On Zero Waste

One of the most compelling lessons I learned from ecology is that, with the exception of humans, nature does not waste. Bears dig into trash cans, they don't throw anything in them. The natural environment and all of it's organisms have figured out a way through evolution how to eat, shelter themselves, exercise, and play, all without waste. Nature is inherently efficient.

But homo sapiens have only been around for 200,000 years (a blink of an eye in evolutionary time) so we've made some mistakes. We can, temporarily, live with these missteps- specifically, waste- but why would we want to?

Waste has many unintended consequences. Many that you can't see or likely don't imagine. Landfills not only take up space and are unsightly, but hauling trash to them involves energy use (and usually carbon dioxide emissions), landfills release leachate (icky stuff) into our aquifers and waterways, and the creation of single use, disposable products create the unnecessary use of natural materials, energy, and water.

To shine a more direct light on this issue, the concept of zero waste emerged in the 1970's. The Zero Waste International Alliance describes zero waste as: "designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them." An audacious goal for sure but why would we settle for the current norm when we hold the ingenuity to travel to space, develop advanced technologies, and institute medical miracles? Waste is a sign of inefficiency and is a product of consumerism uncontrolled. It's time for us to move on.

One of my favorite books is Zero Waste Home, authored by mother of two, Bea Johnson. She breaks down in incredible detail how to adopt the Zero Waste philosophy. Even if you adopt only a few of her strategies, you will begin to notice waste where it used to be invisible. If nothing else, it is a learning experience on day to day habits and how our almost unconscious choices have unintended consequences.

Leading a simple and sustainable life is all about challenging the status quo. It's also about finding fun and creative ways to bring new strategies into our daily routines. Stay tuned for more musings about this!