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Zero waste is…common sense

As a ‘waste expert’ my friends often ask me to solve their various personal waste dilemmas. This morning’s question from one of my roomates was “What am I supposed to do with all these mismatched socks?” My response, “Umm, wear them and not care that they are mismatched?” After all, socks are a clothing item that is rarely seen and if they serve their purpose then does it matter if one is red and one is black? It matters even less if they are the same colour, as were the poor mismatched souls in my roomate’s pile. Problem. Solved. These simple, common sense solutions are often the ones that we forget about.

Make a fashion statement and reduce waste all at the same time!

We often forget about common sense as many of our waste solutions have become overly complex. For example, we have developed incredibly complex recycling processes which concentrate solely on materials. A more efficient method would be to recognize the function of all those items we throw in our recycling bins. Reusing a product is far more efficient than converting the item to a raw material to be used for the same or similar purpose. This idea comes from Dr. Paul Palmer, the original zero waste theorist. He argues that zero waste is “common sense applied to resource usage.” Although it is common sense to reuse durable goods rather than discard and buy anew this is the dominant practice.

But not so long ago, reusing function was preferred to recycling materials. Most packaged goods in the 19th century were sold with the intention that the packaging would be returned and reused. In 1958, 98% of American soft drinks were sold in refillable bottles. And at home, we’ve often forgot that a little needle and thread can make things brand new. If that’s not your speciality, there are plenty of tailors who would be happy to take on the task for next to nothing. If your socks, tshirts or other clothing are too far gone for repair maybe they can be used as rags to replace your disposable paper towels. There’s no shortage of creative ideas!

So next time some asks you what’s the best way to avoid waste, check to see if common sense can provide the answer.