What is Zero Waste?

How do you feel when you've just finished a drink and you need to get rid of the bottle and you can't find a recycling bin? 

Do you toss it in the trash?  No big deal.  Shoulder shrug.  It's just one bottle.  

Do you carry it around, waiting until you find that recycling bin? 

Street art Valdivia, Chile

Street art Valdivia, Chile

Bring it home with you to recycle or reuse?  

I think we all fall somewhere along this spectrum of how we manage the items we consume, right?  For me, growing up with recycling and a sense of responsibility to the environment, each time an item that could have been recycled ended up in the trash on my watch, it would fill me with a sickening feeling.     

And while traveling in South America for 3 months, this happened.  A LOT. 

We are so privileged in America, and in many countries throughout the world, to have access to recycling or easy waste disposal systems, such that we barely have to think about what to do with it.  In beautiful Byron Bay, Australia, where we stayed for a month, there is even curbside composting.  WHAT???  We don't have that in my granola-crunching, tie-dye-wearing, surfs-up (and whatever other stereotypes you've heard) hometown of Santa Cruz, California.  Damn, we really should have curbside composting.

Sometimes it is so easy to deal with the waste you produce, as it is in Byron.  And sometimes it is damn near impossible.  Take my well-intending kids picking up trash they found strewn on the beach while staying in Pichilemu, Chile, only for us to struggle with finding a way to dispose of it properly.   This had the unintended affect of forcing us to stop and reconsider all of the trash that we were bringing into our little beachside shack.  Should we buy that bottle of wine?  What would we do with the bottle once we had finished? Where would it end up?  Maybe it's easier to just not purchase it in the first place?  And what if we didn't eat out as much so we could avoid those to-go containers when our kids inevitably didn't finish their meal?  

Street Art Valparaiso, Chile

Street Art Valparaiso, Chile

This is such a different way of considering how you live your life and how your choices make an impact.  Maybe having easy waste disposal is actually not such a great thing?   (I know, strike me down for saying that!) But hear me out. Maybe it's better if we have to deal with the trash we create; that we have to think about what to do with it after it's created, so that perhaps we might rethink creating it in the first place?

Zero waste is an ideal that forces us to think about how each of our actions, no matter how small, can have a significant impact. 

That straw in your drink at the restaurant?  That will still exist long after you use it. 

Every. Straw. You've. Ever. Used. 

That's insane.  Just ponder that for a moment.  

So saying something as simple as "No straw please" can keep one little piece of plastic from existing in the landfill for generations to come.  Sounds pretty simple, right? And it has a bigger impact the more of us that join in saying that simple little phrase; not only in fewer straws being sent to the landfill, but in the way that restaurants do business.  What if a restaurant decides to replace their plastic straws with paper after hearing that phrase over and over?  Or, better yet, they go straw-free?  Wow, that would be huge.  And there's that ripple affect. 

Now imagine making more changes:

Plastic water bottles?  Nah. I'll use my refillable water bottle instead. 

Disposable coffee cup?  I'll pass.  I'll use my super awesome reusable mug. 

Plastic bag at the grocery checkout?  No thanks, I brought my hand-dandy tote bag.

Now, I have made these changes to my daily routine and am trying to do many other things like shop bulk, bring my stainless steel containers to store takeaway, frequent farmers markets, but I don't have a small mason jar filled with my family's trash as evidence of my commitment as many zero wasters do.  (And hey, if you are one of those folks, I bow to you.  You are beyond incredible and the planet and I thank you for the work you have done.)  I will, however, do my best, every day to lessen the impact my family has on this planet.  I'm a big fan of this world we live in, which is why we are traveling for a year to show as much of it as we can to our children.  

My aim in this blog is to bring to you info that will give you a little nudge toward making zero waste choices, while also allowing you to learn from our stumbles as we go. 

Zero waste is, after all, not about perfection, but about striving to produce less waste in a world that is currently overwhelmed with it.  

Happy Zero Wasting!