This summer, our Zero Waste Heroes spent countless hours volunteering their time and energy to help divert over 300lbs of waste from landfills into compost and recycling during events like The Triple Bypass and Boogie at the Barn. But perhaps more importantly, our Zero Waste Heroes helped to educate folks. We often talk to people about the number of plastics that cannot be recycled by common facilities and even though things like “compostable plastics” made from plant-based materials seem like a good idea, they still require special facilities to process them and don’t break down as easily as unprocessed and natural organic materials like food or yard waste.
Although recycling has done amazing things for the planet, its popularity has perhaps shadowed the more effective aspects of the three R’s: Reduce & Reuse. As of January 1st, China stopped accepting imported recycling, which has caused major problems for many states. However, some people are recognizing that recycling is not necessarily a sustainable system. In fact, I just learned that students in the UK learn the 6 Rs: Reduce, Rethink, Refuse, Recycle, Reuse, Repair. When we reduce our consumption of, well, anything, we are reducing our carbon footprint. When we rethink, refuse, or repair, even better! It takes vast amounts of resources and energy to produce anything in this world, so living more minimally and asking ourselves, “Do I really need that?” on a regular basis is not only incredibly helpful for the planet, but also for our pocketbook and, as it turns out, our well-being.
Lately, trends to live more minimally are on the rise, from anything to living out of a tiny home to trying to only live with a set number of clothing items to growing your own food and cooking at home. For example, simple things like washing out an old jam jar and re-purposing it as a vase or cup for drinking is far more planet-friendly then throwing it back into the recycling bin to go through the system again. (We have mason jars, plates, silverware, and napkins you can rent through EAS+Y for your organization’s next event so you don’t have to use all of those single-use plastics! Just e-mail us). People who have adopted more minimalist lifestyles have noticed a positive shift in their health and well-being. Think about it: if you have that much less “stuff” and square-footage to maintain, clean, and worry about, then you have that many more hours free to play, pursue hobbies, relax, sleep, exercise, and just be. I think about this every time I’m picking up toy after toy after my kids at the end of the day since they are happier just playing with rocks, sticks, water, and dirt anyway!
Recycling is the most consumption-driven of the three (or six) Rs, which is perhaps why it’s no surprise that Recycling would be the most favored by a consumer-driven economy where marketing takes full advantage of how humans are wired to consume. We are finally learning the truth behind the jaw-dropping practices of companies like H&M and Burberry who destroy millions of dollars of unsold clothing so that no one can buy them and their “value” as a brand won’t depreciate. We think we are being upstanding citizens by purchasing clothing using recycled materials, but ultimately the best choice is to simply get our garmets repaired or shop pre-owned clothes at thrift or consignment shops than to purchase something recycled.
And there’s new evidence to suggest our clothes made from recycled plastics (just check how many clothes you own made from acrylic, nylon, or polyester) lead to microplastics being released into our waterways and eventually back into our food and own bodies, as outlined by this Scientific American article just published today (although research has been going on for over a decade). When we wash a garment like our Patagonia fleece (of which I own two!) made from recycled plastics, we are actually shedding tiny microplastics back into our water systems with each wash. So it seems even well-intention companies aren’t all that “green.” Labeled as “greenwashing,” which is “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image,” companies like to take advantage of our desire to consume by labeling their practices as “green,” even though these practices still have negative impacts on our planet. This is why a growing number of people and business are joining forces with organizations such as The Plastic Pollution Coalition (and EAS+Y!) to encourage people to think before they buy.
There is a vast network of folks practicing minimalism, often for personal reasons, but the planet has a whole lot to benefit from this movement of living with less. Sure, there are things we definitely all “need” to live and participate in society, but if you really ask yourself what makes you happy, chances are that once your basic needs are met (water, food, shelter, and clothing), it’s relationships and experiences that are going to give you the most bang for your buck, according to an 80-year Harvard study.
Recently, I’ve had the unfortunate experience but also honor of writing multiple eulogies for some family members. In each one, not a single person ever wanted to add anything about anyone’s stuff, or even their careers, trophies, or accomplishments for that matter. It was all about their character, the memories, and relationships. Never, ever was it about anything that a consumption-driven world makes us think we “need” to have a rich and fulfilling life.
So where to start? These are a few of my favorite folks who have some great tips and tricks on where to start if you want to go zero waste or just live more simply.
- The Minimalists: a blog, a podcast, a book, and even a Netflix documentary might inspire and help you get started.
- BeMoreWithLess: a blog, a book, and one of my favorite challenges – Project 333 – which challenges people to reduce their wardrobe and reliance on fast-fashion.
- Zero Waste Chef: a blog, classes, a recipe index – all kinds of ideas for going plastic-free and reducing your carbon footprint when it comes to eating.
- The Zero Market: Denver’s first package-free bulk food store! BYO Container – your chance to go plastic free! Now who is ready to invest in one for the foothills?!
These are just a few folks that come to mind, but there’s plenty more – published or unpublished – that are practicing zero waste life styles for various reasons.
What’s your reason?
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