Zero Waste guide – living more sustainably

Whether shopping for food or clothes, cooking, working, or leisure – in the EU each person averages about 502 kilograms of waste per year[1]. That is well over 1 kilo per day. Although most countries in Europe separate waste, only a small proportion is actually recycled and reused. Most of the waste ends up in landfills or is incinerated. The impact on the environment is enormous. As environmental awareness grows among the population, so does the drive for action.

How does Zero Waste work?

The Zero Waste movement is a new way of thinking and behaving. People who live by Zero Waste principles try to avoid waste wherever possible. The thought of eliminating waste completely sounds impossible because neither our society nor our industry is prepared for it.  Terms such as ‘Low Waste’ or ‘Less Waste’ are easier to imagine and have proved successful. The goal should be to send no or as little waste as possible to landfills. The Zero Waste lifestyle is based on five simple principles:

  1. Avoid: If you don’t need something, you should do without it. Self-control plays a role here, but so does critical thinking: For example, think about which things are doubled up in your household or perhaps which items could be shared with neighbours, friends or family.

  2. Reduce: Consuming less means throwing less away. This does not only refer to material things. Electricity, water consumption, and private transportation also fall into this category.

  3. Reuse: Many items have a long service life. Good care extends the life of many products! Repairing things or lending them out in the community or giving them to someone who can still use them is a great way to extend their life and avoid waste.

  4. Recycle: Valuable raw materials can sometimes be recovered from waste. Waste should be properly separated or better yet, upcycling can turn waste products into new and useful items!

  5. Compost: Waste that cannot be reused are sometimes compostable, i.e., it decomposes over time and are returned to the natural cycle.

The beginnings of Zero Waste

The Frenchwoman Beá Johnson, who lives with her family in the USA, is considered the founder of this movement. She has been living nearly waste-free since 2008 and runs a blog on the topic. She has also written a book about Zero Waste. The Johnson family only produce enough waste per year to fill a large canning jar. This is made possible by living by the Zero Waste principles. Johnson believes that many people are put off by the perceived effort of the Zero Waste lifestyle, but thinks that this is unfounded. It is both sustainable and impressive to make as much of your own food as possible, but Johnson emphasizes that this is difficult for many people, especially families. It’s easier to buy package-free and unprocessed (reusable) products whenever possible. You will save time and money, while also protecting the environment and your health.

AttentionEach person consumes up to 70,000 pieces of microplastic per year[2]. By avoiding plastic waste and plastic packaging, it’s possible to reduce this value[3].

AttentionEach person consumes up to 70,000 pieces of microplastic per year[2]. By avoiding plastic waste and plastic packaging, it’s possible to reduce this value[3].

The goal of the Zero Waste movement is to evolve as a society towards a circular economy. Currently, our economy is linear, which means raw materials are processed into products, which are used and then thrown away. These raw materials are not returned to the cycle, but end up as waste in landfills, polluting our environment and affecting our climate. In a circular economy, raw materials are used in such a way that they become part of the natural cycle again at the end of their life cycle. This way of doing business conserves the earth’s natural resources. Read the article Cradle to Cradle to learn more about the circular economy.

The Zero Waste movement aims to reduce waste and also to bring about social change. The changes start at home! Questioning your own consumption behaviour is the first step. We are not always aware of how often and how much waste we produce each day. This guide is intended to help you get started and provide ideas on when and where you can avoid waste in your daily life. ‘reusable instead of disposable’ and ‘do-it-yourself instead of buying new’ are the mottoes. With simple home remedies, tips and tricks, it’s easy to avoid a lot of packaging waste in everyday life, which protects our environment and also your wallet.

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Food in reusable packaging.

Zero Waste – waste avoidance in everyday life

Avoiding packaging and making daily life more sustainable is becoming increasingly important to many. The average person produces quite a bit of waste throughout the day; more than a kilogram a day. There are many ways in which to lead a more environmentally conscious life that are healthy for both people and nature. You don’t have to change your life completely. We show you how you can easily and simply save packaging in various areas of your life and take a step towards a Zero Waste lifestyle.

NoteThe production of single-use plastic products, such as straws or to-go cups, will be banned in the EU from July 03, 2021 [4]. The decision of the EU member states is an important step towards a circular economy!

NoteThe production of single-use plastic products, such as straws or to-go cups, will be banned in the EU from July 03, 2021 [4]. The decision of the EU member states is an important step towards a circular economy!

Essential to make a DIY cloth - fabrics, scissors, thread, tape measure and ruler.

Upcycling clothing – practical and reusable DIY wipes

Large amounts of waste are generated every day, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. Makeup remover wipes, wet wipes etc. are usually thrown away after just one use. But there is a sustainable and simple solution: Use old clothes to make washable make-up removal pads or moist baby wipes yourself. After use, simply wash out the wipes by hand or put them in the washing machine. This upcycling guide includes info on the properties of fabrics, as well as clear sewing instructions. Become more sustainable at home with a few simple steps.

Essential to make a DIY cloth - fabrics, scissors, thread, tape measure and ruler.
Bread bag made from an old raincoat.

DIY bread bag: Upcycle an old rain jacket

Our everyday lives are dominated by disposable products. Whether it's kitchen roll or cotton pads, most of it ends up in the trash after just one use and then it’s burned or sent to landfills. Upcycling is a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to this problem, which follows the principle: Make new from old! Zero Waste means not throwing away what is no longer needed. An old rain jacket, for example, can be sewn into a reusable bread bag in a few simple steps! The jacket doesn’t end up in a landfill and you get a unique small bag for on-the-go.

Upcycled bowl cover made from a rain jacket.

Upcycling in the kitchen: make your own bowl covers

A lot of trash is generated in everyday life – especially in the kitchen. Cling film and foil end up in the trash after a single use and they are known to release microplastics and aluminium into foods.[5] Above all, the production methods of aluminium foil are inadequate at best as the amount of energy needed to produce the foil does not correlate to its short serviceable life.

Yet many disposable products in the kitchen can easily be avoided because you can cover bowls and pots perfectly with homemade covers. You probably don’t even have to go shopping for this fun upcycling project. A few old clothes, a raincoat and a sewing kit are all you need to make your kitchen more sustainable and produce less waste. With this upcycling tutorial, you can turn a rain jacket into handy bowl covers in no time and make your kitchen one step closer to sustainable living.

Upcycled bowl cover made from a rain jacket.
Clothing that is still in good condition is often sold as second-hand goods.

Clothing donation

On average each item of clothing lasts between 3 and 5 years [6] before they are sorted out and replaced. These sorted out clothes and other textiles can be donated to various organizations via parcel delivery, old clothes containers and collection campaigns. Many aid projects are well supported and many items of clothing are given a new lease of life. This article gives you an overview of how clothing donation organizations operate in Europe.

CheckJoin a library! You will have access to a huge selection of books any time you need them without having to buy any. You can borrow many other things instead of buying them. At many hardware stores, you can rent a drill or other equipment for a few hours or days.

CheckJoin a library! You will have access to a huge selection of books any time you need them without having to buy any. You can borrow many other things instead of buying them. At many hardware stores, you can rent a drill or other equipment for a few hours or days.

Recycling and proper disposal are important factors in the circular economy.

Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle is the name of an economic philosophy that aims to achieve a full circular economy. Most materials and products end up in the trash after their useful life and are sent to landfills or incinerated. The useful life of a product can be several years or just a few minutes. In the cradle-to-cradle principle, reusability and recyclability are thought through during the design and production of a product. The production should be thought of as part of a circle so that each component of a product can be recycled at the end. This article explains what Cradle to Cradle means, how it can be implemented, and where the principle is already being used.

Recycling and proper disposal are important factors in the circular economy.

Conclusion

The topics of sustainability and reducing waste are more popular than ever before, and rightly so. Every year, more than 8 million tons of waste end up in our oceans, poisoning animals and plants.[7] A rethink is taking place in politics as well as in society. More and more people want to do their part to protect the environment and avoid waste. The Zero Waste lifestyle offers many useful approaches to sensibly reduce or even avoid plastic waste. Through practical upcycling projects, you can give many old garments a new life. If you do not upcycle an item, it can be given to those in need through clothing donations. Future-oriented approaches such as the cradle-to-cradle philosophy show that a full-circular economy is entirely possible.

However, you should resist the impulse to simply dispose of all disposable products and plastic packaging from your household. Zero Waste also means conserving resources. It’s better to use up products and then replace them with more sustainable alternative and reusable solutions.

References:

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Municipal_waste_statistics
(Last accessed 23.02.2021)

[2] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/microplastics-in-food-eating-plastic-waste/
(Last Accessed on 08.03.2021)

[3] https://www.consumerreports.org/health-wellness/how-to-eat-less-plastic-microplastics-in-food-water/
(Last Accessed on 08.03.2021)

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/topics/plastics/single-use-plastics_en
(Last Accessed on 08.03.2021)

[5] https://www.healthyandnaturalworld.com/aluminum-foil-risks/
(Last Accessed on 08.03.2021)

[6] http://www.ecap.eu.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Mapping-clothing-impacts-in-Europe.pdf
(Last Accessed on 23.02.2021)

[7] https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-plastics-in-the-ocean/ (Last Accessed on 08.03.2021)

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