Zero Waste Principles & how to start

Often time, we hear the terms Zero Waste, no waste, reuse recycling, and even waste reduction, but do we truly understand what those mean? 

Let’s talk about what we believe are Zero Waste principles (or Zero Waste definition), and how you can apply them.

What Is The Concept Of Zero Waste?

The primary purpose of Zero Waste is the creation of a sustainable waste management system to reduce waste and only dispose of it as a last resort. 

By definition, the ultimate target is that no residue is sent to landfills. Several principles define zero Waste. 

Namely, an attitude that encourages a change in the lifecycle of materials and resources.  Consequently, it reduces your carbon footprint

In addition to environmental benefits, it is also a way to improve human health as the ingredients used for home-made products are more natural than their industry-made alternatives.  

These are just some of the reasons why zero waste is important.

Key Principles

  • Refuse: do you need this item twice in several colors?  The first principle resonates as self-coaching practices. Ideally, the first step is to identify the things you truly value. Existential choices can make a remarkable difference.

  • Reduce: Simplify your lifestyle. The concept can be associated with ‘Less is More.’ Going Zero Waste also means being able to keep it simple, to the minimum. For example, this becomes more obvious when it comes to personal belongings. Consumerism is part of our daily lives, thus being able to consume only what you need is part of the journey. Holding on to belongings that have special meaning, or that gives us joy is perfectly fine because they empower us and give us more energy. Keep those and reevaluate your need for more.

  • Reuse:  Firstly, buy second-hand items rather than new ones, locally (if possible). In addition to saving money, this will allow you to help your community(neighbors, small businesses) get rid of goods they no longer use while contributing to the local economy. Secondly, go to stores that allow you to bring jars or containers for “loose goods.” This will limit packaging, drastically reduce your consumption of plastic, and create a sustainable cycle. Thirdly, at a later stage of your going-zero-waste journey, you can also make your own home and beauty products.

  • Recycle: You might not be a scientist or engineer(neither are we), but you can help to design better recycling solutions.  Namely, your choices as a consumer have an impact. Therefore, support organizations that promote recycling and also buy goods(toilet paper, books, etc.) that come from recycled materials. It is also part of our responsibility as Zero Wasters. Did you know that less than 10% of plastic is recycled as of 2015?  Which is, of course, terrible use of resources. Educating ourselves in these numbers is critical.

  • Regulate: As described above, waste disposal to landfills should come as a last resort. Whenever we, unfortunately, cannot directly reuse or recycle, we always take time to explore out of the box options for Repurpose. There is an ever-growing online community that can always suggest creative alternatives. So before you dispose of any garbage, rethink and explore solutions to regulate your waste. 

Lastly, you should always try to ban any material or goods that are toxic to you or the environment. 

Some parts of the community also use the concept of Rot. However, we believe regulating your disposal to its bare minimum and sending waste to landfill as a last resort has broader potential and scope; 

it can be applied in most households considering that indeed, rotting i.e., composting, is not yet easily accessible in most cities.

Lastly, Repair and Recover are also important concepts to remember when going Zero Waste. 

Zero Waste often comes down to implementing the ‘R’ words: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Regulate. Rot, Repair and Recover are other crucial behaviors.

Spices in jars

Who Started The Zero Waste Movement

It is believed that the movement started at the turn of the century, about twenty years ago. The concept of ‘No Waste’ advocated by recycling activists shifted then to the Zero Waste term that we know today. 

It appeared for the first time in New Zealand in a conference led by campaigner Warren Snow and quickly went viral on the internet. 

Another milestone is Bea Johnson’s book “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste,” published in 2013 in which she described her 5 Rs’ method. 

It is often referred to by the community as the core principles of Zero Waste, highlighting the active consumer role in reforming waste management practices.

We can label it today as a social movement that is continuously growing around the entire globe and has become a standard for international organizations. 

Is Zero Waste Success Possible?

Yes, there are a few Zero Waste Swaps that any family can quickly implement. Bear in mind that on top of the benefits it has on our planet, it is also an opportunity for you to reduce your expenses relating to home products( jars, cloth napkins, etc.)  food and beverages(such as water bottles), among others.  

These do not require any effort; you only need to rethink your shopping list to avoid plastic and non-reusable products. 

Getting started is easier than it seems, whether you want to change your habits or those living with you.

However, it is well known in the Zero Waste community that even though the efforts made at individual levels do matter, the current system in most countries does not provide enough incentives for the industrial sector to shift their waste treatment method.  

The traditional treatments are, most of the time, more affordable and economically advantageous. 

And, therefore, prevent a significant change that would trigger sustainable and less polluting recycling methods. 

Let us take the example of Europe (and France in particular), where the authorities have imposed a tax on each ton of waste sent to landfill or incineration. 

However, one of the recurrent comments made by various Zero Waste communities is that these tax rates are too low. 

They, therefore, do not act as an incentive to rethink the whole recycling chain. 

Similarly, taxes should decrease in the case of “virtuous” behavior for both enhanced consumption habits, or more general policy favoring local initiatives. 

And this, whether for individuals or businesses. 

Does Zero Waste Mean No Recycling?


While recycling is not the primary solution behind Zero Waste, it is essentially the last resort, when we think of the 5 Rs. Often, people want to attribute the whole process of zero waste to recycling. Nevertheless, this is not true. 

The idea is to make sure zero waste encompasses more than just recycling and reuse. 

Final Thoughts


These principals can be applied by just about anybody anywhere. Zero Waste ideals and its methodology are not set in stone. 

The main point here is to challenge ourselves to apply as many of these principles as possible and understand that it is an ongoing process regarding waste. 

Control what you can and do not become a liability to the planet.

Remember that we need an inherent change in the way we do our waste management. 

This will take more producer responsibility and integration of business opportunities not only by Zero Waste organizations but also by individuals. 

We need to change everything from product packaging to the life cycle of goods. 

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