One year ago, we decided to embark on the exciting and daunting journey of living without producing trash. To our great surprise, we survived the year and feel more inspired than ever. Here are some of our insights from this year and the top reasons why living zero waste can lead to a happier and more fulfilled life.
Zero waste and minimalism go hand in hand. No matter how big of a hoarder you are now, once you commit to going zero waste your brain will become allergic to clutter and you’ll embrace all the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. Minimalism and zero waste lead to a new set of priorities and freeing yourself from possessions, relationships and activities that don’t add value to your life.
Nowadays there are so many chemicals and carcinogens in our food, beauty products and even our clothing, that it’s almost impossible to keep track. Not only that, but many of these products are associated with deeply ingrained habits that can be difficult to break, like eating junk food, buying cosmetics without thoroughly checking the ingredients, and washing our clothing with toxic detergent. Living zero waste makes all of these decisions much simpler. No more worries about toxic ingredients or dangerous preservatives. Of course there are exceptions (bulk Skittles, I’m looking at you), but by and large, living zero waste means fresh ingredients in your food, safe, DIY cosmetics and healthy habits you can share with your friends and family.
Just live zero waste for a while and you’ll start to notice resource inefficiencies in your life almost instantly. You’ll start to focus not only on decreasing your trash, but decreasing your impact. 95% of a product’s environmental impact happens before we even open the package. That’s why we count things we would normally recycle as part of our trash. Because even if the product is recyclable, that 95% still applies. And that type of resource awareness will transfer to other areas of your life how you use water, electricity, time, money and so much more. Zero waste is a mindset of thinking about systems of resources rather than just looking at products during the short time they are in our lives.
When you become a zero-waster, you can no longer be the type of person who sits on the couch and never leaves the house. You will simply not survive, because you won’t be able to order take-out at the drop of a hat, or mindlessly scarf down a tub of ice cream rather than taking a nice walk to the local ice cream parlor and savoring every bite. Because living zero waste is still a very new concept, this lifestyle inadvertently creates adventure. Pretty soon you’ll be that person who knows all the best hole-in-the-wall digs in your neighborhood and cooks fresh, delicious meals for your friends rather than picking up something at the deli on your way home. You’ll find yourself exploring your neighborhood for all kind of things—a coffee shop that will sell you loose coffee beans, a nice bakery with zero waste bread, a farmer who will sell you produce without stickers and twisties, and a good tailor for extending the lifetime of your favorite clothes.
Research in positive psychology shows that setting and achieving goals can lead to a happier and healthier life. Dopamine is released when you achieve your goals, so you’re doing the earth and your brain a favor when you set a zero waste goal. Whether you pledge a day, month, week or year, our mentors and community of zero wasters will help you every step of the way. Living zero waste can be challenging at times, but so is training for a marathon or attending a 10-day meditation retreat. Reaching the end of your pledge and knowing that you made a real difference is totally worth it!
When you live zero waste you become present in every action and interaction of your daily life. Multiple studies have shown that living in the present is one of the top ways to increase happiness. Many of our waste-related habits—grabbing a stack of napkins, getting a cup of coffee in a paper cup and then throwing it in the trash minutes later, unrolling a wad of paper towels to clean up a spill— are mindless habits that we are largely unaware of. Focusing on the waste associated with your actions is a perfect way to practice mindfulness while helping to reduce your environmental footprint.
Living zero waste can be challenging because our world is still designed to include a huge number of single-use items. Bringing your own grocery bags to the store is one thing, but what about when you run out of toothpaste, or you show up at a friend’s BBQ and everything is served in disposable dishware? As a zero-waster you’re constantly thinking of creative zero-waste solutions. You will develop strong problem-solving skills that are not only highly prized by employers but also make you a faster problem solver in other areas of your life. Creativity is correlated with wellbeing and you’ll get the chance to tap into creativity on a daily basis when you live zero waste. During your transition to a zero waste lifestyle, you’ll discover all kinds of life hacks that save you time, money and resources.
In modern society we have more decisions to make than ever. Grocery aisles lined with a hundred brands of cereal and the world of online shopping makes literally any product available at any time of day. From more clothing to stuff in our already overflowing closets and electronic accessories we use once and then tuck away to gather dust, online shopping floods us with constant decision fatigue. Once you transition to a zero waste lifestyle, your decisions become much simpler. Grocery stores only offer a limited selection of unpackaged foods, the farmer’s market may only be open one or two days a week and second-hand clothing is only available in certain stores. Some people initially shy away from zero waste because they are worried about having fewer choices, but in reality having fewer choices means less stress, less time spent shopping, and less time figuring out how to deal with all the stuff you’ve accumulated from impulse buys.
Living zero waste shifts your focus from stuff to relationships, and from money spent on things to time spent on experiences. Since you no longer have the option to show how much you care about your friends by buying them gifts at the last minute, you end up planning fun and creative activities or making thoughtful and personalized gifts that have a high impact on your friendship and low impact on the planet.
Lack of communication and interaction can lead to isolation and loneliness and living zero waste is just the opposite of that! Many of our social interactions, like going to a friend’s house for a party or ordering something at a restaurant, require active communication by zero-wasters. Zero waste is a fantastic conversation starter and engages people from all walks of life in environmental issues. No need to preach to your friends about turning off the lights and taking shorter showers, just ask the waiter for your drink without a straw or bring your own napkin to a restaurant and people will become curious and start to ask you questions about waste reduction. Zero waste isn’t about guilt tripping people or being pretentious about your activism, it’s about leading by example and inspiring those around you to make small changes in their lives.
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