Recently, many of us have been making frequent visits to stores and our favorite shops because of the holiday season. For most people, filling up the carts started way back during Black Friday sales and Cyber Monday discounts – which encouraged early pre-Christmas shopping. For those too busy to shop for discounted items, they have no choice but to shop for gifts or ingredients for Christmas dinner on the days leading up to the celebration.
With all this shopping frenzy going on (and the gift-giving, jolly-making spirit reaching its peak) there’s the question now of how people handle (or get rid) of their wastes. From packaging boxes, bubble wraps, gift wraps, paper plates and cups, plastic spoons and forks, excess food …you’d wonder how high the trash is at the landfill.
Don’t forget, there’re still the New Year festivities that many have marked in their calendars. These activities leave a heap of trash and waste in its path.
More than ever, a zero-waste lifestyle is much needed, although this lifestyle is best practiced all throughout the year. Zero-waste lifestyle is not too popular, especially for busy career people. But actually, it’s not as hard as it seems. Let’s look at some important facts and figures before we go to “what can I do?”
According to The World Counts, 2.12 billion tons of waste is dumped annually; and 99% of the things we buy end up in garbage bins within six months. Based on this, it’s not surprising that we might need two-thirds of Earth’s resources to sustain our lifestyle – if nothing changes.
The USDA official website also shows that, “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate… corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on society: 1) Wholesome food that could have helped feed families in need is sent to landfills. 2) Land, water, labor, energy and other inputs are used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food.”
The USDA also says that at the retail (industry) level, the culling of blemished products, over-ordering, and equipment function (like defective cold storage) result in food loss. On the consumer level, you and I contribute to food waste when we buy or cook more than needed and we throw out the extras.
Food waste also means wasting the resources that go into growing them, and the food we send to landfills help produce methane –a potent greenhouse gas. Add to that the (mostly plastic) stuff that we throw away after single use.
How sad is the plight of our planet!
What is Zero Waste Lifestyle?
It is the conscious decision and habit of reducing the amount you consume (and in effect throw away). Practicing this lifestyle is one of the most sustainable ways of living –sustainable for personal budget, sustainable on the sourcing-production side, and sustainable to the environment. Zero waste habit affects environmental areas on so many levels. It prevents resource extraction, reduces the amount of stuff (garbage) sent to the landfill/incinerator, and diminishes pollution generated from production, transportation, and disposal of materials.
This lifestyle has three simple principles: waste prevention, trash segregation/ separation, and reduction of residual waste. The first two are familiar to us, but the third one means gradually phasing out non-recyclable/non-reusable wastes.
What does this mean to individual consumers like you and me?
There are a number of ways we can practice the habits of Zero Waste living, and some will make more sense to you than the other ones would –all due to various factors (i.e. living married/with kids/single, type of job you do, the region where you live, etc.).
Here are fantastic tips (in no particular order) to help us reduce food waste, decrease plastic pollution, reduce carbon footprint, and save money.
1) Plan your meals ahead, buy in bulk, and store food well.
2) Take inventory of the ingredients and goods available in your pantry/fridge and focus your recipe on them.
3) Enjoy your leftovers. Even if they’re no longer fresh from the oven or stove, you’ve invested time and money in preparing those foods, so don’t waste all of that by throwing food away. (You can even use some of the leftovers for another recipe. Creativity goes a long way.)
4) Share your blessings. If you got the wrong kind of cheese or beans, if you bought too many cans of tomato sauce, or you got an item in the house that you don’t really need/use, there are several local charity/community volunteer groups that would be happy to take those and give to the needy.
5) Maximize the use of your clothes, furniture, appliances, gadgets until their use has expired.
6) Shop second-hand. This saves clothing and home items from going to the landfill.
7) Stop using disposables: cups, plates, spoons, forks, chopsticks, straw, lunch boxes, and restaurant take-away styro-boxes.
8) Decrease dependency on buying food, cosmetics, beauty products, or ANY stuff packaged in single-use plastics.
9) Go digital. Instead of printing out documents, share them via email. When taking notes, use your laptop or Smartphone instead of using paper.
10) Simplify and/or make your own cleaning supplies. Natural alternatives, such as vinegar and baking soda, are more user-friendly and eco-friendly. They don’t contain dangerous chemicals that are carcinogenic and pollute our water and soil. These alternatives are effective, versatile, and eliminate the need for plastic bottles.
How do you live with less waste?
It’s a daunting challenge in this all-disposable, on-the-run, fast-paced age. But this is also why we need to slow down, take a few moments, and mindfully consider what we can do to change our ways that would be sustainable for the planet and for the generations to come.
Perhaps it is time to reconsider our buying (and waste) habits.
Let us be kind to the ONLY planet habitable by our species.
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