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GLS Guide To Zero-Waste

Why You Should Strive for a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

All around us, the effects of environmental damage are becoming more apparent. From extreme weather to declining water supplies, climate change is hitting close to home. Though many environmental problems stem from industrial waste and energy production, our habits also have a huge impact on our planet's health.

Though we've made progress, it's evident that more work is necessary. To fix existing damage and live more sustainably, individuals, industries, and governments will have to rethink current practices and develop new solutions. The zero-waste movement is one way people and policies can come together to make a difference for our environment.

Where Does Trash Go When We Throw It Away?

Most garbage, including food, clothes, and electronics, ends up in one of a few places. The vast majority of waste, over 80% in some areas, goes to landfills or dumps. These facilities handle trash in several ways, from incineration to packing and sealing it underground. Though modern landfills take precautions, these practices can still be harmful to the environment.

Even if you recycle, many of those items can also end up in landfills due to contamination or sorting issues. For instance, residue from food or oil renders most materials unusable, and many types of plastic aren't recyclable at all. Additionally, even though affluent countries recycle and compost more waste than poorer nations, citizens in these higher-income areas often consume more, too.

Many people don't know that it's also a common practice to export trash to less affluent countries. About one-third of collected recyclable materials are sold and shipped to these places, shifting the burden of waste-management to disadvantaged communities. Once there, waste often ends up in landfills or burned, causing more damage to air, land, water, and residents' health.

How Can Zero-Waste Living Help?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 42 percent of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere come from producing and packaging goods. As a response, many people and communities are shifting toward a more environmentally friendly approach. This focuses on reducing trash and reusing or repurposing items that already exist to avoid manufacturing and disposal pollution.

The Zero Waste International Alliance, a non-profit founded to increase awareness of the practice, says zero waste means, "The conservation of all resources by means of responsible reproduction, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health."

Some cities, like San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle, are working with citizens and businesses to move toward waste management practices that more closely resemble natural cycles. These communities encourage composting food waste, making goods more durable, and seeing trash as a resource with the potential to produce cleaner energy or jobs.

Tips for a More Sustainable Lifestyle

Although it's not necessarily feasible to eliminate all garbage, aiming for zero waste is a good way to be mindful of how much we consume and what we discard. This kind of awareness can help us make better choices about what and how much we buy. Even small changes toward a more sustainable way of living can make a huge difference for our planet.

Looking to get started on your zero-waste journey? Ease into the lifestyle with these simple ideas:

  • Green how you clean: Avoid harsh chemicals and extra plastics by opting for organic cleaning products. You can make your own using pantry staples like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice or buy all-natural versions with biodegradable packaging.

  • Eat more eco-friendly: Buy in bulk and use your own bags and containers when you get groceries. Visit farmers' markets and shop locally to cut down on pollution from transporting goods. When possible, plan more meatless meals and compost organic food waste.

  • Strive for trash-free takeout: Skip plastic straws and to-go containers and use reusable ones instead. Carry a refillable water bottle and coffee mug for beverages on the go.

  • Pick better beauty and body care items: Choose personal care products with less packaging like shampoo bars and toothpaste tabs. Try plastic-free alternatives to things like razors and toothbrushes and use washcloths and reusable cotton rounds instead of wasteful makeup wipes and plastic shower poufs.

  • DIY or borrow rather than buy: Get creative! Make gifts or what you need by repurposing old materials. Fixing what you already have is a good way to save money and avoid having to purchase replacements. Borrow or share infrequently used tools with friends and neighbors.

  • Shop smart: Buy secondhand when you can to reduce what goes to landfills. If you have to go with new instead, choose zero waste products or those with recyclable or compostable packaging.

Beyond Your Zero Waste Home: Community Counts

Saving the planet should be a group effort. Try to get your family, friends, and neighbors involved by hosting clothing swaps or joining a produce co-op in your area. Talk about environmental issues and share books and tips to educate others. You can also help support community initiatives like curbside recycling programs and yard waste collection with your vote and tax dollars.

Living zero waste and combatting climate change can feel like huge, impossible tasks, but try not to think of them as all-or-nothing concepts. Remember that even small changes have an impact and, by working together, we come closer to achieving these goals. We all need clean air, water, and land, so let's encourage and help each other do our parts to save the planet.

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