View Full Version : Recycling vs. Zero Waste Concept

5-13-13, 12:32pm
I used to love to recycle,preferred to purchase recyclable products etc. But then I learned about zero waste where recycling doesn't solve the waste problem just complicates it. I started to think twice about buying goods I could make a home from scratch. Anyone familiar with zero waste ?I know that communities in Japan are starting to shift to zero waste.At this point I really don't buy much , only function matters since anything excessive I am stuck later wasting time donating or getting rid of somehow. Repurposing had become a problem since that took up time and effort repurposing something I had not purpose for.I have really donated tones of extra things and I am glad I did. I am pretty basic and don't mind being creative with the things I do have.Any thoughts?

5-13-13, 1:08pm
reduce - reuse - recycle - there's a reason they are listed in that order. Recycling is the least effective of the three.

5-13-13, 1:19pm
Hi Sylvia -
I've often looked at the amounts of energy it takes to recycle trash, the chemicals used to do so, and the transportation costs, and the overall balance sheet. Here in San Francisco, our major export is trash paper, which is sent to China and made into boxes for sneakers and televisions, then sent back here....And then there are problems with recycled goods, such as fleece made out of old water bottles - which end up putting putting particles of plastic into the water every time it's are washed.

Zero waste is certainly a higher goal than recycling. We try to keep as much carbon from leaving our home as possible (mainly by composting.) I do try to *reduce* first as well (my teenager disagrees with that to some extent), re-use or re-purpose (t-shirts to rags, sheets to pillowcases) and then recycle.

5-13-13, 7:04pm
I work hard trying not to create garbage...the don't bring it in so it doesn't have to go out philosophy suits me very well.

Garbage here in the 'burbs of Tokyo is picked up 5 days per week. The schedule rotates depending upon your neighborhood but here's ours:

Monday - Burnables. Anything burnable that is less than 50 cm in size. MUST be in a clear plastic bag. These items are put into incinerators for electricity.

Tuesday - Misc Plastics. A majority of fruits and vegets are plastic wrapped. Each red pepper I buy is wrapped in plastic, each bunch of bananas, the onions, the potatoes, etc. All this MUST be in a clear plastic bag.

Every other Wed - Non-burnables from pots & pans to rubber tires on your bicycle. Everything must be smaller than 70 cm and no small electronics such as rice cookers, etc.

Opposite Wed - Recyclables such as cardboard, paper, newspapers, clothing, etc. They take the cardboard milk containers, too :)

Thursday - Burnables again, Seafood parts can get pretty stinky if left for a whole week :)

Friday - Recyclables such as glass, metal lids, cans, and PET bottles. but ONLY the PET bottles that have had drinks in them. PET bottles also labeled with the '1' such as salad dressing bottles, orange juice jugs, etc are not included :( No other plastic is recycled.

I used to take my eco-bag to the grocery store each day but soon realized that if I didn't get the clear plastic bag from the grocers then I was going to have to buy plastic bags for my garbage. My largest garbage bag is the plastics from all the fruit & vegetable packaging :(

The yogurt I buy comes in cardboard containers, yay! So only the lid is plastic. My laundry soap is much more concentrated than the kind I used to buy in the states so that bottle is as small as a bottle of water. Progress is being made, just not fast enough for me.

Would love to see a lot more progress towards reducing all that plastic! Do my bananas really need to be wrapped in plastic?

5-13-13, 7:59pm
My former employer recently committed to zero waste. In their case the term is used to say nothing goes to the landfill, but doesn't include recycling or reusing. For a large manufacturing company this is a big step and in a lot of cases a win-win because a whole of the waste has some reuse value and only requires a little rethinking and retooling.

I actually wish we were more like Germany in terms of products for personal use where packaging is regulated by the government to encourage recycling and part of the waste costs are passed on to the consumer. http://www.greenlifepages.com/green-tips/item/369-waste-management-how-the-germans-do-it

Personally, I tend to buy quite a few of my groceries in bulk, which eliminates much of the packaging as well as the sometimes bogus brand marketing promotions on the package. And am more on the reduce side of the equation. But typically end up with assorted combustibles and other waste that is destined toward the landfill just because there are not other choices. I almost get the feeling that this is just a little more than feel good practices, as there really needs to be broader changes through regulations or through corporate responsibilities for ethical practice..

5-13-13, 10:44pm
Thank you for the replies. I guess we all have to figure this out ourselves. Packaging is the problem, but the manufacturers create this problem. After all, recycling is a business in itself. My very early years I lived in Communist Poland on the brink of a state of emergency with Russia(1981-think Lech Walesa/Gorbi/Ronald Reagan) and food was rationed, imported goods were very hard to get. People stretched everything and there was little consumerism. There was gardening and pickling, planning for the winter. Times were uncertain yet people were much more sustainable then. They walked and biked. Perhaps that is when people thrive when there is a crisis. In poorer countries we see the create ways like Asia and India how people reuse everything and nothing goes to waste. Recyclable waste is still waste.Perhaps this difficult economy may teach us as a culture to not waste nor create waste.

5-13-13, 11:19pm
We are not at zero waste but we use the smallest trash can size and usually it is only half full, so we have come a long way from where we used to be in terms of garbage. Our biggest trash reduction came from now rarely getting any kind of fast or carry out food. We have saved a lot of money that way, too, on the food front and also a bit for only paying for the least expensive trash can size.

Miss Cellane
5-14-13, 9:09am
Two things I did yesterday.

One, I went food shopping. To carry everything home, I used the two large canvas reusable grocery bags that I bought over 20 years ago. One handle on one of the bags is fraying slightly, but they are otherwise still in good shape. They hold more than the current crop of reusable bags, and get put into service frequently any time I need to carry lots of stuff.

No idea how many plastic bags I haven't used, because I have reusable bags that I like.

The funny thing is, I bought my reusable bags more because I didn't like the new plastic bags that were being introduced back then, than because I wanted to be frugal or environmentally conscious.

Two, went and did my monthly stock-up shopping. This includes all the non-food things I use on a regular basis, like hand lotion and lip balm and aspirin and dental floss and the like. I try to do this only once a month. Every time I get home, I spend about 10-15 minutes just removing the packaging--all the cardboard boxes and plastic shells. (I have limited storage space and removing all the packaging lets me store a month's supply in less space.) Then I have to flatten all the boxes and recycle them.

Where I can, I try to buy things with less packaging--the bottle of aspirin that doesn't come in a box, for example. But when you look at the packaging all at once, instead of bit by bit, you realize just how much of it there is. I love Trader Joe's, but a lot of their fresh produce comes wrapped in plastic on a tray, which seems excessive. The hand lotion that works best for me comes in a tube, packaged in a box. Most of this company's other products do not come in boxes--you just buy the tube or bottle. I've written and asked them why, but not gotten an answer. They just re-did the design of the tube and cap and could easily have redesigned things to eliminate the box, but they didn't.

There has to be some packaging--I can't see carrying home 5 pounds of flour in my hands. But there seems to be an increase in packaging for some goods--I'm told it's to prevent theft. And there doesn't seem to be much effort on the part of mainstream retailers and manufacturers to reduce the amount of paper, plastic and cardboard that is used.

5-14-13, 9:25am
And there doesn't seem to be much effort on the part of mainstream retailers and manufacturers to reduce the amount of paper, plastic and cardboard that is used.
As long as oil and paper are relatively cheap and the costs of disposal fall on others (buyers, trash collectors, and landfills), over-packaging will continue. :(

5-14-13, 7:20pm
I agree with SteveinMN, job security and the life cycle of trash produces more things to buy it in. Sad reality.Companies have this one figured out that's why there may never be a real zero waste incentive since it's not marketable from a manufacturing point of view.

5-14-13, 7:51pm
we are on this process as well.

as we cannot compost in our lot (landlady decided no, once I showed her what we wanted to do), i'm working with city council to get municipal composting at our home. I have 3-4 neighbors interested -- right now they only do it for restaurants. If this angle doens't work, i'm going to ask our local restaurant to do it, and hten we'll take our compostable waste there, which is 90% of our waster.

the remainder of our waste is plastic packaging -- much of our food comes wrapped in it. And, at this point, we aren't able to go without or find an alternative for many of them.

We do take bags for fruit/veg and we choose stuff that isn't wrapped or pre-packaged as much as we can (sometimes paying more for it!), and we take our own grocery bags and for some items (fish, some meats), we can get them to use our own containers (glass/pyrex with silicone lids).

We do have plastics in our home and plastic containers -- usually ones we are re-using (like old ice cream containers). We also buy bulk vinegar, soap, oil, etc -- so we purposefully bought the big 5 liter containers so that we can refill them (plastic), and we have actually bought *extra* ones which we washed out and reuse for our emergency water supply. I re-use glass bottles as well (jars, mostly) for when we buy bulk nuts, seeds, and spices.

But we also do recycle -- and it's quite a bit. I would love to decrease more, but so far we are doing the very best we can. :)

8-6-13, 2:53pm
We try to also reduce, reuse and recycle. SO works at a business that has 5 gallon plastic cans that we wash out thoroughly. We have two rain barrels at the polebarn, so when they fill up, we take these 5 gallon cans and drain the water into them. We use the rainwater to water the fruit trees and gardens (lots of raised beds). We actually have a trailer wagon (small) that we attach to the back of the riding mower to go from site to site -- to give you an idea I have 10+ acres that is a L-shaped. Also compost any egg shells, food ends if there are any (no meat, though). Will be expanding garden area next year with a section of all blueberry bushes. Currently have a 3-year old section of raspberry bushes (had more but the neighbor who lets his 3 dogs run loose - urinated on the raspberry bushes and killed some). I make my own laundry detergent and use old liquid laundry detergent containers. I also got some free hair conditioner which I mixed with 1 cup softener to 2 cups vinegar to make laundry softener as I can't use conditioner (if it seems to thick for you, you can always add more vinegar or water). This laundry softener is also put into recycled containers. I constantly reuse them so I don't throw them out unless they end up getting punctured or a crack and leak.

8-6-13, 7:45pm
Bea Johnson (author of The Zero Waste Home) has the "5 R's" rather than three: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot
"Refuse" refers to cutting down on packaging, using reusable containers, buying bulk, etc.
"Rot" is composting, of course. Zoebird, you might consider a worm composting bin - your landlady would never know the difference. It's just another storage tub on the shelf :-)

Refusing is turning out to be the most painful. Bringing a Mason jar to the meat counter to stuff my fish fillets into? Bringing your own take-away container to a restaurant? It's just out of my comfort zone. But setting aside regular containers for bulk olive oil, grains/nuts/seeds/flours/dried fruits, almond butter, serve-yourself deli case things like bulk olives.....that I can do. It's a pain to get the tare weight of the container, and some of the people at the checkout still need to call a manager to figure out how to back out the weight of my reusable container, but at places like our nearest Whole Foods it's pretty painless, because they're used to it.

I'd love to get closer to Zero Waste but it's all such a balancing act: Time versus cost versus headache versus....virtue.

8-6-13, 8:30pm
I have a very similar comfort zone pug. There are a few places that I just simply bow to the status quo. The five "R's" is a very cool take on the process. It seems there are lots of ways to refuse that appeal to someone like me (mindless western consumer of more planetary resources than he deserves, but wants to do better). The Mason jar for fish idea you mentioned is, like you pug, one that wouldn't work for me at all. As with everything else I'm sure the 80/20 rule applies here. If we can help get everyone to what should be a relatively painless 80% reduction I'd say that would be an excellent first step.