Sustainability is on a lot of peoples’ minds right now. And for a good reason – as the earth’s population continues to skyrocket, we’re rapidly running out of places to dispose of waste. As a result, plastic products are choking our oceans, trash is spilling over our landscapes, and our environment is facing a very real, very pressing crisis.
According to the United Nations, if the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050 (and it’s realistic to assume that it will) we will need the equivalent of almost three planets to provide the natural resources required to sustain current lifestyles.
In light of this reality, many consumers are turning their attention to sustainability. What can we, collectively, do to lessen our environmental impact and protect our natural resources? When this question is posed, the concepts of zero-waste lifestyles and recycling arise.
While the two things may sound similar, they are not the same. Here’s what you need to know about each and the differences between them.
The Lowdown on Recycling
Most of us are familiar with recycling. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American families recycle about 34% of the waste they create. A simple concept, recycling seeks to address the problem of waste production.
During recycling, consumers take materials like glass, plastic, and cardboard to recycling facilities, where they’re given another life as a new product, good, or material. Today, many cities around the country simplify household recycling by offering curbside pickup services and recycling contractors who will remove items from your home.
What is Zero-Waste Living?
Zero-waste living is a much broader concept than recycling. While recycling seeks to deal with the waste people produce, zero-waste living aims to put an end to waste production altogether.
In other words, people going for a zero-waste lifestyle strive not to send anything to the landfill.
According to the Center for EcoTechnology (CET):
Zero Waste is a movement to reduce the amount one consumes and consequently throws away. Adopting a Zero Waste lifestyle is one of the most sustainable ways of living.
Zero Waste lifestyle choices influence all environmental areas by preventing resource extraction, reducing the amount of materials sent to the landfill or incinerator, and reducing pollution from producing, transporting, or disposing of materials.
If living a zero-waste lifestyle sounds challenging, that’s because it is. To stop creating waste, households must replace single-use or short-term items with products designed to be used again and again, including refillable water bottles, washable food storage and transport containers, and more.
Don’t let the perceived difficulty of a zero-waste lifestyle scare you, though: adopting even a few zero-waste practices is one of the best things your household can do for the environment.
Instead of perpetuating the linear economy we’ve been living in for so long (wherein we take things from the earth, and then dump them into the landfill), zero-waste mindsets support the concept of a circular economy. In a circular economy, we reuse what we consume and become more mindful of our resource allocation.
Linear and Circular Economy Diagram from RTS
How you can Reduce Your Household’s Output
Want to do your part to reduce global waste? Here are a few simple tips:
Reduce Consumption, First and Foremost
There’s a reason “recycle” is the last of the three R’s: Reduce, reuse, recycle.
While recycling is a valuable pursuit, it’s not a perfect solution. Humans produce too much waste for recycling to keep up with. For example, only about 9% of the plastic waste we generate is currently recycled.
This is one of the primary reasons China (who has historically recycled the bulk of U.S. plastics) recently placed a ban on all imports