What is Zero Waste and why is it important?
The EPA defines Zero Waste as more than just a problem of disposal but a need to reduce harm encompassing the entire life cycle of a product. In the past 50 years, humans have consumed more resources than in all previous history. This take-make-dispose system is not sustainable and needs to change on every level of the production process: the manufacturing, distribution, purchasing, and disposal.
As consumers, we are at the center of this materials economy. We can make an impact on every part of the system by buying consciously, speaking up for what matters, and disposing responsibly. But we can't fix it alone and we can't fix it over night. The most important thing to understand about the concept of Zero Waste is that it is a process. Zero Waste is not an all or nothing game. We can use 100% no waste as the goal but the journey to get there is just as important. Zero Waste is building awareness and implementing actions one step at a time.
Closed loop system - Circular economy - Upstream - Downstream - Environmental impacts - Pollution
EPA Waste Management Hierarchy
There are many strategies to reduce waste. The EPA has categorized and prioritized these strategies by most effective to least effective. Starting with the most effective:
Reducing waste means taking less and so disposing less. There are many ways to reduce but we can start by learning how to not need something because we came prepared or by asking ourselves if we can go without. Read more
Reusing items slows the process of take and dispose. We can reuse materials that were meant to be disposed of, giving them a second life, or we can choose materials that were meant to be reused and make sure we take good care of them so they can be used many many times. Read more
Recycling the materials of items keeps valuable materials in the materials economy and lets us skip that environmentally disastrous extraction process of raw materials. It is good for the economy and the planet. Read more
Reduce is the practice of making and having less and inevitable disposing of less. Waste reduction is our ultimate goal, not only because it protects our environment from waste and doesn't add to our landfills, but because it avoids the destructive process the happens upstream of our materials, the harm of extraction and manufacturing.
The world's population is growing. Economies are growing. Countries all over the world are striving towards the American level of consumption. We cannot continue our rate of extraction on a planet with finite resources and without systems in place to efficiently reuse and recycle the resources we already have taken, our most effective path towards Zero Wast is to reduce. There are many easy ways to reduce that also save you money, check out our resources and tips below!
Reusables - Borrow, Lend, Loan - Reduce packaging
Reuse items keeps those items from being disposed and prevents the need for more items. The concept of reuse takes us away from single-use items and helps us practice valuing our possessions instead of seeing them as disposable. While the items we use will still end up being disposed of someday and have already caused harm upstream, we can still give them a long life with many uses.
Reusing can happen in the way of fun crafts like using old rain boots as plant containers or it can be implemented in a more basic, practical sense, like saving jars for future storage. We can reuse items that were meant to be only used once, like the jars, or we can seek out items that were meant to be reused many times. And for these items we can extend their life, slowing the take and dispose chain even further, by repairing or donating.
There are a many tips and tricks of creative ways to reuse things, but the most important of all is learning to retrain your eyes to see an object's value and potential further uses before tossing. For more information and a few tips and tricks of ways to reuse, click below.
Repair - Repurpose - Fixit Clinics - Reusables - Resale - Donate
Recycling is the process of making things from the material of other things. It allows for manufacturing to skip extraction and refining of natural resources and keeps valuable materials in circulation, helping our economy move towards a closed loop system. The process of making goods out of recycled material uses less energy and water and does not add these valuable resources to our landfill where they can never be used again.
75% of America’s waste is recyclable, but right now we only recycle around 35%. That's $9 billion worth of material that we are throwing away per year. While recycling is an important step towards creating a circular economy is still far from a perfect system. Consumers have to recycle properly, the technology to recycle each material has to exist, and there needs to be a market for that material. The consumer has an impact on all three of these essential aspects! To learn more about recycling correctly and supporting the recycling industry, click below.
Curbside - Waste Hauler - Recycling Guide - E-Waste - Hazardous waste - Plastic bag recycling - Textile recycling - CRV
See Solana Center's Zero Waste Services to see how you can get more hands on help.