What is Zero Waste?

The simple answer: We aim to send nothing to a landfill. We reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send little to be recycled, and compost what we cannot. 

The less simple answer: It’s really about redefining the system. We currently live in a linear economy where we take resources from the earth and then dump them in a giant hole in the ground. The goal of zero waste is to move to a circular economy where we write trash out of existence. The circular economy mimics nature in that there is no trash in nature.

Instead of discarding resources, we create a system where all resources can be resumed fully back into the system.

What’s wrong with landfills? 

The average american sends 4.4lbs of trash to the landfill everyday. We live in a disposable society where we don’t value our belongings, and we’re consuming way too many resources. 

Each year we have Earth Overshoot Day to mark when we’ve consumed all of the resources the earth can produce for the coming year. Earth Overshoot day was July 29th of 2019. We’re essentially consuming 1.5 Earths.  

Beyond our overconsumption problem, landfills are toxic. They’re responsible for 20% of the methane emissions in the US, and they aren’t aerated for proper decomposition of natural materials. Toxins from cleaners, batteries, small electronics (and other items that shouldn’t be landfilled) leach into the soil and can run off into the ocean and ground water when it rains. 

A lot of trash doesn’t even make it to the landfill. Instead it clutters the sides of roads and in the oceans . Plastic is especially dangerous to the ocean, marine life, and our health. It doesn’t biodegrade it photo-degrades which means it only gets smaller and smaller.

Each micro-plankton in the ocean has 36 micro-plastic pieces to match. Plastic breaks down so small that it’s in drinking 90% of drinking water both bottled and tap world wide.

Can’t we recycle our way out of this?

Unfortunately, no. 

There’s simply too much to process, and we’re just consuming way too much. Recycling isn’t a perfect solution. While it plays into the solution, we have to lessen our dependence. Did you know, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled?

Recycle shouldn’t be the first line of defense, it should be a last resort. Most of our recycling isn’t even processed in the US. It’s processed in China, and China has put a ban on paper and plastic bales over 1% contamination. To put this in perspective, the best recycling facilities in the US are currently operating at 4% contamination level. 

I’m not telling you this to prevent you from recycling. I’m telling you this so you can recycle better and depend on it less. Instead focus your efforts on the 5 Rs. 

What’s the 5 Rs?

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (Compost) – Five actions that can make your organization and you a better steward of Earth.

What’s refuse?

Refuse to buy or accept products that can harm you, your company and the environment. Use the power of your dollar to tell companies what you want and do not want.

  • Think about freebies that companies give away. Now if you are going to use that pen or reusable grocery bag, by all means take it, but if it will eventually end up in the trash, then just say, “No.” Refuse to buy harmful products, like some harmful cleaners.
  • Refuse chemical solvents and use alternatives that are water based.
  • Refuse to receive materials from your supplies with unnecessary packaging that you will later have to pay for to dispose.
  • Ask the question, “Why are we purchasing this item?” or, “Why do we need this?”

What’s reduce?

  • Reduce, to use less. Think about what you use and buy. Could you use less? Reduce the amount of energy you use to heat your home of office by getting an energy audit (a lot times for free) and save MONEY in the process.
  • Keep asking the question, “What is the minimum amount necessary?”  Why would you wrap a pallet with 100 feet of stretch wrap if 80 feet will do the job?

What’s reuse?

Reuse something you already have instead of buying something. Replace needing a single use item, with something you can use over and over again. Both of these options will save you money as well.

  • Slowly replace any single use items with reusable ones – like reusable water bottles and breakroom mugs.
  • Reuse packaging material (pallets, drums, bubble wrap or packaging peanuts).
  • Reuse shipping containers (boxes, inserts, cartons).
  • Reuse printer cartridges and have them refilled.

What’s recycle and rot?

Maybe you missed the opportunity to refuse or reduce because you just weren’t there in your green journey when these purchases were made. Maybe there is no alternative. Recycling is a great way to open your eyes to all that you toss and a chance to rethink your future purchases.

  • Recycle all the basics you can – paper, plastic, metal and glass.
  • Compost food wastes into composted soil or as a food for a local farm.
  • Recycle ALL fabric – even stained or ripped clothing.
  • Recycle all electronics.

Will one person really make a difference? 

YES! Every day you have the decision to positively impact the planet. How do you get to work? How do you buy your groceries? What are you eating? What are you buying? Everything is interconnected. Every purchase you make is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. When you set an example, others follow. Be the example.

With just one small step at a time, you can greatly reduce your footprint. But, going zero waste isn’t just great for the environment, you’ll notice an improvement in your quality of life. Side effects include eating better, feeling better, saving money, and not having to take out the trash!

Can you help me?

Of course! Going zero waste is a liberating process. We want to share everything we can with you. 

Footprint Earth Foundation, through Project Zero is dedicated to bringing you tested and tried zero waste ideas.

With just one step in the right direction, you can change the world. 

How long will this take?

We live in a society of instant gratification. Going zero waste is not conducive to that attitude. It takes time and patience. We tend to beat ourselves up for not being perfect, but in the beginning you’re not going to be perfect. It’s about the effort. It’s knowing that you want to change; It’s knowing you’re trying. 

And, seriously – thank you for trying! Together we can make a difference, and maybe in our lifetime we can see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disappear, significantly reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, and become healthier and more fulfilled as people.

We can do this together. Join Footprint Earth Foundation in bringing these educational initiatives to your schools and communities.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

— Dr. Seuss, The Lorax