Four eye-opening zero waste lessons

Recently I read the “The Zero-Waste Lifestyle” by Amy Korst. This book made many excellent points, but four of them in particular struck me and inspired immediate change.

Revelation #1: Organic waste tossed into landfills doesn’t biodegrade normally. Researchers have found 20-year old sandwiches still intact, which happens because the inner layers of a landfill are utterly starved of air flow and light. The huge plastic liners we place on our landfills ensure that trash lingers for years… even “harmless” trash like apple cores and orange peels.

What we’re doing about it: Pete bought us a tumbling compost bin after I told him this troubling fact. I bought us a smaller kitchen garbage can to go along with it, which happily does not produce any smell and is easy to carry outside roughly once a week. We’re still learning what to compost, but already the reduction in trash is amazing. We can now turn things like food scraps, toilet paper rolls, dog fur, yard waste, and q-tips into compost, which we’ll use on our plants next spring.

Another action I’m starting to take is being more mindful of possible re-use for small, innocuous items, such as the strings I use to hang herb bunches to dry. I now keep newspaper for re-use as bonfire starters or glass wipes and sometimes use citrus peels for DIY cleaner.

Revelation #2: Recycling isn’t the cure-all we want it to be.  Korst’s book taught me that recycling is a lot more energy-intensive and waste-producing than it seems. It also opened my eyes to just how problematic plastic waste is, because it downgrades each time it’s recycled and quickly becomes trash. Glass and metal are far superior because they can be recycled into comparable quality material again and again.

What we’re doing about it: Pete and I already knew that we should start to reduce our reliance on plastic, but I don’t think either of us gave a second thought to tossing the plastic waste we did have into the bin. It also had never occurred to us to research our local recycling rules. After doing some research, I learned that we’re supposed to keep lids screwed onto bottles, and that our habit of bagging recycling like trash might mean they were throwing it away. 😦 We now keep our recyclable waste loose in the can (and clean it a bit better since there’s no bag back-up) and opt for canned or glass-bottled beverages when on the go. I’ve also rescued at least a couple of used plastics through creative re-use, most notably by repurposing large plastic lids as paint palettes and by turning a taco seasoning shaker into a diatomaceous earth spreader for my garden.

Revelation #3: “Pre-cycling” beats re-cycling any day of the week. The best solution to avoiding the water/energy/resource demand of recycling is not to create recyclable waste at all. If you’re a clever fox, you can do this by “pre-cycling” – buying items with a determined end use that doesn’t involve the bin.

What we’re doing about it: This is a really new concept to me, so I’ve only just begun to noodle over it. Recent small successes include buying mayo in a large glass jar with the intention for re-using it for homemade pasta sauce and paying an extra dollar for water in a glass bottle that I am now using as a vase to propagate plants.

Revelation #4: Fast fashion is filth. Everyone knows that sweatshops are bad, but did you know that the garment industry is the second leading polluter in the world behind Big Oil? Holy crap, it’s a filthy industry. I had no idea! 😦 The book encouraged us to watch the documentary “The True Cost”, which delves into the environmental/human health impact of everything from cotton farming to shipping our jeans. And the worst part is, we aren’t even lessening our environmental impact by donating clothes… they’re ultimately either trashed or shipped in a fossil-fuel-intensive ways to third world countries that don’t even want them. Haiti, for example, was once known for its tailoring and hand-embroidery, but the garment industry has all but collapsed there under the onslaught of constant shipments of bales of American clothes. Yikes.

What we’re doing about it:  I was raised to regularly “give things to Good Will” starting with stuffed animals and advancing to anything and everything today. I REGULARLY cull belongings for nice things I ought to give and can’t sell. Realizing that most clothing truly goes to waste was eye-opening, so I’m A) starting to re-purpose old t-shirts and hoodies as dog quilts (I’ve already made three! :)) and cleaning rags, and B) slowly working on buying better shoes and clothing so I don’t contribute to the disaster that is fast fashion quite so much. I’m not abandoning it completely, and I do like clothes, but damn. The least I can do is try to stick to things that I love well enough to mend and keep for as long as I can.

Phew! And that is a lot to think on. Hope at least some of it interested you. 😊


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