Zero Waste- Simple Life Hacks by Shia Su
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF!
The most important thing is to get to know yourself and your habits. This will help you diagnose the unique challenges you will face as you embark on a zero waste lifestyle and determine what is likely to be a piece of cake and what will be slightly more difficult to tackle.
It makes sense to focus on the easy fixes first, and then go from there. There really is no need to make life more complicated than it already is, right?
ANALYZE YOUR TRASH
For one week, collect every piece of trash you currently create. Yes, even the trash you would have tossed outside your home. It might sound disgusting, but it does not have to be. You can either collect everything in a garbage bag or just snap a picture with your phone. Just remember to stick to one system so you can get an easy overview. Do not change any behaviors during this week. After all, this is about getting to know your daily habits.
When the week is over, it is time to inspect your trash. What have you collected a lot of? Are they wrappers from convenience food items, disposable cutlery, TV dinner trays, or to-go cups from your busy lifestyle? Record this down and take a picture as a reference for later. And please, do not feel bad about it!
Additionally, you can take pictures of any items you buy, be it food or clothes. This way, you will have a record of “before” pictures that you can refer to at a later point in time. Without “before” pictures, we might be too hard on ourselves, thinking we have only achieved so little. Personally, I regret not having taken any pictures of my progress.
Consider tracking your expenses before and after you embark on your zero waste journey. This will show you exactly what you spent your money on “before” and how living zero waste will most likely save you money. You can jot it down on a piece of paper or use an Excel template.
Now, review your pictures and notes. The trash you have accumulated the most of are your personal “problematic areas.”
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
You have probably heard of the three R’s “reduce, reuse, recycle.” It’s a great memory device! Schools, waste management facilities, NGOs, and governmental agencies all over the world use them to educate the general public about environmental sustainability.
There are many more R’s out there, and many people have expanded on the three basic R’s. I once even saw a very impressive and inspiring list of more than twenty R’s for a more sustainable life, including respect and recover, two important aspects that receive far too little attention! Béa Johnson, the founder of the zero waste movement, also provides her own version with five R’s. I want to encourage you to use these basic three R’s to build your very own memory device that works for you!
For me, my personal R’s are:
1. RETHINK BE EMPOWERED!
2. REDUCE LESS IS SO MUCH MORE
3. REUSE REUSE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
4. REPAIR PROLONG THE LIFESPAN OF THINGS
5. RECYCLE DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Personally, I believe zero waste is first and foremost a shift in mentality toward empowerment. In finding an open mind to try new things, we learn to challenge the status quo and to embark our own path to happiness. It is easy to dismiss the idea as too restrictive, too constraining. But I like to argue that this is a very deficit-oriented way of looking at things.
It isn’t surprising that we tend to think of all the things we would have to “give up” when we first stumble upon the idea of zero waste. We are bombarded with advertisements left and right that tell us how much better our life would be if only we bought this fancy car, used that particular brand of deodorant, or drank water from that certain mountain in France. Yet, happiness in the US peaked in the fifties. “All in all, we have more stuff and less happiness,” McKibben concludes in his book Deep Economy.
Material things will not make us happy in the long run because we get used to them very quickly and then the novelty wears off. What does make us happy is financial security in the sense of not having to deal with the existential threats that come with poverty. After this threshold is reached, happiness does not increase with more money.14 However, our happiness does increase when we spend time with friends or our partner and if we have good mental health.15 And, most interesting, doing good—giving back, lending support to others, volunteering for a cause—also makes us happy.16 In my book, that makes a strong case for doing good, as opposed to indulging in consumerism with all its cruel externalized costs like exploitation and pollution. I know, facing a big change is scary, but living your life more in alignment with your values and
Instead of accepting business cards or flyers, just take a picture of it with your phone. It will not feel like a rejection if you are friendly and say something like: “Thank you so much! You know what? Let me take a picture of it instead. This way, I always have all your information with me on my phone instead discovering a whole new world along the way makes it all worth it, I promise.
We all have them at home—the bad buys, such as the neglected clothes in our closet that make us feel guilty whenever we see them, the piles of business cards with faceless names, enough pens to last us 526 years, takeout menus of places we will never order from, annoying junk mail and bottles of shampoo and body wash so tiny they would look lost in a doll house.
At one point, all those things had to be manufactured, packaged, and transported. And yes, all of that ate up precious resources. Instead of hoarding unused and redundant items, does it not make more sense to give it to somebody who will put those things to good use? By redistributing things, we do not have to use up already scarce resources to produce even more stuff to fulfill demand!
Instead of accepting business cards or flyers, just take a picture of it with your phone. It will not feel like a rejection if you are friendly and say something like: “Thank you so much! You know what? Let me take a picture of it instead. This way, I always have all your information with me on my phone instead ( with a Listening Store cover!) of leaving it somewhere in a drawer—and you get to reuse the card!”
Freebies like pens or ridiculously small bottles of shampoo can be very tempting. I find it helpful to remind myself that those items are usually of very poor quality. They had to be produced at a low cost, which usually means they contain many harmful substances, were manufactured at the cost of workers, and have a dreadful environmental footprint; according to a research by the campaign for Healthier Solutions, 81 percent of tested dollar store products contained at least one hazardous chemical above levels of concern.17 Besides, they clutter our homes— too good to throw away, too useless to keep. Why deal with that in the first place?
We live in a day and age when gadgets are only cool until the next model is introduced only months later, when fast-fashion stores are supplied new collections every week, when buying a new printer is cheaper than replacing the ink. There is a term for that: planned obsolescence. Things are designed to be short-lived so we can replace them faster. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A lot of items can be repaired, mended, or patched up to squeeze some more life out of them. Whenever you do make a purchase, do your homework and opt for quality and reparability.
If you do not have the skills to fix everything yourself, you can obviously have things repaired in a shop. You can also look for a so-called repair café, where neighbors help each other repair things! It is a great social activity, and I love how it connects people. Opt for reusables instead of single-use items!
Single-use items are great—for the companies that sell them. Items like cotton balls, wipes, or paper towels are consumables. This means they must constantly be replaced, and we have to keep spending money to buy them. Luckily, there is a reusable alternative for almost every single-use item!
To me, reusing things also means opting for used, pre-owned, secondhand items. There is more than enough stuff in this world; all it takes is to redistribute them appropriately! This way, we do not have to waste our precious resources on producing more stuff.
After you have gotten into your new mindset (rethink), reduced your consumption by axing superfluous items and opting for quality over quantity, repaired what you have so you don’t have to buy new items, and gotten into the habit of reusing as much as possible, you should be left with a lot less trash. Finally, recycle whatever is recyclable. Learn about your municipality’s recycling policy. If they offer compost bins, awesome! If they don’t, consider looking into composting at home as the eco-friendliest way to recycle unavoidable waste, such as kitchen scraps. Composting at home means no emissions caused by transport and no valuable resources wasted on running a big treatment facility.