Zero waste is a concept that can morph into a personal lifestyle, business practice, and community movement—if enough people join in. And the movement is really starting to take hold; Tom’s of Maine has already put forward a goal for its manufacturing facility to be waste-free by 2020.
The idea is just what it sounds like: composting, recycling, and reducing waste to near zero. By producing less trash, we use less landfill space, consume fewer natural resources, and are more aware of what we’re purchasing. Ultimately, the goal endeavors to throw out the idea of wastefulness—and that trash is old-fashioned and a resource at the same time. Here are some tips to get you started toward your zero-waste home.
If popular outfitters like Patagonia or The North Face can manage its waste, you can too. I’ve always had to work hard to be sure nothing is landfill-bound, by diverting and reducing my own waste. Know that you’re not alone in your endeavor to kick the landfill habit in your home. Individuals and families everywhere are working toward the same goal to keep their households trash-free.
To reduce my family’s waste, I keep returning to the Zero Waste Home Blog as well as Trash is for Tossers for new tips and strategies. Both bloggers—one single woman and the other woman with a family of four—represent households that have reduced their waste to just a few handfuls sent to the landfill per year.
Get into Your Trash
To reduce your waste, you need to know what you’re throwing away, and a waste audit is a great means of doing this. Continue to collect your trash, recycling, and compostables for about a week—but before taking it to the curb, take a look at it. What’s in your trash bin? See if there’s anything in the trash that should be in recycling. Do you have more to compost?
By focusing on the trash can and the stuff slated for the landfill, you’ll find food packaging is usually the largest type of waste. Therefore, consider what you may be able to buy in bulk instead. Are you buying too much of something you could do without? Can you use reusable products instead of disposable?
Get Serious about Composting
According to the EPA, food waste is just over 20 percent of our trash. Composting food, garden, and yard leftovers can put a total stop to your kitchen’s waste, but you have to do it right and consistently. The optimal compost ratio, according to Organic Gardening, is 30 parts carbon, dry, or “brown” waste to 1 parts wet, nitrogen-rich waste (or “green” stuff). Greens include fruit and veg scraps, recently cut weeds, grass clippings, and so forth. Your browns can be hay or straw, dryer lint, dry leaves, newspaper, or woody debris. You should also have your compost somewhat damp and covered.
If you live in an apartment or a home without much yard, consider vermicomposting, which allows you to compost indoors using worms. Use a sealed bucket with a few holes on top filled with newspaper, coffee grounds, and red wigglers (not your common earthworm). Feed these worms your food scraps and they’ll produce a nutrient-dense compost of their own waste—worm castings—that you can use on your garden to boost production.
Refuse, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot
The mantra for this waste-free lifestyle is this: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot. That is, refuse what you don’t need, reduce what you do need, reuse what you consume, recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse—and rot (compost) the rest. To this end, using durable products is indeed a more sustainable practice than recycling, as the latter still uses natural resources in transportation and equipment energy. A few easy ideas include swapping out paper towels for rags, using (compostable) wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets, buying produce that isn’t prepackaged from the grocery or the farmer’s market, and bringing your own bags for the trek home. I’ve been trying to remember my own reusable containers when at the restaurant for leftovers instead of using the Styrofoam they provide for you.
The list of reducing and reusing can be a bit overwhelming. Start with a few focal items found in your waste audit and you’ll be off to a good start. It’s also a nice idea to start or join a TerraCycle brigade for items you can’t recycle but still use often. The Life Without Plastic store is a great place for inspiration and hard-to-find, waste-free items such as compostable toothbrushes and stainless steel straws.
Are you ready to join the cause? How close to zero can your home get? Share your tips below!
Image sources: Flickr
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.