Yes, “kas tas ir?” is almost the only sentence in Latvian you may read in this blog, sorry about that, but we try!
So: What is Zero Waste?
Fascinating, hard, complex answer which would deserve (in my opinion) pages and pages and videos and pages and articles and bibles (yes) around it. (I lost myself during writing this article, ending up on too many websites, with hundreds of sources, trying to connect everything – whatever!!) Let’s keep it simple. Ah ah (I swear I tried).
Zero Waste is a philosophy, a strategy, and a set of practical tools seeking to eliminate waste, not manage it. (Zero Waste Europe) It has also becoming a real movement in the past years…
Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe described in 2014 (video here) that Zero Waste is “the alternative to a throw-away society…We live in a society that is linear” he said, and the idea is to go towards a circular economy and society.
Let’s give an example to understand what is Zero Waste: milk and glass bottles. A glass bottle can be recycled, though it creates cheap glass, it loses quality and needs resources to re-create a bottle. While a zero waste approach would… refill the bottle. The energy is needed the first time to create the bottle. After that, it is reduced to its minimum, which is washing the bottle.
The idea is that all territories willing to implement zero waste solutions would minimize the amount of waste and tend to zero, by (not in order!) reducing the waste, reusing products, ensuring a door-to-door collection with sourcing separation, redesigning the products, stimulating businesses and industry around that topic, providing a repairing/reusing community, etc. All waste would be considered as a resource, within a circular economy. A good example: the story of Capannori, first city in Italy which decided to take this approach, where residual- waste was reduced from 340 kg per person per year in 2006 to 146 kg in 2011…
And as individuals, what does it mean to live “zero waste”?
Let’s take the Zero Waste principles first. We talk about the “3 R’s” when it comes to zero waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But Bea Johnson described in her famous book Zero Waste Home (2014) the zero waste principles as follow, adding 2 other R’s:
- Refuse what you don’t need: plastic bags, plastic straws, napkins are easy examples. You can replace them by a non-disposable alternative. You can also refuse to receive ads in your mailbox and avoid around 30kg of paper thrown every year…
- Reduce what you need: buying second-hand, refusing packaging, doing your own cosmetics, etc.
- Reuse what can be reused! Jars can be your new containers when you buy cheese in a market, nice paper can help you to wrap a present, etc.
- Recycle (what you can’t reduse/reduce/reuse!): and recycle as you should! Very often people don’t know exactly what they can sort in their bin: glass, plastic (which kind?), paper, tetrapak (or not?), etc. Don’t forget lids, plugs and cork stoppers!
- Rot/compost the rest!
This is what Aaron and I will try to follow these next months. Some steps are quite easy, or easier for one of us, or the other, depending on the topic. We are also already facing some challenges: knowing how the waste management system works in Riga, what we can recycle, what we can’t, where, how, and when!
Why zero waste?
Two months ago, I had never even heard of the Zero Waste movement, I’ll be honest about that. Then I met Lucie, Queen of Zero Waste. She had helped create a zero waste association in France, whereas I wasn’t even sure what the phrase ‘zero waste’ even meant.
Anyway, after a few weeks of living together in Riga, she introduced me to the concept of zero waste and I was skeptical to say the least. It seemed like a lot of fancy phrases and buzzwords.
The Zero Waste movement made bold claims about solving big problems with simple steps and I was thinking “hmmmmmmmmmm”
“Really Lucie, really?!”
So that became her mission, to convert me into a zero waster like her. Lucie assured me of the environmental benefits, the cost benefits, the benefits to my soul (safe in the knowledge I wasn’t totally destroying the planet), all while being easy to do on an individual level. I was a hesitant partner to the mission; making my own toothpaste from soap seemed a step too far for a spoiled mummy’s boy like me.
The skeptical side of me was still there, which led me to google 100+ articles on zero waste to see if it actually makes a difference. With 60-80% of carbon emissions resulting from us, the consumers, it’s safe to say that the zero waste ethos merges personal practicalities with the realities of pollution and climate change.
Fast-forward 6 weeks, I’m now writing a zero waste blog, brushing my teeth every day with homemade toothpaste, washing my clothes with homemade detergent and my newest and now beloved source of transport is via longboard (not buses). I am even investing in cloth bags for my shopping.
So the question of ‘Why Zero Waste?’ It’s personal, it changes your perspective on waste, you manage your habits, seeing results instantly in your daily life, with measurable impacts on the environment.
Basically, if it can convince a skeptical, lazy, mummy’s boy like me to change then it must be legit.