Zero Waste and the Circular Economy

Getting Real With Zero Waste and Circular Economy

I am in the business of junk. Specifically, I focus on recycling, upcycling, reuse, repurposing, and minimizing taking items to the landfill. It sounds like a lot to worry about, right? Yes, it is. It can all be very overwhelming. What goes where? Where’s the best place to recycle this? How do I get that reused? Who is willing to use heavy, brown, wooden furniture so I don’t take it to the landfill? What do I do with stinky urine-stained couches? How do I repurpose all these ripped clothes? Dirty boxes? How do I recycle those now? Cubicles, too many of them? Particleboard furniture? What does it all mean? 

Let’s define some terms

Zero waste: Simply put it means nothing goes to the landfill. It essentially means living without creating trash. Zero is merely a goal, we will never be there. 

Circular economy: This means completely improving our systems to get rid of waste and put all items back into our economy for reuse. 

Putting it into action

For all of us regular people, it means that we find a way to decrease our needs, to reuse more, to recycle everything else except organics that can be composted. By embracing zero waste, we take responsibility for our waste and make sure it all gets recycled someway. It means mimicking the way nature deals with its waste, it all gets broken down and reused for something else. A simple circular economy would be taking responsibility for our waste and turning it into something we can use. It’s a micro and macro issue. 

When you really think about being zero waste, it’s about shifting your lifestyle to only buying quality items you can use for a long time. We need to put value back into the things we own. A good example comes from a workshop I recently attended.

Patagonia’s creative solution

We had someone from the Patagonia brand there and they were discussing their worn wear line. It’s an interesting story. Patagonia has always been focused on quality. They make products for nature lovers. It’s what their brand is all about. They tried to get into recycling their clothes to minimize items to the landfill. What happened? Their clothes were too well made, and most recyclers declined to work with them because it was too hard to disassemble the clothes for reuse. 

So what did they do? They found a genius solution. First, they will repair any of their items of clothing that have damage so you can keep using them. They are designed to last a long time. If you happen to get tired of an item, guess what? You can turn it in for store credit and they will refurbish your items and resell them for a discounted price to someone else through their worn wear department.

Quality creates value over time

This is a great example of how the whole process works. Yes, their high-quality items are expensive. They are designed to last a long time. They do what they can to keep their stuff out of the landfill. This is a much better alternative than purchasing a discounted item that will last one season and become unusable due to wear and tear. Thrift stores used clothing stores; they are all doing the same thing. We have a plethora of items that are available for reuse right here and right now, so we all have an opportunity to work towards zero waste. It’s not easy and yes, it’s a lifestyle shift. 

We can also prevent waste from happening by not buying items we will not really use. Finally, we need to keep reusing items as long as we can. Glass is a great thing to discuss here. If it doesn’t break there is no end to its reuse. It cleans well. However, glass is difficult to recycle. In fact, it is cheaper to manufacture new glass than to recycle old glass. Austin actually has a pile of glass in a landfill because they can’t find an affordable way to recycle it. Clearly, the best option here is to keep reusing your glass or give it to someone who will. Please do not throw it away. 

Living in a throwaway society

These are hard things to think about doing. We live in a throw it away society. We buy cheap furniture, and we order meals to go or prep at home and they have all the stuff in small plastic packages. The idea of beauty samples seems great. We can subscribe to get boxes of these samples every month. Think of all that waste going into the landfill. Yes, that’s where it goes. Plywood furniture? Much of that type of furniture has a short life before it lands in the landfill. It breaks easily and most charities don’t want it for that exact reason. 

The circular economy and zero waste mindset go far beyond the problem of landfills. There is waste in our whole production cycle. There is the creation of products we won’t use for long. The waste of transporting them to be purchased, delivered and ultimately taken to the landfill. For this reason, most Americans produce over four pounds of garbage every day.

You may be wondering how you can help. Does not using a straw in Austin really help our oceans? The landfill is here not in the ocean. The answer is yes. Everything you do personally helps the whole situation. It’s kind of like your vote. It counts. Ultimately, we need to start valuing the belongings we have, focus on preserving them rather than collecting junk we don’t need. 

Remember, zero waste is a goal. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. 

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