Zero Waste, Conscious Consumption and Eco-Friendly Naturism
Winter is the season of gift-giving, and while I’m grateful for the things I received over the holidays, I can’t help but think about their packaging. All the plastic, the garbage, the potentially recyclable and completely non-recyclable pieces that have come with these gifts.
What will happen to this garbage? If it goes into recycling, will it actually get recycled and how? I can throw it away, but where is “away”? Will it end up in a landfill or wash out into the ocean and eventually end in the stomach of some unsuspecting bird or animal looking for food? Or how about in the stomach of a fish that later lands on someone’s dinner plate?
Over the last few months, I’ve become much more aware of the environmental impact of what I consume. I’ve paid attention to what I throw “away” and I think about what will happen to it after it leaves my home.
We are in the middle of a worldwide environmental crisis and waste is a big part of it.
The United States represents 5% of the world population but we produce 30% of the world’s trash. Most US products – 80% — are used only ONCE before getting tossed.
According to the EPA, Americans generate 4.40 lbs of waste per day. In 2013, we generated 254 million tons of trash, and about a third of this – 87 million tons – was recycled or composted. The remaining 167 million tons went to landfills and incinerators.
A big portion of this – 35 million tons per year – is food waste. This adds up to 165 billion dollars’ worth of food each year. As activist Rob Greenfield points out, this is “more than the budgets for America’s national parks, public libraries, federal prisons, veteran’s health care, the FBI, and the FDA combined.”
Not only is this appalling considering the fact that we still have a hunger problem (1 in 6 Americans is food insecure), but food scraps in landfills produce methane gas. And that contributes to global warming / climate change.
The overall recycling rate is about 34% and could be much higher. But even though recycling does help, it is definitely not the answer to our waste problem.
I used to think that recycling hard plastics such as bottles and containers was a responsible, sustainable way of reducing waste. I figured those plastic bottles were getting recycled into new plastic bottles. But most of the time, this is not what happens.
From creation to disposal, plastics are a huge source of pollution. A lot of the plastic we produce doesn’t get recycled. Plastic water bottles, which you would think are easy to recycle, are only recycled at a rate of 31% at best.
But when these bottles do make it to a recycling facility, they are most often “down-cycled.” This means they are turned into a different plastic product, such as synthetic textiles and carpeting. This might sound reasonable, but these products end up polluting the oceans and environment with more plastic! Meanwhile, virgin plastic must be used to create new bottles… So what is the point of that kind of recycling?
So what happens to the non-recycled plastics? According to environmental nonprofit 5Gyres, 50% of plastics “are buried in landfills and some are remade into durable goods, but much of it washes out to sea.” Tons of plastics are polluting the oceans and harming wildlife. People find pieces of plastic toys from the 80’s washed up on beaches or floating in the ocean. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so this stuff never goes away. Instead of biodegrading, they can get broken down into smaller particles by ocean waves and sunlight. This makes it easier for birds, turtles, fish and other animals to mistake those particles for food and eat it.
These plastics are even going into the stomachs of the fish and seafood that humans eat. So we are literally eating the chemical-laden trash we throw away…
Not to mention the toxic chemicals (Bisphenol-A or BPA, phthalates, styrene) that humans are directly exposed to from the production and consumption of these plastics to begin with.
All of this information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumption and waste.
What can we do? Introducing The Zero Waste Movement
I have previously written about a few ways that nudies can live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and I think waste is something we should all be more conscious of in the naturist community. Respecting the environment is part of our naturist values at YNA (and it’s part of the official INF definition of naturism).
This is where the “Zero Waste” lifestyle comes in. Zero waste is an environmental movement of people that are trying to completely eliminate their trash output.
It’s about taking note of the stuff you consume and throw away, recognizing its environmental impact, and making a sincere effort to reduce it.
Over the last few months, I have been transitioning to a Zero Waste lifestyle. For me, it’s hard to continue consuming plastics and non-recyclable materials after becoming fully aware of how they directly contribute to so much environmental degradation. It’s hard for me to keep doing things that I know are causing harm to wildlife, people and to all living things on the planet.
Every single thing we consume has a price beyond the dollar sign. We might shell out $2 for a plastic bottle, but in reality we are paying a much higher price in the form of serious pollution and toxins getting into our bodies. Is it really worth it?
Now the point of this is not to make you feel guilty for all the plastic bottles you’ve bought, or to make you feel personally responsible for saving the whole world from its garbage. It’s going to take a concerted, global effort to address climate change, waste, over-consumption and pollution. Governments need to take action and corporations need to be held responsible for their impact. (It also wouldn’t hurt to expect more from nudist resorts and businesses as far as reducing their impact!)
Zero waste means recognizing that our personal choices do matter. They have a direct impact on our own health and that of the world / population.
First Steps to Going Zero Waste
The sad part about our waste problems is that some changes are SO EASY to make… and yet, most people don’t think about it. From this, one might conclude that most people don’t care. But I don’t personally believe that. I think many just need to be reminded of the simple actions they can take and why they matter.
As a society we are so dedicated to the consumption and convenience of single-use products without giving a second thought to the consequences of this lifestyle. We need a wake-up call.
Here are two simple zero waste changes that anyone can make:
No More Plastic Bags!
Plastic bags are gross and unnecessary. They’re polluting the environment and because they’re lightweight, they become traveling litter (“urban tumbleweeds”) and end up in places where they really don’t belong. Like in trees and storm drains. Plastic bags don’t belong on this planet, period!
Switch to reusable bags and cloth produce bags for groceries. Buy a bunch if you need to and keep them in your car, in your purse, in your jacket pocket and everywhere so you’re never caught without a bag. (You can also reuse the plastic bags you already have until they’re worn out.)
“But I only use paper bags – aren’t those an eco-friendly alternative?” – No. While paper bags are a little better than plastic, they are not a viable alternative because of the huge amount of energy and water needed to make them. A whole gallon of water is used to manufacture each paper bag, while .008 gallons is used to make a plastic bag.
Reusable Water Bottles and Coffee Cups
In the United States we use 1,500 plastic water bottles per second. And when you buy bottled water, you’re paying $1,000x more for this water than what you can get from the tap!
For consuming drinks like coffee, we throw out 58 billion paper cups per year.
The alternatives for these are easy to find and easy to use. The best kind of reusable water bottles are stainless steel, and these last forever.
For coffee or tea, there are stainless steel and glass mugs. Mason jars have also become a popular portable container for water, coffee, juice and any other kind of liquid. (Always avoid plastic and Styrofoam!)
Zero Waste Principles
Zero waste is generally focused on these 4 R’s: Refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.
We refuse what we do not need (especially junk like cheaply made “freebies”) and refuse single-use items or anything for which there is a better alternative.
We reduce consumption of plastics and other harmful materials.
We reuse what we can instead of throwing away perfectly good things after one use.
We do our best to recycle or compost whatever is left.
The most important, first step of going zero waste is to pay attention to what and how much you’re throwing out. Then consider what you can reduce or replace with a reusable or more eco-friendly alternative.
Going zero waste is very much a gradual change and doesn’t happen overnight. For me it has been a series of small changes, and I’m still working on all the R’s. It’s challenging at times, but I feel like I’m now living a more conscious, mindful life. I pay attention to the stuff I and others consume, and I’m so much more aware of how we can do better. (Though also frustrated in seeing all the easy changes we could make for the good of all.) I find it empowering to make zero waste changes and to know I’m making a positive impact.
In future articles, I will share more about my zero waste journey and ideas, tips and resources for how we can all live a more zero waste lifestyle!