Can you name the last thing you threw in the trash today? If you're anything like me, you probably have a few takeout containers from your dinner order last week. Your recycling bin might also be overflowing with flattened cardboard boxes from recent online orders. Just by living our lives, we generate all kinds of trash on a daily basis.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash every single day. This makes us one of the most wasteful countries in the world. The zero waste movement is made up of a collective of people who want to minimize the amount of trash that gets sent to the landfill. This movement invites people to minimize their overall impact on the planet by being more intentional about the way they consume our planet's finite resources.
This aspirational goal of zero waste does not happen overnight or without a deeper understanding of what kinds of waste we are even trying to minimize. To understand where to start, we can gather helpful data by performing a zero waste audit. Imagine yourself face-first in a garbage can, emptying its contents on the floor for a better look. A zero waste audit encourages you to get up-close and personal with your consumption habits.
There are two main questions we want to answer with a zero waste audit:
What kinds of waste do we generate?
Where exactly does it come from?
This winter, I found myself digging through Cura's trash like a human raccoon to gain a better understanding of what opportunities existed for the shop to reduce waste. They were able to get this zero waste audit by taking advantage of a free zero waste small business program
for businesses located in southeast Seattle and the Central District. The same issues of waste that exist in our homes exist in our businesses too.
To be considered a zero-waste business, you must divert at least 90% of your waste from the landfill.
This can be accomplished through recycling, composting, and designing waste out of your systems of operation.
During the audit, I emptied out all the trash from the bins and organized them into categories on the floor. I weighed and photographed each category and found that most of Cura's waste comes from their suppliers including packing materials, clothing hangers, and plastic film. With that new information from the zero waste audit, we were able to design some simple solutions including creating a plan to divert the largest waste categories away from the landfill, continuing to find creative ways to make sustainable products in-house, creating resources to help Cura customers understand where purchased items go at the end of their useful life, and more! Cura already values sustainability and utilizes two great sustainable resources for e-commerce businesses: Econenclose for 100% recycled and recyclable shipping boxes and Sendle for carbon-neutral shipping. Performing a zero waste audit gave Cura clear next steps on new areas to explore their sustainability journey.
The first step to tackling our waste problem is to come to terms with its existence. You can figure out what you can do to contribute the zero waste movement by performing a zero waste audit in your own home. It can be as simple as keeping track of everything you throw out in a day in the notes app on your phone or on a scrap piece of paper. Or, if you're ready to get a little dirty, you can do a full zero waste audit like the one I did for Cura. Once you know what kinds of things are typically heading from your home (or business) to the landfill, you can start to shift your habits to reduce waste and contribute to a more sustainable world.