) Opportunity for more income
A ZW lifestyle advocates for selling things you no longer use or renting out your rarely used items for a profit. You can also trade recyclables such as scrap metal for cash and in some areas sell compost to gardeners. Some zero-wasters have even found that simplifying their homes & maintenance processes made it easier to occasionally rent out their homes for bonus income.
5.) Increased mobility and local community connections
Shopping for and buying factory-made, mass-produced items often require traveling greater distances to shopping malls and big box stores ... or agonizing over too many choices online.
Zero waste emphasizes locally made, high-quality items from merchants in your community: i.e., the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. (Personally, I prefer the vegan butcher...)
This includes European-inspired glamour with weekend strolls or bike rides to the neighborhood cafe, bakery, library, or park!
6.) Improved nutrition and health
Among humans today, our general health is declining and our standard of living is inching lower and lower. We feed our bodies with processed foods and bring toxic products into our homes that off-gas and leach chemicals into our food and air. We drive too much, and our physical activity is often too low.
ZW living means being more active, getting outdoors, cultivating relationships with others through experiences, and being less attached to "stuff" at home. That means more exercise, positive mental health benefits of being in nature and connecting with friends, and less allergies from breathing dust, synthetic fibers, and chemicals accumulating in our homes.
It also discourages buying plastic and therefore reduces health risks associated with our exposure to known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and toxic chemicals such as BPA, BPS,vinyl, PFCs, and a host of others. It embraces shopping in health food stores that offer natural alternatives to cleaning and beauty products that otherwise contain chemicals such as parabens, triclosan, or synthetic fragrances.
Zero waste also favors a whole food, plant-based diet, free from plastic wrap and packaging, reducing the consumption of highly processed food and fatty meats. Nutrient-rich foods, that are fresh, fully ripened, and locally sourced also taste better!
7.) Greater empowerment and belief that your contributions matter
What we consume directly affects our environment, our economy, and our health. When you buy a product, that purchase says you support these specific manufacturing practices, and you're creating a demand to make more. Shopping is voting and the decisions we make every day DO have an impact.
The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash ... everyday.
4.4 x 365 days a year = 1606 lbs of trash per person, per year.
Reducing your waste as an individual absolutely has a positive impact.
Zero waste is not about deprivation; it's about freeing up your time and space to focus on what you truly love and forget the rest. It's about bringing a renewed sense of meaning and purpose to our daily lives regardless of what else is going on.
Many people know that adopting a green lifestyle is badly needed, yet most simply don't know what more to do beyond recycling.
ZW provides an immediate way to take action, big or small, and feel empowered to grow and learn more. Without pressure to be perfect or to adhere to one "right way" of doing things.
8.) Increased creativity, problem solving, critical thinking skills
Zero waste living is not about restricting and depriving yourself, but about infinite possibilities! Plastic is only about 75 years old...but how long have humans existed on Earth before plastic? The solutions to our needs and the knowledge to implement them are already here, ready to be shared and rediscovered with a little digging!
We've been a plastic-free species before and we can be one again with continued ingenuity. It's all about creatively rethinking how we can reuse and redistribute the resources we already have.
9.) Reconnecting with nature
By being more intentional consumers we consider where our stuff comes from and where it's going when we're done with it. Reconnecting with our supply chain in this way builds appreciation for all of the resources that go into making our products and our food. ZW living helps us tap into nature as part of a circular system rather than a one-way consumer road.
Buying from farmers markets is the best way to get plastic-free food with the lowest carbon footprint. When you buy from local farmers' markets you also connect to the seasons, eating & living closer to the Earth's natural rhythms. You meet the people who actually grew your food.
10.) A new source of fulfillment and sense of pride
Now, bear with me on this last one. If we're truly honest with ourselves, isn't the impulse to buy or aimlessly shop online about filling a deeper need of some sort within you? Maybe not all the time, but at least some of the time?
Sometimes shopping really is just a fun, social thing to do. Other times, I suspect the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and the validation we crave, have a lot of influence over what we buy and when.
Being self aware can help in determining when you should really make a purchase: is it motivated by a real need or desire for a thing that would bring you joy? Or is your impulse to buy based on anxiety, boredom, wanting a sense of control, or to validate a feeling of scarcity, lack, jealousy, or loneliness?
The former thrill or comforts you might get from shopping can be replaced by healthy habits and the high of learning new ways to green your home and save money. Or from expanding your crafting, gardening, or home repair skills and challenging your mind in new ways.
If you're feeling anxious or bored, you can take your mind off your troubles and transform that energy into taking control of the clutter in your home. Eliminate things that drain your energy, collect dust or make you feel guilty for buying them in the first place. Gain a sense of confidence, control, and peace from consciously ordering, organizing, and cultivating your surroundings with what brings you joy while donating, upcycling, or re-crafting the rest.
11.) Bonus! You won't have to take out stinky garbage anymore!
Compost doesn't smell bad. The reason trash is smelly is because organic and nonorganic materials are trapped together. When the organic matter can't break down, it gives off a terrible smell. Organic matter and compost break down perfectly fine when it's mixed together with dirt, air, and the necessary microorganisms.