When we think about zero-waste, we first think about trash and how much or little we create. We think about the things that we throw away, never to be seen again. We think about our trash bins (or mason jar), what fills it, and what those items reveal about our consumption habits.
When we talk about zero-waste, we first talk about the things we use. We talk about the lack of plastic in our homes, most often replaced with glass jars. We talk about our cloth napkins, our stainless steel tiffins, and the beauty of thrifted and vintage items.
What we don’t think about or talk about, at least not right away, are the other “zeroes” that a zero-waste lifestyle brings. These other zeroes are not really evident until one has spent a few months or more developing new sustainable habits and understandings. Now that I’m five months strong into my zero-waste journey, I have learned that the idea of zero-waste transcends much more than just zero trash.
Zero Time Wasted
I no longer spend two hours every Saturday in my local “bulk” membership store; I also don’t spend hours during my weekend shopping at the mall or shoe store. Instead, I shop for our groceries at two local farmers markets, pick up bulk goods and fruit at another store on the way home, and spend the extra time I have on more enjoyable tasks. I also spend less time cleaning the house because there is…well…less stuff to clean. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I feel like I have more time at home, but I’m certain I can attribute it to our simpler habits and lifestyle.
I will say that I had to spend some time upfront finding, researching, and making replacements for some of our disposable items. But this time wasn’t wasted because I was creating something that would last; it was time spent being creative, honing a new skill, and supporting the zero-waste movement. Time spent on creative endeavors is never time wasted.
Zero Effort Wasted
Closely related to zero time wasted, I have found that I spend more effort and energy on the things that matter the most to me: my family, my home, my writing, my personal well-being, and my garden. I’m not spending my effort on frivolous shopping. I’m not spending my effort on things that I will just throw away later. I’m not spending my effort on tasks that don’t support my new lifestyle.
Transitioning from mainstream consumption habits to zero-waste living takes upfront effort, much like it takes upfront time. But once you get into the groove of bringing your own bags to the farmers market or grocery store, making your own toothpaste and other toiletries, washing a load of cloth napkins and tissues, and taking your plate and mason jar to birthday parties, it becomes automatic and effortless.
Zero Money Wasted
Buying disposable items, the kind that you use once or twice and then toss, is akin to throwing your money in the trash bin. It is a vicious cycle, really. You buy the product, like a paper towel or tissue, use it once, throw it away, return to the store to buy more, use it once, throw it away…and it continues like this indefinitely.
Additionally, when you buy a product that is packaged, you’re not just paying for the product. You’re also paying for the cost of the packaging, the shipping, the advertising, and the storage. The most obvious examples of this relationship are in food and cosmetic products. When you switch to unpackaged bulk goods, farmer’s market fares, and DIY cosmetics, you automatically save a percentage of your purchase because you’re not paying for all of the extraneous items that go along with manufacturing a product.
I felt like I was spending more money that I expected in the first couple of months of my zero-waste journey. I was buying glass mason jars (mostly from the thrift store at $.89 each, but still), going to the farmer’s market each week, and doing maybe one more load of laundry each week. Now, most of the disposable items in our house have been replaced with reusable ones, and the upfront spending has tapered to a minimal here-and-there purchase.
Zero Space Wasted
I feel a strong connection between zero-waste and minimalism. In fact, my first stepping stone into zero-waste was a smattering of blog posts from The Minimalists and Marie Kondo’s book, The Magical Art of Tidying Up. But doesn’t this make sense? If you’re not creating waste and the items that you have are reusable and serve multiple functions, it naturally leads you to having less.
Of course, there are many levels of minimalism just like there are many levels of zero-waste; however, the relationship between the two movements shouldn’t be overlooked. And a zero-waste lifestyle will force you to rethink your possessions, your purchases, and their place in your home. Once you have a system of reusable goods in your home, each one of those goods will have it’s place and no space is devoted to items that you don’t need or items that create additional waste.
The first few months of a full-fledged zero-waste adventure is all about trash, reducing it as much as possible, and paying attention to the things we throw away. When your new practices become habit, it frees your mind to focus on all the other “zeroes.”
Remember, be part of the solution, not part of the problem.