What is Zero Waste?

Do you know what happens to your garbage when you throw it in the bin? Don't worry, I'm not here to guilt-trip you - for years I never thought twice about what went into the bin either! There is so much emphasis on what we DO for the environment - do you recycle? do you buy fair-trade clothing? do you buy local foods? But, what about the other side of the equation? What DON'T we do?

Zero-waste is about flipping your perspective - what about the stuff we chuck away and forget about?


1 | WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT MEAN TO BE ZERO-WASTE? 

According to zero-waste guru Bea Johnson, zero-waste is "a philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible" (Zero Waste Home). Central to the philosophy is the concept of the 5Rs - refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot, in that particular order! The first step is to refuse what you do not need and curbing consumption - moving away from fast fashion, disposables, and single-use plastics. The next step is to reduce what you have, doing your best to donate, sell, or give away to friends the things you are no longer keeping. I believe that keeping things that you are not actively using is kind of like a form of hoarding resources and in that way could be considered a form of waste. The third step is to reuse what you already have, forcing an introspective look at the linear nature of products and our obsession with disposables. The final two steps, recycling and rotting, are critical - most of the waste you generate should hopefully be recyclable and mostly be glass, wood, and aluminum (as plastic does not recycle well and can lead to ocean-damaging plastic pollution) or compostable (i.e. food scraps, a significant contributor to methane emissions from landfills). 

Stay tuned for future posts on how to get started on your zero-waste journey!


2 | WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU MEAN BY WASTE?

TRASH = Anything bound for the landfill or bottom of the ocean

I consider anything that ends up sitting in a landfill or sinking to the bottom of the ocean to be trash. These are the waste outputs that arguably have the greatest impact on the earth by increasing methane production in landfills (which is one of the most damaging greenhouse gases) and polluting our oceans and food sources. Therefore, anything that can be recycled in the Toronto recycling system specifically is not considered trash, nor is anything that can be composted. However, the trick is recycling and composting properly - check out my guide on How To (Not) Waste.

However, even though I do not include recycling in my technical count of trash, it still takes many resources to complete the process and recycled materials are often made into products that are no longer recyclable in a process called down-cycling. So I do my best to minimize the amount of recycling I produce as well - it's important not to compensate by reducing your landfill waste by increasing your recycling output.


3 | WHAT ABOUT WASTE YOU CAN'T CONTROL?

What happens when you try and refuse a receipt while shopping and the machine automatically prints the receipt anyways? Or what about when you are at a restaurant and they bring you the cheque at the end of the meal? Should you count that as waste?

For my approach with Trashless in Toronto, I decided that I would do my best to incorporate accidental waste as well. While some may feel that this type of garbage is out of your control and therefore should not be included in your garbage tally, I believe that including it in your tally puts a spotlight on areas where local businesses need to improve.


4 | WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE WASTE YOU DO CREATE?

I always emphasize that zero-waste is a journey not a destination - even with a lot of effort, you still will likely create some trash! I keep my trash in a little jar that I inventory at the end of each month in my Monthly Jars posts.