What are the environmental benefits of zero waste?

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The goal of zero waste is for no waste to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. From large corporations adhering to sustainable principles, to consumers shopping zero waste, all walks of society must play a role if we are to change the way in which we reuse, reduce and recycle materials. 

Although there are a long list of benefits that arise as a result of a zero waste culture and mindset, we have compiled a list of three of the most prominent benefits:

1. A zero waste culture helps to conserve the earth’s natural resources

Human activities such as mining and logging require and use a significant amount of energy. Aside from energy consumption, these activities often result in large amounts of pollution. 

According to Advancing Earth & Space Science, “about 50% of people in the United States rely on groundwater for their freshwater supply, yet those supplies are being depleted faster than they can be replenished in many areas across the United States.” This gives us an indication of how the need for natural resources has reached a point whereby the supply levels can no longer satisfy the demand.

A zero waste lifestyle, on the other hand, looks to preserve natural resources and ensure that any output can be either reused or recycled. This reduces not only energy consumption, but also results in a much less pollution.

2. A zero waste culture helps to reduce pollution

According to dosomething.org, each year, “1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste are dumped into US water.” Since a zero waste culture aims to reduce, reuse and recycle, less pollution arises as a result of more people following eco friendly practices.

Less manufacturing is necessary for a zero waste lifestyle, meaning that less environmentally damaging human activities occur. Such activities include the likes mining and logging, whereby energy-intensive extraction processes are necessary in order to supply the growing demand. More recycling and reusing helps to reduce the extent to which these activities occur, resulting in less pollution arising as a result. 

Each year in America, it is estimated that just 34% of waste is either reused or recycled. The remaining 66% of waste ends up in landfills and oceans. 

3. A zero waste culture helps to create circular economies and strengthens communities

A zero waste culture helps to promote a circular economy i.e. the creation of more jobs as well as enhancing local economic prosperity. A circular economy aims to ensure that waste is turned into something new / something with a new use-case.

Importantly, new jobs are created as local waste and compost facilities are built in order to cater for new, ‘zero waste’, economic systems. As more and more local salaries are put back into the locality, a more prosperous local economy arises as a result. 

From a social perspective, a zero waste culture helps to promote unity within local communities through different forms of social support. From projects and workshops promoting sustainability via the redistribution of used materials, to cleaner air and water supplies, all walks of society benefit from an eco-conscious culture.

What is the zero waste movement?

The zero waste movement is a global movement (culture, lifestyle and mindset) promoting a zero waste lifestyle. In other words, producing no waste that cannot be reused or recycled. Materials that cannot be recycled, such as plastic, are to be avoided in order to achieve a zero waste lifestyle. 

The zero waste movement aims to reduce the amount of waste produced, while also decreasing the amount of waste that is sent to landfills, by recycling more and reducing consumption.

There is no official or legal criteria for an individual to qualify as being a zero waste ‘leader’. Instead, zero waste leaders may be activists, bloggers, politicians or simply average people who have appealed to the eco minded global community in one way or another.

Is a zero waste society achievable?

In order to achieve zero waste we must identify the most valuable natural materials and subsequently establish a system/culture that has the capacity to both reuse and recycle these materials. That means eradicating environmentally harmful materials (such as plastic) from society, in place of sustainable alternatives.  

From large corporations over producing on stock, to individual households over eating and wasting food, all walks of society must reassess the way in which we approach sustainability if a zero waste culture is to come to fruition. Education also plays a major role in this culture shift, starting with emphasising the importance of zero waste to young children through school systems and curriculums. 

Over the past decade, more and more in-house jobs are arising with responsibilities focusing on sustainability in the workplace. This would have to be mirrored and intensified within smaller communities, so that each neighbourhood has a person dedicated to enforcing and communicating the best environmental practices. In summary, these changes have to come from the top down, or else we can expect no shift in culture to occur. 

For more inspiration of achieving a zero waste lifestyle, The National Geographic wrote an article about a woman (Kathryn Kellogg), who managed to produce just one jar of non-recyclable waste over the course of a two year period.

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