What is the Zero-Waste Movement?
The EPA’s 2018 National Overview reports that the United States produced 262 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2015. That year, the average American generated over 1,600 pounds of trash. In defiance of these horrifying statistics, a radical new idea has arisen, focused on eliminating your personal ecological footprint. It’s a lifestyle concept, an innovative way of thinking that centers on removing hazardous plastics, papers, and other pollutants and replacing them with reusable products. The goal is to ultimately produce ‘zero waste.’
The zero-waste movement
In 2008, Bea Johnson began blogging about her zero-waste lifestyle. She presented the way she lived and provided strategies for others to reduce their own environmental impact. She would become the catalyst for a wave of eco-driven consumers and social media influencers, all striving to eradicate waste from their daily lives. In 2013, her book Zero Waste Home hit shelves and added additional fuel for the revolution. Soon people all over the world began assessing their day-to-day routine and re-imagining how they interacted with the world.
The zero-waste movement has emerged on social media, where wellness influencers share stories about their struggles and successes on their ecological journey. On Instagram, a total of 3.3 million posts are tagged #zerowaste and the hashtag continues to rise in popularity. People share sustainable products, eco-friendly meals, uplifting quotes and inspiring photography. The hashtag reflects the growth of the community and as more people learn about the movement, more people begin to adjust their lifestyles.
How does a zero-waste lifestyle actually work?
While the original catchphrase for the conservation movement was “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” the zero-waste movement has moved on from recycling entirely. As the rest of society struggles to know what is or isn’t recyclable, zero wasters are composting organic material and avoiding plastic packaged products in favor of all-natural, long-lasting replacements. Bamboo toothbrushes, cloth napkins, glass jars, and bars of soap are just a few of the standard ‘zero swaps,’ or items with a lower footprint that are common within the zero-waste community.
Challenges to living waste-free
Despite the intriguing simplicity of living a naturally-balanced life, the reality of going zero-waste is extremely difficult. There are easier aspects of the lifestyle, some of which have already permeated into society. For example, bringing reusable grocery bags to the store and avoiding plastic straws has become common in many states. However, a list of tips on Going Zero Waste also suggests making your own deodorant and mouthwash at home as well as line drying all of your clothing.
Renee Peters, a popular nature and wellness influencer, analyzed the challenges on her blog, Model Green Living. After attempting to go zero-waste for one month, she noted how much time and dedication is required. “Waste-free living,” she writes, “is nearly impossible if you aren’t extremely diligent and privileged with free time.” Time to shop for certain foods at specialty stores and farmers markets. Time to prepare and cook organic ingredients. Time to organize your life around your mission because any interaction in modern society results in an ecological footprint.
The hardest element to a zero-waste lifestyle is surviving without buying goods or food at mainstream stores, because of how products are packaged. Plastic and non-recyclable foams are still widespread throughout the packaging industry. Shopping at a grocery store is understood to be impossible within the framework of a waste-free existence.
But, as the movement has progressed and consumers have begun to change their habits, new, innovative business models have emerged as well.
Zero waste businesses and innovations
Catherine Conway pioneered the model for a refillable food packaging system 14 years ago with her shop, Unpackaged. The process is actually quite simple; customers bring their own containers, decant their chosen products, weigh the final amount and check out. Since then, markets featuring reusable food packaging systems have sprung up all over the world. The first US zero waste store, In.gredients, opened in Austin, Texas in 2012. Zero Market launched in 2017 in Denver, Colorado as a package-free store offering a variety of eco-friendly products. The Fillery, in Brooklyn, New York, sells bulk goods via the same reusable weighing process as Conway, with no packaging and zero waste. Recently, Waitrose, a large UK supermarket chain, debuted a zero waste system where customers can refill their own containers at reusable stations – a remarkable victory for zero waste advocates.
But these small, niche markets are hardly an all-encompassing solution to satisfy the average consumer’s needs. Outlier cases of these wellness influencers leading intense lifestyles is not a model for a sustainable society. Peters writes, “Why isn’t there legislation in place that makes producers responsible?” One approach to environmental policy, known as extended producer responsibility places the burden of reducing post-consumer waste on the producers. The idea is to place restrictions or provide economic incentives to ensure companies cut off the flow of waste at the source. While the OECD has worked towards this for years, government institutions take time to change – especially when fighting against big business.
A few leading companies, inspired by the same sustainable motives as the zero-waste movement, are investing and even implementing waste-free packaging innovations. New materials and processes have arisen designed to solve the challenges of product protection and food delivery without generating waste. For example, a new platform called Loop, has brought together a number of name brands in efforts to create a zero-waste system designed to collect and reuse packaging for a wide range of goods and food products. With Loop, items purchased online arrive in reusable packaging containers, which are then recovered via pickup or customer drop off. Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever are a few of the top companies involved in the project.
Here at EPE USA, we are constantly researching new trends and technologies to improve the sustainability of our packaging solutions. It is exciting to see the growth of the zero-waste movement, the emergence of more waste-free marketplaces, and we applaud the efforts of individuals to reduce their personal waste. That being said, we understand that in order to accomplish the shared goal of living sustainably in our environment, businesses must adapt and create waste-free processes. EPE USA has engineered and implemented packaging designs and closed loop processes to replace non-recyclable material with recyclable material that can be recovered and reused until it needs to be recycled. Our patented technologies reduce the total amount of packaging material required to protect products during transit and is able to reduce costs and improve the environmental impact of packaging waste. We will continue to do our part in providing innovative and sustainable packaging solutions at the lowest possible cost and least environmental impact.