Daily 49er

No trash, no problem

Living waste-free is no walk in the park.

Lauren Singer’s blog Trashisfortossers.com shows four years worth of trash in a mason jar.

Lauren Singer’s blog Trashisfortossers.com shows four years worth of trash in a mason jar.

Lauren Singer

Lauren Singer

Lauren Singer’s blog Trashisfortossers.com shows four years worth of trash in a mason jar.


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There’s a hot new craze in town that’s sweeping millennials off their feet, and mainstream society is not quite sure what to make of it. The zero-waste movement, as the name suggests, empowers followers to refrain from using any materials that aren’t compostable or recyclable. Essentially, they’re taking the old catchphrase of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” to the extreme.

The goal is to severely minimize or eliminate the individual’s trash output towards landfills. While some opt for subtle switches, some of the most dedicated zero-wasters are able to display their yearly trash production in a millennial-friendly mason jar.

The movement aims to address the ever-growing landfills that pollute the Earth, yet it fails to eradicate the underlying issue: the lack of commitment and legislation from the global community to reduce trash and pollution on a larger scale.

As of now, there’s no real strategy from the global community to deal with waste. Trash is either dumped in landfills, incinerated, or “disposed of” in an energy-inefficient and expensive way. Not only is this trash still hanging around, according to The World Counts World Waste Facts, each year we dump 2.12 billion tons of additional waste. That number is so massive, it bears repeating. 2.12 billion tons.

When you consider the 7.5 billion people on Earth today, it makes sense. For the average person, 99 percent of what we buy is thrown into the trash in under 6 months. In order for the zero-waste movement to even make a dent in the collective waste of 7.5 billion people, every single one of us would have to adopt this lifestyle.

If you think that sounds like the kind of utopian solution one would find in a classic novel from the 1900s, you’d probably be right. The average 9 to 5 working adult does not have the time, energy or funds to dedicate themselves to a zero-waste lifestyle. Even if embracing the entire lifestyle is unrealistic, those following this movement practice some subtle substitutions that go one step further than plain Jane recycling, and it’s likely you already do them. For instance, utilizing reusable water bottles or bags rather than plastic ones. You could also use mason jars or glass tupperware instead of plastic ones. You could even go one step further and divest yourself from your plastic toothbrush and invest in its bamboo counterpart.

Some of the more dramatic changes zero-wasters adopt are a bit more difficult. Instead of aluminum foil, one will used waxed paper, much like the Ancient Egyptians did.

Rather than commercial cleansers, many opt to create their own all-natural cleansers using vinegar, baking soda, lemon peels and essential oils. While that may work for cleaning windows or counters, can you imagine cleaning your bathrooms with distilled white vinegar and essential oils? Even if it isn’t as great for the environment, I’d prefer my heavy plastic bottle of good ol’ crime-scene ready Clorox Bleach to baking soda and tea tree oil any day.

Zero-wasters also promote switching out tissues and paper materials in favor of handkerchiefs and cloth towels. Now, there’s a befuddled little voice inside your head whispering, “But… what about toilet paper?” Turns out, that’s a common question zero-wasters get. While it’s not as glamorous to display in a mason jar, these folks continue to use traditional paper toilet paper and merely opt for packaging made of paper rather than plastic. Another option is “tree free” toilet paper that uses sugar cane and bamboo pulp, though at a significantly higher cost than regular toilet paper.

Besides the aforementioned changes, zero-wasters fully commit themselves to various lifestyle changes, from eating out less to creating their own compost. For those interested in learning more, the movement has been picking up speed since 1998, with numerous blogs and books published with more information.

What zero-wasters are doing, however admirable it may be, is only a short-term, surface-level solution that fails to solve bigger-picture issues. Excessive waste is a serious concern, and we need to develop new technology to sustainably remove or reuse it. While participants in the movement are dramatically minimizing the amount of trash going to landfills, it’s a minute difference in comparison to the amount of trash 7.5 billion people produce each day.

In order to make an impact large enough to even scratch the surface of the current pollution, we need increased social awareness, advanced legislation and political support from the global community in regards to environmental protection and conservation.The issues of overflowing landfills, ever-growing piles of plastic and the increasing amount of trash polluting our oceans require so much more than a small community of people going trash free. If we’re serious about saving our planet for future generations, switching from plastic to paper is not enough.

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