Is zero waste possible?
To live a life at 100% zero waste as defined by nature is difficult to achieve. We live in a linear economy and our economic growth is tied to consumption. The challenge with this is that we must create something new to ensure our economy prospers. In "Outsmart Waste" by Tom Szaky, he goes through a great explanation of why waste occurs. Waste is a human creation and a human problem. In nature, there is no such thing as waste.
Waste is all about economics. There is a trade-off between waste and economic growth. The U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and the GDP's all of other countries indicates the health of the economy. This economy indicator is based on output, more over the productivity of it's citizens to generate products. This means that in order for the economy to be doing well, we have to be creating, manufacturing and this means consuming. After all, where do all of these newly created products go, either we use them or it goes to waste.
Garbage is a completely human concept because it is our own chronic consumption that leads to the creation of complex and disposable materials. We are always looking and wanting the next big thing. This desire means we get a new iPhone even though our existing phone is still functioning. We buy new clothes when we already have a closet full of them. We define our lives on the accumulation of stuff and this is where waste is generated. The concepts of marketing and advertising and the advances in technology create lots of new materials even before old ones break.
Szaky cites that garbage does not exist in nature because there is no such thing as chronic consumption. Nature is in itself a circular economy. Nature control predators, competition and lack of abundance. If we just observe nature for one season, we see how fallen leaves compost back into the earth making the ground richer ready to fertilize for spring flowers and plants. Animals eat and hunt what is available. Balance exists in nature.
Is zero waste possible?
No, BUT that shouldn't stop us. We can all try to be conscious consumers. To really think about what we need and how we can reduce the amount of items we consume and the amount of waste we generate. Yes, we can argue that some people have achieved it with a jar full of trash, but this is still waste. Yes, we can argue that some people live off grid but the materials they are using to help them live an off-grid life still required resources, materials and waste to be generated (ie. solar roof, construction materials, etc.)
I'm not trying to kill the bubble here. I'm trying to put some perspective on this because I think many times people get caught up in the waste in a jar thing that they never do anything to reduce their waste. There's a lot of thinking that says "I would never get to that so why should I try." Consequently, people get hung up on the term "zero waste." We live in an interdependent society and economy, yes one may be able to significantly reduce their waste, but let's not distance ourselves from the fact that any item we buy produces some kind of waste in the manufacturing or transportation process. The jobs we hold may be waste generators. Use the word "zero waste" but let's be real and clear with ourselves about what this means.
Zero Waste is a goal. Zero Waste is a way of thinking. There is no right or wrong, just the intent to reduce waste the best way we can given where we live in the world and the resources available to us.