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The Humanitarian Side of Everything: Zero Waste Living

Welcome to "The Humanitarian Side of Everything: Creating Positive Impact in Your Daily Life" on Listenable! This is Lesson Two, and I'm your host, Alexa. In this lesson, we're talking about zero waste living.

You might have heard of Bea Johnson. And if you haven't heard of her, you've likely seen photos of her trash. Throughout each year, Johnson collects all of the trash that she accumulates and is able to fit it in a mason jar.

Johnson is a proponent of zero waste living, a lifestyle in which one attempts to eliminate or reduce the amount of waste they create in their daily lives. The stereotypical Zero Waste advocate makes their cleaning products at home, shops with reusable, organic cotton bags, and uses a bamboo toothbrush. If that sounds extreme to you, you're not alone – most people aren't ready to make drastic lifestyle changes.

The truth is that reducing waste is important. The largest percentage of all soil pollution in the US comes from landfills. Garbage is just bad for the environment – especially when it ends up in our waterways and disrupts the habitats of animals.

Some argue that while individual actions are important, the real culprit of climate change is large corporations. It seems to be true that large companies are largely to blame for carbon emissions – in fact, 100 companies are to blame for 71% of all industrial emissions. Some even say that individuals are statistically blameless for climate change.

Does that mean that we should forget the zero waste movement and instead just boycott these large corporations? Or lobby Congress for more regulations of fossil fuels and carbon emissions standards?

It seems that both our individual actions and the actions of corporations must be targeted in order to combat climate change.

As an individual, you can start small – use reusable bags at the grocery store, buy shampoo and conditioner as a bar rather than in a bottle, and recycle as much as possible. There are dozens of great zero waste blogs and role models out there to inspire your transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. Start small so that you don't burn yourself out. As you make changes, share those changes with people in your life so that they can have a greater impact as well.

Collectively, we as consumers need to hasten the transition to a circular economy. In a circular economy, there is no waste. Rather, every material can be reused, recycled, or can biodegrade. In a circular economy, the concept of garbage or waste is eliminated, because everything can become something else or go back into nature. For example, if you're done wearing a pair of shoes that are created to be circular, every component of those shoes, from the sole to the laces, could be somehow reused or recycled. Shifting to this sort of economy takes changes at every level – from consumers to corporations.

As individuals, we also have the power to lobby corporations and the government. Our individual lifestyle changes won't cumulatively stop climate change when corporations make up the bulk of emissions. Creating positive change at that level requires collective action. Be sure to vote and contact your representatives to support legislation that addresses climate issues. You can also contact corporations directly to push for systemic change in their business and climate practices.

That's the end of lesson two. We learned about zero waste living and its role in combating climate change. We also learned about the role of corporations and their emissions.

In the next lesson, we'll talk about your favorite t-shirt.

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Written by

Alexa Bussmann