Zero Waste Lifestyle

How can we transition to the zero-waste society in less than a decade?

Not having ‘stuff’ gave rise to resourcefulness which, pretty much equates to zero waste. Zero waste living has been a common feature in times up until the Second World War in much of Europe. People could not afford to waste anything. Ask your grandparents and they will attest to the fact. The old adage; necessity is the mother of invention tells us of a shared mindset. Before we had every consumer product imaginable, the norm was to reuse and repurpose in a meaningful way.

However, this perspective of making good use of things we have, goes much further within the indigenous peoples’ societies. It doesn’t stem from scarcity and poverty mindsets, but the abundance of resources that nature supplies. All we need to do is to learn how to access them and replenish. So that it can nurture us over the long term. This planet friendly focus provides a basis for this more congruent way of life that is aligned with the Earth’s needs.

“Our need will be the real creator”

Plato, Republic.

The peace times and mass production have changed the landscape by silently creating throw-away societies almost everywhere. Our planet is rebelling by creating conditions that are increasingly more challenging for the survival of many species, including our own. We want to rebalance the act and work with the Earth, not against it. A Zero Waste social movement is a vehicle of expression that puts us back on track in terms of reversing the unsustainable trend of waste creation and its management. It is an opportunity to take a hard look at how we manage Earth’s resources.

What is a zero-waste product?

Here are some factors that qualify a zero waste product:

  1. The primary resource – the stuff that makes up the product – is sustainable and ecological – it’s sourcing does not harm people, nature and leaves zero waste
  2. Manufacturing process is sustainable and ecological
  3. Product is durable and doesn’t need excessive repairs during its life cycle
  4. Packaging is not necessary, or it’s as minimal as possible, biodegradable and/or reusable
  5. Ethical supply chain that is attuned to this paradigm and operates within Zero Waste Guidelines
  6. Product is waste free so no recovery of material is necessary

How can I tell it is a zero waste product? 

There are a number of clues. Let’s take online shopping as an example. A large retail platform such as Amazon tends to place orders in an outer box for easier transport and tracking. This creates a vast amount of waste for every order, especially when there is only a single item per order. Companies can now package and ship sustainably through a feature called Ships in Own Container, SIOC. The answer is in design. A true zero waste product won’t require an outer box for safe shipping.

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SIOC method reduces packaging waste

Another great example of zero-waste practice can be making of textile products such as organic hemp and linen clothing, and household accessories. Their durability is unbeatable. So, if designers and seamsters keep fabric waste to minimum, reuse offcuts and your product arrives in an eco packaging, you can tick all the boxes. And that is precisely the idea. Designers and makers create a zero-waste product with this premise in mind.

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Organic zero-waste linen bag by Radecka.

Choosing zero-zero waste products is a lifestyle choice. Even small adjustments to our lifestyles can bring us joy while generating massive gains for everyone.

Grassroots thinking and innovation continue to change the world for the better

History repeats itself but do we head the warnings and learn a lesson?

Being mindful about our resources is a much older story, as far as social movements and concepts go. Back in the 70s the grassroots action gave rise to the recycling innovation. It is most often this force that gives stimulus to others and prods them into action. The recycling story begins in Berkeley, California with a group of scavenging folk, saving usable items from polluting landfills and incinerators. They sorted and sold these usable items to the public. The support of residents meant that the city-owned site granted them a rent-free space for processing and sales. This collaborative effort saved resources by putting them once again into a circulation thus closing a sustainability loop. We can say that this was one of the first significant attempts to kick-start a Zero-Waste circular economy.


One of the main figures of this budding zero-waste movement was Daniel Knapp who founded Urban Ore. The organisation operated a large recovery warehouse and a transfer station. He framed the group’s No Waste philosophy of waste recovery into Total Recycling.

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It is interesting to see how the concept evolved and rolled through several phases of development to become the Zero-Waste philosophy and international standard it is today, albeit voluntary. It framed and expressed the aspirations and frustrations of the grassroots movement at the way we handled waste collectively. Knapp’s waste salvaging operations worked around the principle of turning what he termed the “solid waste stream” into commodities.

The other side of the globe, an Australian non-profit reuse recovery business, REVOLVE, was enacting the similar concept of No Waste. Later the concept morphed into Zero Waste and Zero Waste to Landfill and Incineration.

Zero waste and community-run centres

This small-scale collaborative effort, between a non-profit and government, enabled the creation of a recycling facility, which for the first time saw waste as a valuable resource.

Such centres can be a powerful tool of community and business transformation. By injecting ethics back into manufacturing, trade and waste recovery, we can upgrade all our monetary transactions so that they serve the Earth. We stand much better chance of preserving and replenishing non-finite resources. And we can discover new answers to problems on the way.

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Having resource centres like these in our communities, that link all sectors of society through an active participation in a wide program of improvements, allows us to address the climate crisis on all levels. We don’t need to worry about the problem because we are already part of the solution.

Zero waste gathers momentum across continents

Knapp promoted Zero Waste in the US and toured Australia where he talked to and consulted the Australian government and businesses. He could see how REVOLVE’s groundwork was behind the concept’s uptake, just like in California. It spelled a clear political shift in Australian policies and went on to inspire future recycling creatives and start-ups.

The Grass Roots Recycling Network endorsed the idea. And the favourable timing meant people responded to it and stood with the movement. From the self-reliance standpoint, these waste recovery centres were a vital milestone in the community organising itself and responding to economic and environmental crises.

They opposed and shook up a far too slow, linear and inefficient company-ran structures that did not involve other sectors. The 1995 recycling campaign got a lot of traction thanks to the Internet. The success of the campaign reached the UK’s shores and Wales drew its first Zero Waste plan for Doncaster, UK by 2000. Other countries followed suit.

Zero waste becomes a global social movement


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It takes a long time for an old thinking to fade away and for a new idea and paradigm to take hold in the society. Especially, if it has momentum and energy to kick-start critical mass movements. In case of Zero Waste, it has taken 5o years for the scheme’s international adoption.

In the mid to late 90s No Waste thinking paradigm re-emerged again in Europe. We see exciting proposals of looking at spent yet usable goods through the lens of cradle to grave and a precautionary principle. How they make their way into government policies and university curriculums. It was at Bournemouth University where I learnt about this promising collective declaration of saving the environment through waste recovery. A process that looked at the entire life cycle of products, not just at their final disposal. These are essentially the same idea, but rendered differently.

How Zero Waste can be a springboard for socio-environmental change

Today concepts of resilience and capacity building feature in every sustainable document in every country. We owe this to the grassroots recycling effort that highlighted the collective insanity of rampant growth and waste production. More importantly though, it provided economically and environmentally beneficial answers.

Resource recovery practices have become part of resource management strategies at all levels of government. What’s more, we have more communication means than we had in 1995. But, the question remains: are we doing enough to address the problem? And, is the technology on its own enough to unite us in the fight against the destruction of our climate? Why aren’t we all springing into action at the sight of rubbish islands floating in our oceans? What’s missing in this global resource management puzzle?

How you can get involved and be part of the zero-waste movement

If you ask around, you will find that on the subject of resource reuse, the majority of people will respond in support of it. So, if you live in the area that doesn’t yet have a resource recovery facility or a lifestyle centre, the second-best option is to source and purchase zero waste products. The choice of products is getting bigger with many creative start-ups entering the market by adding products that also give back.

Zero Waste offers many answers, which we listed in our follow-up article on Zero Waste, that help us live better and more sustainably hence Earthvoice fully supports the scheme. Crucially, our in-house innovation – the Integrated Sustainability toolkit – helps travel and (eco)tourism operators design and develop their unique, regenerative social enterprise models and accelerate their sustainability performance. We do this through either enhancing and boosting hotels’ eco credentials for more optimal positioning in the competitive market, or simply by getting them started with sustainability first. This is a precursor to building a fully-fledged program of actionable sustainable enhancements that span and integrate the entire operation and its relationship network.

Learn more about Zero Waste and for freebies, please visit our Resources.


Featured image, Zero Waste France.

Ecoplaza Lifestyle Centre concept developed in the early 1990 and introduced in London, 2004 by Earthvoice.

D. Knapp’s Urban Ore Ecopark –salvaging warehouse selling products to the public. Source.

SIOC scheme. Source.

Linen bag. Source.