The Rise of Zero-Waste


Leilani Wetterau, Staff Writer

“Save the turtles” and many other environmentally conscious phrases have become extremely mainstream. While many view these sayings simply as memes, many others further their research and begin to implement eco-friendly changes into their lives. Some people are even drawn into a life of zero-waste. 28-year-old Lauren Singer, best known for appearing on a TED Talk in 2015, shocked the audience when explaining that two years of her trash fit into a 16-oz mason jar. Since then, zero-waste has become even more prevalent in the media.

What exactly is zero-waste? Despite what most people believe, zero-waste doesn’t actually mean living 100% waste-free. Singer, who is one of the leaders of the movement, shows an extreme case of what a zero-waste lifestyle can look like. Many people see her video and are scared away from the lifestyle. However, as many other zero-waste bloggers and YouTubers can attest to, zero-waste can look different for everybody. Put simply, zero-waste is a lifestyle to create as little waste as possible.

What is the reason for the zero-waste movement? Since the 1950s, our society has become increasingly obsessed with convenience. From microwave meals to smartphones, people are wrapped up in the idea of accessibility. While this seemed great at first, it came at the cost of the environment. Almost every product on the market, including necessities, is packaged in plastic or other materials. It is estimated that the average American produces 1,360 pounds of trash each year, which has been overflowing into our streets and oceans. According to The United Nations Environment Programme, “51 trillion microplastic particles—500 times more than stars in our galaxy—litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife.” The excessive amount of waste polluting our earth is key to the rise of the zero-waste movement.

What is currently being done? While most stores have not gone completely zero-waste, many companies have made strides. Along with the entire state of California, Starbucks, Hilton Hotels, and American Airlines are some of the many corporations to end the use of plastic straws. Other brands, such as Disney, are making commitments to net-zero greenhouse emissions.

How can the average person get involved? It is not necessarily easy or cheap to go zero-waste. In fact, that is one of the critiques of the movement. 

Sophomore Iris Lim agrees that it is “very good for the environment but unfortunately not available for everyone due to different socioeconomic backgrounds.” While many acknowledge that a zero-waste lifestyle is challenging, there are some easy zero-waste swaps that can benefit the environment. A few include swapping plastic produce bags for reusable bags, plastic water bottles for reusable ones, and using package-free bars of soap instead of bottled soap. Another thing to note is that it may cost more money when purchasing these items, but it ends up being more cost-effective in the end because of their reusability. 

Even if zero-waste is not for everyone, people are becoming increasingly aware of the Earth’s environmental state. Freshman Fizzy Panza believes that “reducing our waste and recycling [is] very important and will help our planet in the long run.” If everyone were to make small changes and efforts to improve their impact, one day the term “zero-waste” may not be necessary.