End 2017, I came across a Zero Waste FB group in Malaysia and learned about Bea Johnson’s 5R principles. It has since opened up my eyes to the world of Rs and I knew I could do so much more than just Recycling.
When I heard about the term ‘Zero Waste’, my first thought was – How is it possible to produce absolutely zero waste when everything around us is packed and wrapped in single-use plastic, packaging and disposables? I did some research and read about zero wasters like Lauren Singer (Trash is for Tosser), Bea Johnson (Zero Waste Home), and Aurora Tin (Zero Waste Malaysia). They often showcase a glass jar of trash collected over a year or more when interviewed about their zero-waste lifestyle. This was when I realised, Zero Waste is not about producing absolutely ‘0’ waste. It’s about making sure nothing goes to waste.
The moment we need to throw something away, waste is created.
Especially for single-use plastic, packaging, and disposables, we should really try to refuse them as much as possible. They take 10-1000 years to break down after that one-time use. They break into smaller plastic debris, micro-plastic, and plastic fiber, which often end up in the environment, ingested by wild and marine lives mistaken as food.
Why don’t we just ban plastic altogether since it’s so bad?
Plastic is a material made to last. Problems arise when we use it excessively and often unnecessarily as one-time use, packaging, and disposables. Plastic is cheap and convenient. Businesses can pack and wrap anything and everything in cheap plastic packaging, in all shapes, colors, and sizes to sell to consumers.
Everything around us takes resources from the planet to produce in one way or another. We are very much caught up with our busy lives and in the Linear Economy of Take, Make, Buy, Throw – Repeat. Consumers constantly buy into convenience, cheap, and cheerful solutions businesses provide. The need to buy and throw away over and over again is like running on a treadmill that never stops. This generates excellent profits at the cost of our planet and depletes its precious resources. Imagine 8 billion of us buying and throwing away something every single minute, every single day? That’s a lot of waste going to waste when there’s not enough effort to recover some or any of the resources! Our planet will soon become a big trash can as the population increases.
When you throw something away, it doesn’t go away. It goes somewhere. Our waste either ends up in the landfill, sea, in the environment as unsightly litter if not incinerated in a controlled waste plant or burnt in open space.
“But I recycle!” I can hear your mind scream out loud.
Well, I recycle all my life too! Only to find out, just 9% of the global plastic waste is recycled. Shockingly low! Green Peace Malaysia published ‘The Recycling Myth‘ report when Malaysia became one of the dumping grounds for ‘Recyclable’ trash from developed countries after China imposed a ban on the imports of ‘foreign trash’ in 2018.
I often questioned the ‘Recycle’ label too. If companies claim their packaging is recyclable, why don’t they take them back for proper recycling and reuse the material again? Packaging cost is factor into the retail price, paid by consumers during purchases. Why don’t they offer rebates for the packaging returned for recycling and build customer relationships instead?
Turns out, it’ll cost more to sanitize returned packaging and recycle one or two times, than to make new ones to sell for profits. Make sense for businesses, but I’m not buying it. Why should I spend money to invest in companies that do not consider our planet’s well-being at all? If they do not care about our Mother Earth, what makes you think they care about you? Are their products even safe at all to begin with? It’s better to spend your hard-earned money building a self-sustainable home for yourself, investing in solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, energy-saving products, and acquiring a piece of land to grow edibles.
Instead of going on a never-ending repeat mode of buying and throwing away in the Linear Economy many of us are unknowingly trapped in, I choose to go round and round in circles by supporting package-free stores, closing the loop in a Circular Economy. Refill instead of sending more packaging to the landfills. Buy naked products, package-free, bring your own everything!
Zero Waste lifestyle is literally going against the herd mentality of mindless consumptions, dependencies on single-use plastic, packaging, and disposables, wanting anything quickly and cheaply at our conveniences, buying into solutions, the latest and greatest fad. It is most certainly not about buying more products to be Zero Waste either!
Zero Waste mantra: “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” Besides, the most environment-friendly product is the one you didn’t buy. ~ Joshua Becker (Becoming Minimalist).
“Isn’t that bad for the economy?” some would argue.
Andrea Sanders (Be Zero) response would be “Zero Waste isn’t about producing or consuming nothing (of course that’s great for the planet), it’s about carefully and intentionally designing, producing and consuming without waste as an end product.”
This aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – No.12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Goal No.13, 14, and 15: Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life On Land are also very much relatable to Zero Waste intentions.
So what is Zero Waste?
It is really the aim to reduce or not send anything to the incinerator, landfill, and ocean or simply, the aim to not throw anything away as an end result whether they are biodegradable, eco-friendly, or not.
If our trash ends up in the landfill, nothing degrades. Not even paper. Landfills release methane gas, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than CO2, traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Glaciers are melting at a rapid rate, sea level rises, some parts of the world will sink, so on and so forth. Scientists predicted we only have 10 years or less before facing climate catastrophe, which is irreversible. This is a climate emergency! There is no room for business as usual, especially when most corporations focus on profits over the planet.
Consumers are voting with their dollars. No demand, no supply. Stop buying crap so companies will stop making crap. Also, we already have everything that we’ve ever wanted. We just need to use them, lest they become useless. Be cautious of greenwashing too. When in doubt, don’t buy it.
In 2018, I decided to go on a Zero Waste journey by applying the 5R principles in my life, switching from head to toes, one step at a time. I’ve also committed to zero shopping on new fashion items, especially fast fashion. Extremely challenging for a self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, and collector, but I knew I needed a radical change to myself first before I could change the world. I embraced this change.