What is Zero Waste?

Co to jest Zero Waste?

Zero waste is a very popular buzzword lately. Is it a fashion or an obligation? What does it mean? It means nothing more than zero waste. It sounds problematic, because after all, everything we purchase becomes waste after a certain point in time.

Every year, more than 12 million tonnes of municipal waste are generated in Poland, which is an average of more than 300 kg of rubbish per inhabitant per year.

Most of this waste ends up in landfill sites, with a much smaller proportion being recycled, composted or incinerated. All this means that the environment is becoming increasingly polluted and we are drowning in rubbish. And literally!

There are currently around 150 million tonnes of plastic floating in the seas!

This one primarily harms fish and other marine animals who mistake it for food and eat it, which can lead, for example, to damage to their digestive tract. In addition, plastic breaks down into smaller particles when exposed to the weather and thus exposes marine organisms to the chemicals it contains. It then finds its way into the food chain, and finally into human organisms. So we are not only harming the environment, but also ourselves.

Zero waste – how to get started?

Let’s explore the main tenets of the zero waste concept, which is the best solution to the planet’s pollution problem. They are based on the 5Rs principle, derived from the first letters of the English words: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. The principle was invented and popularised in 2008 by Bea Johnson, who became the face of the zero waste movement.

1. Refuse

Co to jest 5R-odmawiaj-refuse.jpg

A basic principle, but probably the most difficult. We bring home innumerable things that quickly become rubbish – adverts, leaflets, food and beauty product packaging and so on. The only way to avoid this problem is to consciously say ‘no’ to these things.

  • Always carry a reusable bag with you – this is the easiest, cheapest and, on top of that, the most important change. A reusable canvas bag, for example, means you don’t have to use a disposable bag in the shop or buy another reusable one. Put it permanently in your bag or rucksack, and always carry another bag in the boot of your car or in your bicycle pannier. In addition, it is best to pack a few canvas or even plastic bags, which you are sure to have lying around the house – they will come in handy for fruit and vegetables.
  • Buy a metal water bottle. Drinking water is essential, but buying it every day in plastic bottles is not environmentally friendly or economical. True, buying a metal bottle is a one-off expense, but it is definitely worth it. If you travel a lot, a bottle with a filter will be a good solution, as it will allow you to fill up with water even at a petrol station.
  • Carry a metal cup or thermos for coffee if you happen to drink it in town. Ask the barman to prepare your favourite coffee in it. Refuse disposable spoons or stirrers.
    When we buy food to take away, let’s ask for it to be wrapped in our packaging.

It is estimated that 2.5 billion plastic takeaways are consumed annually in the European Union! In this day and age of takeaway-only restaurants, the problem is growing even more. If you plan to buy food “out”, take a reusable container and a soup jar from home. When ordering a takeaway meal for home or work and it is natural that the food will be packed in disposable containers, add in the order that you do not need plastic cutlery. And preferably choose places that are also true to the zero waste principle and pack their products in ecological, biodegradable packaging, which you should then necessarily dispose of in a suitable recycling container, e.g. for BIO waste or paper (as we wrote about HERE).

2. Reduce

Co to jest 5R-ograniczaj-reduce

Every thing we bought had to be produced first and then transported. All this generates pollution.

  • Let’s think twice about our purchases. Do we really need a particular item? Don’t we already have a similar one at home? Can’t we borrow it? This applies to almost everything: clothes, books, cosmetics, household appliances, travel souvenirs, etc. We have written about this at great length HERE.
  • Let’s not buy food to stock up on, especially food with a short shelf life, fruit or vegetables. You can read about food waste HERE.
  • Let’s buy locally and seasonally. Reduce long-distance transport of products and therefore food miles.
  • Reduce meat consumption. It takes as much as 15 000 litres of water to produce one kilo of beef! On top of this, animal husbandry produces huge amounts of greenhouse gases – an estimated 18% of all man-made gases. Even reducing meat meals by one a day will help to reduce this figure.
    Reduce water consumption. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth, soaping your hands or soaping your body in the shower. Choose a short shower instead of a bath full of water.
  • Save paper. Don’t print when you don’t have to.
  • Take the train instead of the plane, and in the city, take the bus or cycle instead of the car.

3. Reuse

Co to jest 5R użyj ponownie-reuse.

Let’s take care of our things, repair them and, when they are no longer usable in their original version, give them a second life in another edition.

  • Let’s glue, jam, bind or replace just one part in what’s broken.
  • Let’s sell unwanted things online or give away to friends or those in need. This can be anything from toys to household items. Why keep them lying around the house or in a landfill when someone could use them? And if you have unwanted clothes, you can, for example, take part in the Wear&Share campaign and support our TIME FOR LASER activities. More information HERE.
  • Conversely, let’s buy second-hand. Instead of going straight to the shop, let’s first browse through a nearby second hand or olx, or ask friends if they have an item we need which they might be willing to give away.
  • Swap clothes. Take stock of your wardrobe and think about what you no longer wear but is still in good condition. In many towns and cities, there are so-called clothes swaps where you can bring your things and go home with others. This kind of “wardrobe airing” helps to save a lot of money and, in addition, fights against over-consumption.
  • Let’s be creative. A skirt no longer wearable? Maybe you can turn it into, for example, a pillowcase for a small cushion. A pot has been destroyed? Let’s paint or tape it. There are thousands of solutions!

4. Recycle

Jak segregować odpady?

Nowadays, it is compulsory to separate rubbish at home and it should be quite natural for us to do so. On the other hand, recycling “in the city” is generally much worse. Recycling bins for separate collection are not available everywhere, but we should still try to put our rubbish in the right bins outside the home.

Of course, segregation also takes place in the sorting plants where our rubbish goes, where waste is first automatically and then manually separated accordingly. However, the better the segregated rubbish goes to the sorting plant, the more efficiently it will be separated. This will increase the recovery of raw materials to a much greater extent and less waste will end up in landfill sites, thus protecting the soil, water and atmosphere from the harmful effects of the substances created from their decomposition.

However, despite the many advantages of waste separation, it is only treating the symptoms and not the source of the problem. Therefore, the most important thing is to observe the first three points mentioned above.

You can read more about proper waste segregation HERE.

5. Rot

Co to jest 5R rot-kompostuj.

Bio-waste naturally decomposes to form compost, which is ideal as a fertiliser. You can create your own compost pile in your garden and use it later to fertilise your flowers, or, if you don’t have this option, simply dispose of your green waste in the BIO bin – this will be properly taken care of by the city and will be applied to urban green areas, for example. Please note that meat and bones, animal faeces, treated wood, medicines or ash from burning coal, among others, cannot be disposed of in the brown bin.

And, of course, our bio-waste should be disposed of loose without a plastic bag (this will decompose at the fastest rate in 100 years)! Alternatively, special biodegradable bags are available for sale which can be disposed of together with the contents.

So much for the theory behind zero waste. Fortunately, there is no end to the idea in practice.

Every idea we have and then every action towards reducing pollution and further exploiting the environment is invaluable.

It may seem difficult at first, because any change of habit takes time, but above all it takes willingness. It is best to approach it calmly and take one small step every day towards a big change. Let’s remember that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Let’s not be tormented if we occasionally buy that takeaway coffee in a disposable cup or forget a canvas shopping bag. But let these be exceptions to the rule. Let’s respect the environment, and our own wallets at the same time. Let’s let the future of the planet be important to us all. It is up to us to decide what it will look like in a few years.

Author: Olga Panowicz