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Why We Choose to Live Zero Waste in South Africa

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Why We Choose to Live Zero Waste in South Africa

When people find out we choose to live zero waste the reactions vary. For some, the concept seems so impossible it can't possibly be true. Some find meeting someone who actually lives a zero-waste lifestyle fascinating. Many are interested but had written it off as an impractical concept. Many more get stuck on the "why"; unable to link the effort to change with any real benefit. No matter the reaction it always evokes a lot of conversation and questions.

What Does Living Zero Waste In South Africa Mean?

The concept of Living Zero Waste does not result in absolute zero creation of waste, even by the most committed zero wasters. Living Zero Waste is a lifestyle choice to continuously move towards taking full responsibility for the waste we produce and ultimately moving away from the need for landfills for household waste management entirely.

There are plenty of blogs with tips on how to live more Zero Waste but few are specific to South Africa. Understanding the South African context is important if you are interested in adopting the lifestyle.

Our Reasons For Choosing To Live Zero Waste

Many people believe living Zero Waste is fundamentally good but don't necessarily make significant changes in their lives. Change, of any kind, takes effort. Effort requires motivation. I am often asked what I believe enabled us to go as far as we did. If I am honest, zero-waste happened by accident as we moved to more natural living. It wasn't the goal but part of a daily choice. I think that makes all the difference. You can read about what it takes to live zero waste on our blog but without the reasons to continue we may not have continued on so long. My top reasons were:

1. A nagging gut feeling: waste just didn't 'feel' right.

We all have an intuition about things, a gut feeling. The amount of waste our 2 person household was generating and the routine of it became a growing pain point for me.

2. What doesn't add value takes value away, from somewhere.

The trend of minimalism and living simply is based on this principle. Everything has to come from somewhere, be made from something and by someone. Someone has to take responsibility, and then the burden, for its production, distribution, consumption, storage, and disposal. This process costs money, space, and natural resources. I constantly questioned whether the value added by the items that ended up in the bin justified their 'cost' to me and others in the chain. I was frustrated with the inefficient use of resources and general wastefulness in how we were living.

3. Taking full responsibility for our lifestyle choices.

I enjoy being self-sufficient and independent. The way we were sending our waste to the curb each week felt like we were shifting the consequences of our lifestyle choices to someone else to manage. Having worked with the local municipalities I knew the challenges our household waste creates and the people that were responsible for managing it thereafter.

4. We were part of the increasing land problem.

We are South African. Land, land use and land ownership is a constant pain point. Land in urban areas is the most critical, most valuable and the most in demand. The land that is required for landfill waste (flat land, usually grassland) is the same land needed for housing, industry development and conservation. In Durban, like many areas of the country, flat land is in very short supply. As long as there is waste, landfills will win the fight for land. It's important to understand the real impact of our waste. We blogged about it here: Your Waste Impact As A South African. We didn't want to be part of the problem anymore.

5. We were creating an increasing land problem for our children.

Once land has been used for landfill it is too unstable and too toxic to be used for development. Ever! It also costs millions every year for municipalities to manage our waste. Millions that could be going into infrastructure developments. This was not a legacy we wanted to continue on for our children.

6. How much was our waste destroying the environment?

It is a fact that our waste destroys the environment. It is just a case of to what extent, in which areas. South Africa is ranked as contributing up to 8% of all plastic waste in the oceans. Most think this is from 'littering'. But we live in a 3rd world country and not all our infrastructure is well maintained. Not all our landfills are well functioning. Waste has increased exponentially in urban areas in the last 20 years. Some of our waste put on the curb will end up part of this 8%. I didn't see how I could moan about waste in the ocean when there was a chance it was mine.

7. It's better for the environment, the planet and the future of humanity.

We scuba dive, we hike, we camp, we explore natural places and do outdoor activities constantly. We have an appreciation of nature and a sense of loss when we see its demise. This we share with many people, but this reason alone is seldom motivating enough to make significant changes to the day to day way of life. We needed extra reasons and there were plenty of them.

The reasons we LOVE the zero waste lifestyle are not the same as the reasons we chose to live a zero waste lifestyle initially. The unexpected benefits were pleasantly surprising.

What reasons for reducing waste resonate with you?