ZERO WASTE LIVING
Zero waste living is a lifestyle that has slowly become an integral aspect of what it means to live sustainably. As B&B Micro Manufacturing has become America’s premier tiny house builder, we place an emphasis on both sustainable building methods and life practices. Providing education on and access to becoming more environmentally cautious within your everyday lives. Some of you may have never heard of zero waste living in your lives, and that is ok because here we will explain everything from why it is a beneficial choice for not only you but our planet. As well as how to achieve a zero waste lifestyle of your own.
WHAT IS IT?
In order to answer the question, ‘how to achieve a zero waste lifestyle’, one must first understand what zero waste means in the first place. Zero waste living is simply, living your life with zero waste (aka. Your Garbage). Now in the 21st century, being able to live completely zero-waste is impossible. However, many strict zero-waste lifers have gotten it down to 5 years worth into one mason jar (what you reuse and/or recycle does not count toward this). If you don’t plan on being this strict right off the bat (I wasn’t either, don’t worry!) you can opt for the more manageable low waste lifestyle. Allowing you the time and training it takes for most people to slowly dwindle down their amount of waste.
WHY SHOULD I DO IT?
Now that you have a basic understanding of what zero waste living even is, why should you participate in such a drastic and oftentimes arduous change in lifestyles?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency, makes the following two claims:
“Among industrialized nations, the United States generates the largest amount of municipal solid waste per person on a daily basis….Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 16 percent of these emissions in 2016”
“Over 70 billion pounds of food waste reaches our landfills every year, contributing to methane emissions and wasting energy and resources across the food supply chain …. EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills than any other material in everyday trash, constituting 24% of municipal solid waste.”
Adapting a zero/low waste lifestyle can help drastically reduce the amount of waste that is sent to the landfills. In turn, reducing your carbon footprint and reducing the amount of methane gas that is released into the atmosphere (which is what is causing climate change). By simply starting a compost you can not only reduce your methane emissions but actually reverse. As stated by Kate Bailey of The Northeast Recycling Council, “Composting doesn’t just reduce emissions going up; it can actually pull carbon down and store it in our soil, helping to REVERSE the carbon emission problem. Soil stores more carbon than forests or the atmosphere.”
HOW DO I DO IT?
You know the what and the why, but now, more importantly, the how? How to achieve a zero waste lifestyle?
B&B Micro Manufacturing lays out the groundwork toward the universally adopted 5 steps of zero waste living.
However, if this is the first action you’re taking toward becoming low waste, start with one or two steps (of your choosing), and slowly (when you’re ready) introduce the remaining steps one at a time. This is a slow and methodical journey that will take a while (sometimes years) to achieve. Allow yourself this time, no one is perfect and it is ok to make mistakes! What matters is the effort and intention you’re placing forth in your life, this holds weight and carries through to not only your own life but to those who surround you as well.
We’re not just talking about plastic water bottles, bags, & straws …
There are numerous items in your home and life that we’ve grown up using never thinking twice at the environmental impact they may have. From paper towels and toilet paper to the cleaning solution we use, the food we purchase, all the way to how we brush our teeth. One of the most exciting (or terrifying) aspects of going zero waste is being able to revamp the way in which we conduct our lives. It’s like winning a new house (but you don’t even have to deal with the hassle of moving at all)!
Saying ‘No Thank You’ or ‘Can You Use This Cup Instead?’ can be awkward at times (I know), but nine times out of ten the person you’re saying this to, doesn’t care. Most baristas at Starbucks and those magical servers who make your smoothie just right will welcome your Yeti & glass straw with open arms. If you’re at a restaurant, say no to their plastic (or even worse, styrofoam) containers and instead throw those leftovers into your old pasta jars (because you always have an emergency zero-waste bag on you at all times!)
Reducing what we consume can oftentimes seem like a monumental task, and you’re not necessarily wrong. We’ve grown up in a world that revolves around the endless consumption we’ve been made to believe is infinite. Who cares about how much toilet paper we use throughout the week, why not get that 3 for 1 deal of dish soap when you only have one kitchen, and what’s wrong with my swifter wet jet? We all need to wipe ourselves, we all need to clean our dishes and floors, yes, but there are other ways of doing it that will save you money and not add to our landfills or recycling centers.
All those sweaters with the tags still on, those candles that have been left unburned for months, and that seemingly endless collection of books you’ve already read, donate them and burn those candles! The feelings after reducing what you own and hold on to can be incredibly liberating.
Those other pasta jars (because we all go through a jar .. or two.. a week, right?) use for that co-op run you have to make tomorrow, or your kombucha, coffee, and/or water. That plastic container your curry came in … use it for storage, mixing paints, that vegetable broth you’re going to make, the uses are endless, get creative and have fun!
However, if you have no use for it .. that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Some communities will have places for you to donate those random items you have no clue what to do with. Local sustainable artists can do wonderful things with that broken bicycle and old light bulbs. Always think of ways to use and/or donate objects before heading to the trash, you’ll be amazed at the results.
Recycling is a wonderful way to reduce what you send to the landfill in a very easy and simple way. We all know what recycling is and (hopefully) we all know how to recycle .. to an extent. If your city/town does not have a recycling program available, check with your local private waste companies. There are oftentimes many questions about what you can or can not recycle, this changes with each recycling program. Whether it is a comingle (where bottles, cans & paper can all go together) or separate pick up days for bottle/cans versus paper. Check with your recycling program for their guidelines and rules should you have any questions.
Although we love recycling, the idea of zero waste & sustainable living is that we get to the point where we actually recycle LESS, NOT MORE. As recycling centers often have to toss entire collections into the landfill due to contamination of non-recyclable items (like baby diapers, or containers with food still stuck to it). It is always more beneficial to follow the above steps before heading straight to your recycling bin, keep this in mind as you begin your zero waste journey.
Composting is one of the BEST things you can do for yourself going zero waste.
As stated above, the EPA estimates around 1/4 of our total landfill waste is food. This food is placed into plastic bags and compressed against one another, with no air to breathe. Halting whatever chance this food had at decomposing itself back into the soil. Simply starting your own (or participating in a community/building-wide) compost you can eliminate a significant amount of methane gas.
Composting is also one of the biggest learning curves and is not always feasible with every living situation. However, there are a number of ways to compost, even when living in small spaces. One of the most widely used for apartment dwellers is vermicomposting where red worms are used to aid in the process. This can even be done in a plastic bin you have laying around the house (as long as it has an airtight lid). There is also onsite composting, aerated windrow composting, aerated static pile composting, and in-vessel composting. Learn more about each of these methods from the EPA, Here.
WHAT TO CHANGE/REPLACE
On How to Achieve a Zero Waste Lifestyle;
Reuse Pasta [& alike] Jars
(^ for leftovers, drinks, vases, bulk food, etc. ^)
Propagate your herbs
Tea Towels & Cloths > Paper Towels & Napkins
(these are NOT recyclable ^)
Bees Wax Wraps > Aluminum Foil & Serran Wrap
NO Paper/Plastic Utensils/Plates
If you can, START A GARDEN !!
Bulk Food Shopping at a local co-op !!!
Loose-leaf Tea > Tea Bags (full of microplastics)
Canned, Boxed or Glass Water & Soda > Plastic Bottles
Oat Milk in Cardboard Container OR Make Your Own (this uses less water than almond milk)!
Locally Sourced Whole Milk in Glass Container
Refill Nut Butters OR Make Your Own!
Purchase Non-Packaged Bread from Local Bakers OR Make Your Own!
Dry Shampoo/Powder in a glass container
Deodorant/Balm in a glass container
Lip Balm in Metal, Paper or Glass Container OR DIY
Mouth Wash in a glass container/DIY
Compostable Floss in a glass container
Wash Cloths > Loofahs
Move Skincare routine in as many glass containers as possible (I know this can be very hard, try one product at a time!)
Dr.Bronners for Multi-Purpose cleaner
Citrus rinds as a cleaning solution
Air dry your clothes
Glass Cleaner cloth > Windex
Broom & Mop > Swiffer Pads
Reuse Candle Containers
If you live in the Berkshires, check out the following local environmental organizations:
The Old Stone Mill Center: Zero Waste Maker Space
BEAT (Berkshire Environmental Action Team)
Berkshire Conservation District
HOW TO ACHIEVE A ZERO WASTE LIFESTYLE
Bailey, Kate. 10 Reasons Why Zero Waste Is a Priority Climate Solution. Northeast Recycling Council. December 15, 2015. https://nerc.org/news-and-updates/blog/nerc-blog/2015/12/15/10-reasons-why-zero-waste-is-a-priority-climate-solution
Cowles, Dawn. The 5 R’s of Zero Waste Living. Unsustainable. https://www.unsustainablemagazine.com/the-5-rs-of-zero-waste-living/
EPA Encourages Americans to Avoid Food Waste Over the Holidays. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. November 25, 2020. https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-encourages-americans-avoid-food-waste-over-holidays
How To Be Zero Waste in 10 Simple Steps. Family Edventures. https://familyedventures.com/zero-waste/
Kellog, Katherine. A Composting Guide to Apartment Living. Going Zero Waste. October 3, 2017. https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/composting-for-apartments
Kellog, Katherine. The Beginners Guide to Zero Waste Living. Going Zero Waste. October 4, 2018. https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/the-beginners-guide-to-zero-waste-living/
Kellog, Katherine. 101 Easy Eco Friendly, Zero Waste Tips. Going Zero Waste. September 11, 2020. https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/101-easy-eco-friendly-zero-waste-tips/
Martinko, Katherine. How To Get Started With Zero Waste Living. Treehugger. November 30, 2020. https://www.treehugger.com/how-to-get-started-zero-waste-living-5086568
Schwartz, Judith. Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?. Yale Environment 360. March 4, 2014. https://e360.yale.edu/features/soil_as_carbon_storehouse_new_weapon_in_climate_fight
The Beginners Guide For Zero Waste. Recycling. April 21, 2020. https://www.recycling.com/beginners-guide-for-zero-waste/
Types of Composting and Understanding the Process. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/types-composting-and-understanding-process
Wastes. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/wastes