Defining ‘zero waste’

Before we get too far into this year’s zero waste project, we need to figure out first what zero waste means.

I am a big fan of definitions and boundaries.

From the Dictionary of Sustainable Management:

Zero Waste: The goal of developing products and services, managing their use and deployment, and creating recycling systems and markets in order to eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials and conserve and recover all resources. Implementing zero waste eliminates all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health. Many cities and states already have set zero-waste goals. For example, San Francisco and other cities have set a goal to create zero waste by 2020.

From Merriam-Webster:


JC: adjective

Popularity: Bottom 10% of words

Definition of zero–waste: generating little or no waste <a zero-waste event> <zero-waste manufacturing> <zero waste strategies> <The manufacturer took pride in its plant being a zero-waste facility. All byproducts and waste from the manufacturing process were being reused and recycled. — Aaron Huff, Commercial Carrier Journal, 1 Dec. 2013>


So basically what we’ve learned here is that A) Dictionaries are boring, and 2) Zero waste is basically about “generating little or no waste” and eliminating “the volume and toxicity of waste and materials to conserve and recover all resources.”

Will I really be able to get to zero? I kind of doubt it.

Not to rain on my own parade before we even get started, but true zero waste isn’t possible; there will always be some waste. This is where my frustration comes into play (and it probably doesn’t help that I’m a pessimist) – what’s the point of all of this if it’s impossible? If I’m just one person shouting out into the void?*

Well … because every little bit helps. Because somebody has to do it. Because I want to see if I can do it. I want to see how close I can get.

I can’t focus on everything – because I’m only one person – but I can focus on some things. I can eliminate as much packaging as possible in my household. I can conserve energy and water. I can reuse and recycle, and not bring stuff into the house in the first place. I can make environmentally friendlier products at home. I can compost. I can buy used.

Which means the project starts in earnest NOW. Um, or Wednesday. 😉

P.S. Thank you all for the warm welcome! I so appreciate the time you took to comment on Friday, and you’ve given me some great ideas for things to tackle. Keep ’em coming!

* “The Fault in our Stars.” Anyone?

6 Responses to Defining ‘zero waste’

  1. I’ve definitely, in the past five years, gone out hard for zero waste, and with time, have adjusted to a more sustainable level of zero waste – which means I still create waste. There’s some battles I didn’t have in me to continue to fight (like after being yelled at in public by a woman in the deli, not even the one serving me, for bringing my own containers). But it’s better than the average, and it’s a step in the right direction.

    PS Don’t try silk thread as floss – in my experience, it wasn’t strong enough. And i bought green coloured thread – V visible when bits got stuck and I couldn’t remove (without wasteful non-green floss!)

    • Wait, what?! I can’t imagine yelling at someone (or getting yelled at) for bringing a container … that must have been very disheartening. In Oregon, it’s not so weird. I mean, it IS weird, but we tend to be a generally environmental bunch, so mostly I’m just ignored. (Which is fine by me.) Anyway, wow, I’m sorry that happened to you! That sucks!

      I think I’m trying to figure out what sustainable zero waste means to our family … that’s a good way to put it. This year will be a study in “going out hard,” and then from there I’ll know what that looks like. And so will the fam.

      And I’ll avoid the silk thread — thanks for the tip! Although I actually did laugh out loud at the thought of green thread sticking out of the mouth. 🙂 A conversation starter, at least!

      Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  2. Welcome to The Simple Year! I’m looking forward to learning from your journey to zero waste. While I know I just don’t have it in me to get myself and my family to a zero waste state, I definitely look around my house every single day and KNOW that we can do better. Looking forward to some great ideas to jump start my “betterness” 🙂

    • Thank you! It took me a long time reading minimalist blogs to decide I could jump onto that train, and even longer to attempt zero waste. Sometimes it’s just kind of fun to think about the possibility…

  3. Pingback: Going for a win | The Simple Year

  4. I’m excited to get some ideas here. Our community has optional recycling – you drop it off yourself. Now a business lets us rent a bin for $10 a month for recycling, and they empty it once a month. We are starting to recycle more, since we no longer have to wait in the long Saturday lines at the drop-off site, and the single bin makes it easy to collect and tidily store recyclables. I’m sure there’s more we can do to reduce waste, I just haven’t researched it yet – so I’m happy to let you do the research for me!:)

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