What Does Zero Waste Mean? Everything You Need to Know

What Does Zero Waste Mean

Zero Waste Definition

Zero waste refers to throwing away as little as possible. It means reusing and repurposing objects first and recycling and composting the rest instead of sending them to the landfill. 

If you must throw objects away, it is best if they are biodegradable and break down naturally over time.

Even the most dedicated enthusiasts throw things away, but their goal is to minimize consumption and make lifestyle changes to help the environment.

Why Zero Waste Is Important

We are gobbling up earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate

According to the EPA, the average person produces 4.9lbs of trash per day. That adds up to over 1,700lbs per year – roughly the size of a small car!

Trash Pollution

Some people try to reverse or slow this trend. They make lifestyle changes to where their yearly trash output fits in a mason jar.

National Geographic - Zero Waste

However, these people are not old-school hippies. They are young couples, families, and professionals.

Here is everything you need to know about the zero waste movement.

Zero Waste Origin

The concept of minimizing waste is not new. People have reused and repurposed objects for centuries. Some cultures believe that there is no such thing as “waste” in nature. In nature, everything has a lifecycle and perpetually feeds other systems.

Zero waste aims to apply the same concept to modern society. 

5 Main Principles

The 5 main zero waste principles are refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot. Our graphic below explains each one. 

5 Zero Waste Principles


1. It Prioritizes Generating Less Waste

A lot of people assume we can solve our problem by recycling more. But recycling isn't a perfect solution. 

According to the EPA, only about 32% of our waste is recycled. There is too much waste; plants can't process it all! 

Check out the infographic below from GreenPeace.org. Most items are not accepted and therefore aren't recycled. 

GreenPeace Recycling Myth

Recycling is a helpful practice, but it should be one of our last resorts. 

Zero waste prioritizes eliminating waste in the first place so we can avoid it altogether instead of figuring out what to do with it after the fact. 

2. It Creates a Supportive Community

There are hundreds of online communities and in-person groups dedicated to sharing ideas and supporting one another on their zero waste journey. 

Tons of people have created lifelong friendships and benefited from connecting with like-minded individuals.

3. It Offers Health Benefits

Going zero waste often results in less exposure to toxic chemicals and processed foods. 

4. It Saves Money

Buying second-hand, repurposing items, buying fresh foods, and buying in bulk can save a lot of money. One blogger saved about $5,000 per year!

5. It Reduces Clutter

Studies have shown correlations between minimalism and increased happiness. People with less stuff reportedly have better relationships, less anxiety, and are more focused on having positive experiences instead of collecting things. 

6. You Can Customize It to Fit Your Lifestyle

Lastly, you can make the changes that fit best with your lifestyle. There is no "right way" and lots of people use different strategies. 

For instance, some people eliminate meat and switch to a plant-based diet while others continue eating meat but choose to make their own cleaning products. It is up to you! 

How to Get Started

1. Identify Your Motivation

What is your motivation? Do you want to create a healthier environment for future generations? Or are you an outdoor enthusiast that wants to enjoy nature without pollution?

Your drive and goals will sustain your enthusiasm for this life-long journey.

2. Learn From Others

Seek out experts and fellow enthusiasts. Learn how they got started and what obstacles they have overcome. 

Do your research! Start with books and guides like the ones below. 

Kathryn Kellogg and Julia Watkins are considered the experts on zero waste and their best-selling books have been an incredible resource for hundreds of people!

3. Start With Small Changes

Analyze your daily habits and start making small changes. For example, use a paperless notebook for work or school. Our readers love Rocketbook!

Eco Entrepreneur - Paperless Notebook
Keep the Environment Clean

Go green today! 

Rocketbook is available on Amazon. There are a ton of success stories and our readers rave about it!  

If you are headed to the gym then grab a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one. We love Hydrocell!

Reusable Water Bottle

When ordering takeout decline plastic silverware and extra napkins. 

Start with low-hanging fruit and work your way up to bigger changes. 

If you need more guidance, buy a zero waste kit off the web. They have everything you need to get started quickly!

Zero Waste Kit - Available on Amazon

4. Be Patient

Give yourself a break, don't sweat it if you make mistakes. It is all about the journey and knowing that you are doing your part to help the earth! 

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About the Author Staff Writer

Our writers come from all over the world, but one thing unites them - their passion for sustainability.

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