Going zero waste is good, right? Seems simple enough. But, have you ever actually stopped to ask… why? What are the benefits of zero waste? What impact does it have on you, your health, your household, the economy, the planet? In truth, it’s not easy to tackle these questions, but by taking a look into the advantages of zero waste we can begin to piece together the bigger picture.
So, whether your business is just beginning its zero waste journey or you’ve been living a zero-waste lifestyle for a while, here, we dive deep into the benefits of zero waste to remind you why refusing that plastic bag, reusing your old jars and bottles, and repairing or recycling your broken electronics is important.
Zero Waste Advantages for You and Your Household
While the switch to zero waste can be hard, there can be many benefits for you on a personal level as well as for your household in general, such as:
- Improved physical health
- Improved wellbeing
- Fewer toxic chemicals in your home
- Reduced unnecessary spending
Improved Physical Health
Packaged food does not necessarily mean unhealthy food, but unhealthy foods often mean lots of packaging. Think about when you walk through a grocery store — loose fruit, vegetables, and if you’re lucky, legumes — all healthy and all without packaging. Candy, cookies, and chips? Plastic, plastic, plastic.
Often the packaging is so thin that it can’t even be recycled. One of the zero waste health benefits is simply being forced to shop, cook, and eat healthier. What’s more, being made to slow down and think about what you’re buying at the grocery store creates a more mindful way of shopping, allowing you to make better decisions for the entire life cycle of the products you buy!
Mindfulness has been shown to have various positive effects such as stress reduction, increased working memory and focus, less emotional reactivity, and more. Extend this concept to mindful consumption beyond food and drinks, and people are obliged to assess the products they clean themselves and their homes with.
Fewer Toxic Chemicals
Zero waste cleaning and self-care products tend to have fewer potentially damaging chemicals (and fewer ingredients in general) meaning a happier, healthier, and more sustainable household. The same is often true for the packaging of these products, and waste reduction through the use of non-toxic materials in packaging (such as plastics and other petroleum-based materials) means fewer issues caused by microplastics in the local, national, and global environment.
Reduced Unnecessary Spending
Even if they don’t realize it, many people participate in emotional spending, which is when you buy something you don’t want or need as a result of negative (or sometimes positive) emotions such as being stressed. It is one of the reasons you might find yourself making impulse purchases—they make you feel good. Making a concerted effort to work towards zero waste means avoiding emotional spending and reducing the amount of money wasted on unnecessary (or even unwanted) goods.
It’s true that right now many zero waste products can be more expensive than their disposable counterparts, but as more people embrace the benefits of zero waste, it’s likely we will see prices come down. What’s more, higher costs are often due to higher quality, with zero-waste goods designed to last far longer than comparable products.
The ultimate goal of zero waste is to help people reuse, repair, and repurpose things that have come to the end of their life (or would have if you were still tossing them in the trash). By reusing rather than replacing you can save significant amounts of money, making it another zero-waste lifestyle benefit.
The Benefits of a Zero-Waste Community
Making the switch to zero waste in your home or business doesn’t just affect you, but can also have many positive benefits in your wider community, such as:
- Getting food and goods to those who need them
- Saving money that can be reinvested into your community
- Improving social cohesion
- Creating jobs and improving the local economy
- Reducing localized pollution
Challenging Food Waste
When thinking about waste and how to avoid it, many people think about things like plastic packaging and paper bags. However, food actually makes up 22% of all municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States and is the single largest component in US landfills.
Going zero waste means that this food (much of which is perfectly edible) gets diverted away from the landfill. Aside from the environmental benefits, redirecting what would have been food waste to community organizations, homes, and people who need it can have a significant social impact. What’s more, the money saved from wasted food can be funneled into positive projects for sustainability—and it’s a significant amount of money, with an estimated $161 billion of food trashed in the United States every year.
Getting Goods to Those that Need Them
Redistribution rather than disposal doesn’t need to end with food. Zero waste is about reuse and repurposing, which means that goods you don’t need can go to others in the community and vice versa. It’s not just giving away what you no longer need, but also sharing what everyone needs.
Community-based zero-waste strategies can involve initiatives to share or rent goods rather than each person going out and buying their own—and that means rental stores and other small businesses, along with more local jobs. Similarly, this circular economy can also give rise to the likes of repair shops and thrift stores, creating even more jobs and improving local economies.
What’s more, by promoting circular economies within communities, going zero waste promotes communities themselves by encouraging people to work together and share goods to reduce each of their individual impacts. The social benefits that this brings are priceless.
Less Waste, More Jobs
As well as jobs created locally in rental and repair, zero waste can also help boost the economy through the creation of green jobs in alternative waste management and recycling. It’s projected that reaching a 75% diversion rate of municipal solid waste (MSW) and construction and demolition debris (C&D) by 2030 could create 2.3 million jobs in the United States. Taking this into account, the benefits of zero waste in a city of the scale of New York, for example, are quite dramatic.
Reduced Localized Pollution
Going zero waste can help reduce localized pollution in neighborhoods, cities, and towns thanks to fewer deliveries and trips to the shop, as well as less trash being burned in incinerators and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. The same goes for landfills; less trash in the ground means more usable space and a reduced chance of toxins seeping into the local groundwater. Combined, this makes for happier, healthier communities with all of these factors also true on a global scale.
Global Zero Waste Advantages
Think global, act local, and you’ll start to see the benefits of zero waste on a worldwide scale, including:
- A reduction of non-biodegradable waste such as plastic
- A drop in the production of greenhouse gases
- Fewer finite natural resources being extracted
Reducing Plastic Pollution
A lot of different waste goes to landfills, some of which breaks down and some which doesn’t. Most people are probably familiar with one of the biggest culprits of non-biodegradable trash: plastic.
Since 1950, about 6.3 billion tons of plastics have been produced globally, but only 9% have been recycled and 12% incinerated. That leaves a lot of plastic that has ended up in landfills or the ocean, where it can leech toxic chemicals and destroy biodiversity for thousands of years. One of the benefits of zero waste? No single-use plastics!
Greenhouse Gases from Organic Waste
However, even the stuff that does break down can cause serious issues, with a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in landfills being landfill gas (LFG), which is about 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide’s planet-warming tendencies are well known to most people since it accounts for 81% of all greenhouse gases in the US, but methane is also a huge problem. In fact, it is “28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
While many factors contribute to CO2 emissions, ‘Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States’, making them (and the waste that fills them) a serious issue to tackle. Reducing our reliance on landfill, especially in the context of food waste, and increasing composting allows us to significantly reduce the impact of organic waste by reducing greenhouse gasses and creating fertilizers to rejuvenate our degrading soils.
Avoiding the Unnecessary Extraction of Raw Materials
Finally, by reducing the amount of unnecessary packaging by focusing on reusable products, and by repairing and repurposing what may have previously considered waste, you are also conserving natural resources. With this approach as a priority, we can enhance our zero waste goals further when we recycle, which while not being nearly as good as refusing new products and rescuing old ones, reduces the number of raw materials required for manufacturing and minimizes the harmful practices that are associated with mining or producing virgin stock.
The benefits of zero waste are clear, with positive impacts on a very personal level that ripple out to your household, community, and the world at large.
If you want to learn more about zero waste, including tips and tricks for you and your home, then subscribe to zerowaste.com today. For more personalized advice and insights into how your business can work towards zero waste, have a chat with one of our TRUE Advisors.
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