You have probably seen videos or pictures of zero-waste enthusiasts with a mason jar filled with trash that represents all their trash for a one year period. How do they do it? I will try to explain a bit in this article.
Just to clarify, we are not zero-waste home, we reduce our trash as much as we can. But there are some things that I haven’t figured out yet of how to do in my specific situation. We are trying to improve constantly.
Let me also give you some tips on what to bring to a zero-waste home if you are invited for a visit and want to bring some food, snacks, or gifts.
- What is zero-waste
- Zero-waste principles
- What not to give
- What to bring to a zero-waste home
- Homemade snacks
- Store-bought snacks
- Not-material gifts
- Material Gifts
What is zero-waste
The zero-waste movement is part of eco-friendly movements that focuses mainly on eliminating any waste from your house and life. The main principles of zero-waste are 3Rs, that must be applied in order: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle. Sometimes you can find more Rs: Rethink, Refuse, Rot, Repair, and Repurpose. The goal is to send zero trash to the landfills and focus on creating a circular economy.
The term zero-waste was first used in the 1970s by Paul Palmer. Bea Johnson later popularized this movement She started on this journey in 2008 and shared her experiences on her blog and in her book both called “Zero-waste home”. Currently, there are many practitioners all over the world, and many people share their stories on their blogs or Youtube channels.
Linear vs. circular economy
The linear economy is what we all know as our economy. We take natural resources, we convert them into products in factories, we package them and ship them to customers and they use them and at the end, all the packaging and the product ends up in the landfills. This process is depleting our natural resources. It also has a very negative impact on the health of our planet and our own health.
The circular economy
The circular economy aims to redesign this linear system so that there is no waste and all the resources are used in a sustainable continual manner. This is a regenerative approach that imitates nature. In nature, there is no waste, everything is used, everything converts into something else.
This is not a new concept, this is how people lived decades ago. My grandparents didn’t grow up with single-use items, that would have been considered crazy at that time. Everything was reusable, everything served many purposes, and everything was fixable.
To get more details, watch this video called The story of stuff. It will explain the linear vs. circular economy. Annie Leonard talks about how we waste our resources. The video also explains terms like planned and perceived obsolescence, and other important issues we are facing as a society.
Let’s talk about how zero-waste followers accomplish their goal of not generating any (or almost any) trash.
Refuse is defined as refusing to accept or support products and companies that harm the environment. You should refuse any item that you don’t need. This means, no free pens or notebooks at a conference. No flyer given to you at the street corner. No packaging is one of the focus areas. The packaging takes up a lot of our trash and it doesn’t add value to the product.
Reducing means using the least resources possible, including energies, and items you have or use on a daily basis. You can start by assessing your energy usage: water, electricity, heating. After the assessment, decide on measures that will reduce your energy spending.
As for items, you might already have 10 T-shirts (or more). Don’t buy any new items, until you really need them. In some extent zero-waste has minimalist characteristics. Own less stuff that will become trash at some point
Secondly, focus on reducing the trash. We generate most of our trash in our kitchen, start there are making your way through all the rooms.
I have written a series of articles on how to make your house more eco-friendly room by room. Read about reducing your kitchen waste in this article.
The biggest impact on reducing your waste in your kitchen is to start vermicomposting in your house or apartment. I have a complete beginner’s guide to creating and caring for a worm bin in the apartment. Get inspired here!
The principle of reusing focuses on using everything you have, before recycling or sending it to a landfill. If you buy a jam in a glass container, give the container a different use, instead of recycling it. Start using it to store food, or organize your crafts, pack a gift for a friend in the jar. This starts during the purchase, while shopping, think of how to reuse everything that comes with the item.
Reuse includes shopping in second hand or thrift stores. Using things that your friends or relatives no longer want to use, etc. Always try to get an item you need a second-hand first, don’t buy a brand new item unless strictly necessary.
Here is where the zero-waste movement wants you to rethink what is being said. Recycling will not save our planet, recycling should come as one of the last options after refusing, and reusing. Recycling is obviously better than landfills, but we should avoid buying items that need recycling in the first place.
Give an item a different use than the one for which it has been designed. Make a grocery shopping bag out of a T-shirt you are not using anymore. Use glass jars as a planter for herbs. Make great-looking frames for your family pictures out of old windows. There are thousands of ideas on the internet for you to try.
This means try to fix items that are broken, before buying a new item. This can be repairing your clothes, shoes, appliances or any item that is possible to repair.
Rot means simply compost your food waste and other compostable items. If you have space like a big yard, you can do composting. If you have limited space, you can do worm composting, even if you only have a balcony to do so.
What not to give
If you are going to an established zero-waste home, don’t bring them reusable items like water bottles, travel mugs, reusable produce bags, straws, etc. The odds are, they already have all of these items, and they have the exact quantity they need. A new item will be just an issue of what to do with it as they will not have a use for it.
Avoid any packaging that is not reusable. Bring everything in your own container that you will take back home, don’t cover your containers with plastic foil.
What to bring to a zero-waste home
Now that you understand zero-waste a bit more, let’s look at what could you bring to your friends’ zero-waste home and be respectful of their lifestyle.
If you are asked to bring snacks, the first option would be to make some snacks yourself. This could be anything. Make hummus or guacamole and veggie sticks, homemade popcorn. Bake vegetable and potato chips. If you are a baker, bring a homemade pie, cake, or cookies.
If you are not up to preparing homemade snacks, and you just want to buy them, go to a bulk store if you have one close by. Bring your own containers. Bulk stores will have many things that you can take as snacks: nuts, seeds, dried fruits and veggies, olives, etc.
If you don’t have a bulk store nearby, go to a grocery store. Buy fruits that are easy to eat with your hands, and are not packaged. My suggestions would be grapes, berries, figs, or something similar.
The last resort would be something in recyclable containers like paper, can, or glass. You can buy olives, pickles, dips, etc. Some nuts, seeds, and dried fruits come in a can.
Do not buy chips or anything packed in that kind of packaging, as that one is not possible to recycle.
If you want to bring a gift to the hosts or their kids, I will give you some suggestions. Feel free to not wrap the gifts. The hosts will be more than happy about the gesture. You can also choose sustainable wrapping. I have some ideas in my article about eco-friendly wrapping. You can read it here. In case of a zero-waste home, I would suggest either wrapping in a reusable gift bag. They can use it later when they are giving gifts. Try wrapping in a scarf, kitchen towel, or a napkin so that the wrapping will have a second purpose.
A good option is to give them something experience-based or something with a good cause. It does not involve anything material that needs to be discarded later:
- Tickets to a theatre, movies, a show or a concert they might love. If they have kids maybe tickets to an amusement park.
- Lessons of activity you know they would like to learn or try. For example dance lessons, guitar lessons, painting lessons. Anything they might enjoy.
- Another option is to plant a tree in their name, there are many organizations that do this. I have more details and specific organizations in this article.
- Make a donation to their favorite charity or environmental organization in their name.
Maybe you want to opt for a more traditional gift. I will give you options that are environmentally sound, don’t require packaging and everyone would be glad to receive this:
- Having plants around a house is healthy, it improves the quality of the air, and add to mental tranquility. Get them a plant with a nice planter made of terracotta, glass, wood, coconut shell, or other eco-friendly material.
- Artisan soaps are one of the best options for zero-waste gifts. They are very easy to get without any packaging.
- The other similar option is to get them a body lotion in a solid bar with no packaging. Both soap and lotions are usually available at local fairs or markets. There are local soap and natural cosmetics makers everywhere, search for a maker close to you.
- If you want to buy them an art piece, search for a piece made of recycled and upcycled materials.
- Search for a local pottery maker. Pick a piece that will be decorative and useful at the same time.
- If the family has kids, look for wooden or cardboard toys with no packaging, age-appropriate audiobook, or second-hand board game. Maybe a game you are not using anymore, it has all the pieces, and they could use it.
I hope this article cleared up most of your doubts and helped you prepare for your next zero-waste house visit. Have fun!
If you want to learn in-depth about what to do to become more eco-friendly, I have a series of articles on how to make your house more eco-friendly.
Start with making your kitchen eco-friendly here!
Continue with your bathroom here.
Learn how to green your bedroom and home office here.
Lastly, save energy and the planet!
I am not using any affiliate links, everything I recommend is because I like it and think it is useful. Feel free to search for different options in the same products category.