What is in this article?:
- How the zero-waste movement is changing the way we live
- Manufacturers get onboard
The zero-waste movement is changing how we buy, eat and live. Here's how to join in.
I was 21 and on a clandestine rescue mission. Objective: Get chocolate. Target: The dumpster next to a local chocolate factory. Come nightfall, my college friends and I snuck to the dumpster. Inside, we discovered mounds of dark chocolate glistening in the moonlight—massive slabs that appeared to be fresh off the conveyor belt, studded with dried raspberries and chopped almonds.
We shoved as much as we could carry into a bag and drove off. We tentatively took small bites, after carefully inspecting for rogue debris, and found that it was just as delicious as the brand’s pricey wrapped bars.
A surplus of scary stats
Unfortunately, this discarded chocolate I “rescued” in college is not an outlier. A 2013 report by the World Resources Institute, for instance, estimates that one out of every four calories from food grown for humans in the world is not ultimately consumed. And out of this statistic, Americans are some of the worst culprits. In the United States, a whopping 40 percent of food is thrown away—nearly 20 pounds of food waste per person every month.
These are frightening numbers, considering one in six Americans lives in a food-insecure household, and food production requires so much energy, agricultural chemicals and water. Comedian and social commentator John Oliver said it best on his show Last Week Tonight: “When we waste food, we’re wasting all the labor and natural resources that went into making it. It seems especially unwise that farmers are pumping water into food that ends up being used as a garnish for landfills.” When you throw out an apple, for example, you’re also throwing out the 17 gallons of water it took to grow it. This is even more concerning when it comes to produce such as artichokes, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, garlic, cauliflower and almonds that are primarily produced in California, a state gripped in a four-year drought.
Enter the zero-waste movement
These disturbing statistics are not going unnoticed. A growing number of natural enthusiasts are taking note of the zero-waste movement, led by people who strive to minimize food, clothing and household purchases and prioritize products with compostable or reusable packaging—or no packaging at all.
Books, blogs and Pinterest boards about reducing waste boast increasingly large audiences. While shoppers have for many years cared about whether their chocolate or coffee was sourced consciously—a value that fuels certification labels like Fair Trade USA and the Rainforest Alliance—now they scrutinize what will happen after the food is purchased. How can they get the most out of the food? And where does the packaging end up?
“The time is right to talk about food waste because multiple things are happening at the same time,” says Jen Rustemeyer, producer of the food waste documentary Just Eat It. “The cost of food is going up, the number of hungry people is going up, population is increasing and there is awareness of the pressures food growing puts on our limited land and water resources.”
To combat food waste—and the excess packaging and trash associated with it—those who follow a zero-waste lifestyle aim to maximize the use of the food they buy or grow and to keep household items (think cleaning bottles, paper towels and plastic wrap) out of landfills, too.
One Zero Waste Challenge asks participants to fit all of their trash for a 24-hour period into a mason jar. Other challenges are way more extreme, urging participants to fit all their trash for an entire year into a mason jar. “The majority of our trash by weight is from packaging, with food scraps and yard trimmings each adding about 13 percent in weight to the garbage can,” writes zero-waster Amy Korst, author of The Zero-Waste Lifestyle (Ten Speed, 2012).