by Kimberley Graham
A lot of terminology is thrown around in relation to sustainable living.
Two concepts that may be used interchangeably, but are not the same, are ‘minimalism’ and ‘zero waste’.
Minimalism is more of a broad concept or guiding principle for living, whereas zero waste is an end-state or a target. This article will a delve a bit deeper into what each of these concepts means and describe what type of lifestyle choices both minimalist living and zero waste living may involve.
What does Minimalism mean?
Minimalism is an alternative way of living that questions mainstream mass consumption. Minimalist living is a strategy for living that is often referred to as ‘voluntary simplicity’. This perspective of life was featured in the writings of Thoreau, and is grounded in a more holistic view of living that seeks to minimise material needs. The focus is on finding enrichment and purpose in non-materialistic sources of meaning and satisfaction. This perspective has also been reflected in ancient texts of Chinese Philosophers, such as Lao Tzu, who observed ‘He who knows he has enough is rich’. Thoreau argued a similar line, that ‘those who have enough, but who do not know it, are poor.’
Many social movements that invite minimalist lifestyle choices diverging from the mainstream stem from this border perspective of minimalism and simplicity like the ‘Tiny Home Movement’, ‘Buy Nothing for a Year’ and the rise of eco-conscious communities around the world. These eco-communities are often based on ‘intentional living’ or ‘compassionate living’ principles. Minimalism may lead to zero waste, but it does not necessarily equate to zero waste.
So what is a Zero Waste lifestyle?
Living completely zero waste is possible if you grow your own food, compost, only use, wash and reuse containers that are reusable and only buy in bulk without using plastic bags or packaging. Any packaging or materials used should be fully recycled and put back into the economy. The true concept of zero waste is actually synonymous with ‘circular economy’. Circular economy represents a vision for the reuse and recycling of every item and product currently in existence. In a way, it directly challenges the idea of waste as invalid by proposing that all materials currently in circulation in the world do have a value and can be reused. Indeed, many materials that are in high demand, for example metals found in electronic products, are not unlimited and will need to be recovered from existing products in the near future if there are no innovations to find suitable alternatives.
‘Zero Waste living’ also reflects what is happening in the natural world, as well as encompassing the way indigenous people lived for thousands of years. In the forest, all leaves that drop to the ground from the trees decompose and return to the soil as nutrients. This recycling of matter means that nothing is ever wasted. Indigenous people lived in harmony with nature by only taking what they needed and never over harvesting any one resource. They were at one with nature.
Minimalist living is a pathway to zero waste, and zero waste is actually inviting you to consider: is there actually such a thing as waste? Can everything be reused?
In summary, both minimalism and zero waste living can be great paths to increase your happiness and reduce your impact on the world. We challenge you to apply any elements of these you feel you can to your daily life.