Zero Waste Movement

What is the Zero Waste Movement?

The Zero Waste movement is not new. Many of the ideals of this movement can be traced back centuries. Our grandparents and parents will probably remember a time when they returned milk bottles to the store, or used reusable bags, containers, and jars in the kitchen and at the grocery store.

However, there have been some important changes since then, and the concept has suffered some modifications over the years to respond to the new habits of consumption and increasing population. The movement was mostly discussed by academia and policy makers in the last century. In 2002, the Zero Waste International alliance was formed and it was composed mainly by scientists, waste management professionals, and activists. Their goal was to organize conferences discussing papers related to the topic of Zero Waste, while creating guidelines and standards to promote the Zero Waste lifestyle in business, governments and waste management teams.     

It was just in the second decade of the new millennium, though, that the Zero Waste movement came out of the hands of experts and started being a lifestyle adopted by more and more people interested in solving the environmental crises.  Bea Johnson, a French American living in California became one of the most important figures of the movement by sharing her journey on her blog (Zero Waste Home) and then by writing a book about the topic (Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste).

Today, there are many people familiar with the concept of zero waste, in particular because of a challenge started by blogger Lauren Singer named “Mason jar challenge”. The challenge consists in fitting all of your non-recyclable waste into a jar over the course of the year, trying to minimize as much as possible all of your waste. This is a good challenge to start understanding the difficulties of becoming a Zero Waste actor.

Indeed, ”zero waste”  means trying to reduce the garbage and waste we produce to zero, and wants to completely redefine the system, by moving to a circular economy. To achieve this goal, we have to think about our actions, behaviours and consumptions. To obtain zero waste we must rethink what is garbage and how can we give utility to what we call “waste”.

The Zero Waste movement begins by avoiding all types of plastic because plastic is known for being one of the most polluting agents in the environment. Plastic, in modern life, is nearly inescapable — simply washing our clothes, about 60 percent of which is now made of synthetic plastic fibres, releases hundreds of thousands of fibres into the water supply. Waste on dry land is not any better: Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 23 percent of landfill waste comes from packaging and containers. We as consumers can be more conscious and change some behaviours in order to minimize this problem.

The waste we make does not disappear from the world and most of the time it goes to landfills, having enormous consequences for the environment. Firstly, it generates air pollution. About two-thirds of landfill waste contains biodegradable organic matter from households, businesses and industry. As these materials decompose, they release methane gas. Additionally, landfills can also generate biodiversity impacts. According to the Romanian Ministry of Environment and Forests, the development of a landfill site means the loss of approximately 30 to 300 species per hectare. Moreover, landfills also create health and visual impacts, being usually very unpopular to the residents. Due to the increase in vermin surrounding landfills, disease becomes an issue with other adverse health effects, such as birth defects, cancer and respiratory illnesses also being linked with exposure to landfill sites. Having this is mind, we have to minimize as much possible the waste that goes to landfills, being the zero waste lifestyle one of the main alternatives or solutions.

In 2018, Portugal recycled 28% of all residuals, according to Pordata, quite below the average of European Union, which recycles more than 45% of all waste. To overcome this issue, the Portuguese government has created a goal of recycling by 2025, 55% of all residuals. However, it seems that recycling is not enough, we have to create as little garbage as possible. This is where the “Zero Waste” movement enters the scene.

But how can we be more conscious consumers?

There are some tips that we may follow in order to become a Zero Waste consumer or something close to that. It is important to know that no one is perfect and being a Zero Waste consumer is a process.

First of all, you have to establish your “why”. This means that you have to understand and  think about what is leading you to change your behaviour and why you have to do it. In fact, establishing the “why” starts by understanding the environment is in danger and we have to do something to protect the current and future generations.

Here are 10 behaviours that you can adopt in order to start your journey on the Zero Waste Lifestyle:

  1. Eliminate all disposable things from your daily routine by choosing always reusable products;
  2. Minimize or eliminate your food waste;
  3. Avoid plastic bags – adopt a tote bag (made by local designers)!
  4. Stop buying single servings goods, instead prefer the largest size;
  5. Produce your own “multipurpose cleaner”, avoid millions of different cleaners. 


In a spray bottle, combine 1⁄2 cup white distilled vinegar with 1 cup water, and add 10 to 20 drops of tea tree, lavender, lemon or eucalyptus essential oil. Shake well before using.

  1. Use a metal or glass water bottles avoiding buying plastic ones;
  2. Separate your waste;
  3. Buy second hand or rent it (if you think you will not use the good a lot). By doing that, you are avoiding the production of new goods (circular economy);
  4. Adopt the rule of 5 R’s:
    1. Refuse (unnecessary waste creation)
    2. Reduce (consumption and save resources)
    3. Reuse and repair
    4. Recycle
    5. Rot (Compost waste)
  5. Prefer products without packaging. For example, instead of buying a liquid shampoo, you can buy a solid one and by doing that, you are saving the plastic of the shampoo’s bottle. The same happens with shower gel, prefer the soap.

Some suggestions

Search: #ZeroWaste

Listen to: 4th Episode of Green is the New Black!

Buy at:

Homepage Christmas

Donate to:

Read: Zero Waste Home : The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste  by Bea Johnson

Challenge yourself: Make only a jar of waste a year!


17 Ways To Live Trash-Free & Adopt A Zero-Waste Lifestyle in 2017 (Kitchen & Food Edition). (2020). SelfEco Caterware.

eCreating A Society Based On Zero Waste | Scoop News. (2020). Scoop.

mJennings, R. (2019, January 28). Zero waste: how the movement aims to reduce plastic pollution. Vox., M. (2020, August 31).

 A Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Living (Ps, It Doesn’t Happen Overnight). Trash Is for Tossers., M. (2020, November 4). 

The zero waste movement reeks of privilege. Here’s how BIPOC want to change that. Mic.