Low Waste Living with Christine Liu
A truck load’s worth of rubbish lands in our oceans every minute of every day – 12.7 million tons per year. We’re guilty of wasting a third of all the food we produce along with the 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2 involved in its production. And Global Footprint Network estimates that we are currently using the resources of 1.6 earths – much more than the planet can recreate.
The statistics are overwhelming. But they’re also beginning to prompt a positive movement to reduce the waste that humanity creates. Some governments are taking baby steps in the right direction. And individuals like Christine Liu from San Jose in California, are doing their own part to counteract the wasteful habits we’ve all adopted.
It was Christine’s undergraduate studies in product and packaging design which first gave her a new outlook on the things we produce and consume. “Upon learning that the United States makes up 5% of the world’s population but generates 40% of the world’s waste, and discovering more about the consequences of our addiction to single-use plastics, I began a personal journey to reduce the amount of waste I generated.” She stumbled upon the concept of zero-waste living and has successfully incorporated it into her life for the past two years.
Zero or low waste living means dramatically cutting the amount of waste we contribute to the world. It sounds simple. But when you consider the everyday items – the plastic bags, the plastic bottles, the food packaging, the food past its sell by date, the grooming products, the old technology – that we use or throw away on a yearly basis it’s clear that going zero waste requires a complete overhaul of how we think. We’re accustomed to mindless consumerism. Something that the planet isn’t able to cope with on a long-term basis.
“Our world has been living in excess ever since the Industrial Revolution,” says Christine, “Excess resource consumption leads to an unstable ecosystem…with the consequences of climate change, drought, material shortages...Zero waste living means consuming just what we need and changing our consumeristic economy. That way we can help reduce the emissions, energy, and resources we are unnecessarily pulling from our earth and help to maintain the balance it needs for future generations.”
Having adopted a zero waste lifestyle, Christine says her life and her consumption have changed for the better. She now has a “healthier relationship” with the things she consumes. “Since becoming zero-waste, I've had better self-control over my purchases. I buy only the things I need. I buy less but also buy higher quality, sustainable items.” This has meant ruling impulse buying out of her life. “If I'm debating on a purchase, I give myself at least a month to decide whether or not I need it. I let it sit in an online shopping cart or on a physical shopping list on my refrigerator. This allows me to see what it’s like to live without certain items. And decide if I truly need something.”
It’s also meant buying consciously – looking up a brand’s sustainability practices and seeking out products that use natural materials before parting with her cash. When food shopping, she chooses a local farmer’s market over a big supermarket. The seasonal food she buys requires fewer pesticides and produces fewer emissions in transportation. “Buying second-hand is another great way to help reduce the emissions needed to produce new items,” Christine tells us, “We reduce the carbon footprint of a product considerably when we find opportunities to reuse it.”
For the items she can’t do without, she’s sought out sustainable alternatives wherever possible. She’s swapped biros for a fountain pen. Soap dispensers for natural soaps with recyclable packaging. And disposable razors for safety razors with recyclable blades. Heading out for groceries, Christine goes prepared. Cotton shopping bags, mason jars and tiffin containers help her to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging that will just be thrown away when she gets home. She also shops on a weekly basis, buying as little as possible and finishing everything before buying more. Leftovers are frozen and food scraps are composted.
The changes Christine has made mean she is able to recycle the majority of her waste. In fact, she managed to fit a whole six months’ worth of non-recyclable and non-compostable waste into just one jam jar. But, she says, for those just starting out on a zero-waste journey it’s best to start small or it’s easy to become disheartened.
“It’s very difficult to live completely zero waste considering the amount of plastic we consume in our society…I tackled it one item at a time,” she says. Whenever she threw something away she thought about the alternatives. “Toothpaste tube? OK, time to look up a recipe for tooth powder. Ziploc bags? Hmm, let’s go for some reusable Tupperware instead.” Zero waste living means taking the time to question and research products. But Christine feels it has simplified rather than complicated her life. Her home is free from clutter. She lives minimally. And she can be confident that her choices are limiting the impact she has on the world around her.
“No matter what I do, I will have some sort of impact on the planet,” accepts Christine, “I’m human and I need resources, carbon and energy which is all gleaned from the earth. But,” she continues, “I can be more conscious about how I consume. And make sure I give back to the planet and people around me, ensuring that future generations can also appreciate all the resources and beauty I've experienced. It's about taking just what you need, and making sure there's still enough to go around.” Living a zero or low waste lifestyle is a challenge. But one we have to face up to if we’re to preserve the beautiful planet we live upon.