It’s such a long-term problem that it’s easy to forget or slack off, but climate change isn’t going away. If consumers don’t make major lifestyle changes, things will only get worse.
Climate records, including unbearably high and low temperatures and more extreme weather events, are being broken at faster rates than ever before. Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, and droughts are causing food crises.
World leaders recognize that we are nearing what experts call “tipping points” — events that will push the natural world to points of no return. First outlined in a landmark paper published 12 years ago in Nature, these tipping points include:
- Ice collapse that will lead to massive sea level rise
- Loss of forests, permafrost, and other natural carbon stores that will drastically alter the biosphere and release more carbon dioxide into the environment
- Shutdowns of ocean circulation systems
While some experts believe these tipping points will occur when average global temperatures exceed 5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, others believe irreversible damage will occur with just 1 degree Celsius of warming. The lower threshold of warming has already occurred, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything consumers and business owners can do to slow and reverse the trend.
This is where zero-waste living comes into play. People ask why zero waste is important against climate change, and the answer involves the waste and energy it takes to create products.
By implementing zero waste practices at home or within a brand, it’s possible to slowly shift the global trend away from environmental disaster.
Concerns With Resource Extraction
Wasteful packaging; disposable, single-use items; and products with built-in obsolescence don’t just appear from thin air. These items are made from natural resources such as trees, chemical compounds, and minerals dug up from the ground.
Extracting raw materials disrupts and pollutes natural ecosystems. Processing these resources also requires heavy machinery and industrial factories that spew harmful emissions into the environment. All of this happens before the consumer sees the final product — even before the product gets built, a process that also generates waste.
Constant consumption of new products leads to environmental degradation and strips the environment of limited resources. Alternative practices such as reducing consumption, reusing old items, and relying on recycled or upcycled products all curb the need to extract or harvest materials.
There is a reason why smokestacks are associated with the production of goods and materials: Harm to the environment doesn’t stop after extraction or harvesting.
Manufacturing processes release harmful chemical emissions into the atmosphere and lead to waste products that pollute the environment. Although businesses can install greener systems or revamp their production processes, this often becomes a case of what is known as “greenwashing” — perhaps a company can stop factory emissions, but it still relies on dirty energy sources that emit toxic output into the environment.
The buck doesn’t stop with extraction or production.
All the raw materials that get extracted must be transported to the manufacturing site. Afterward, the products must leave the factory by train, container ship, truck, or van. Then, there’s preparing the product for the store shelf; items for sale get shipped from one plant to another as they get processed to become the finished, well-packaged goods consumers see for sale.
Production materials must make many trips before they get picked up by the customer and, eventually, scooped up by the trash truck — using yet another tank of gasoline.
Cost of Disposal
Most people forget about their waste once it leaves their personal bins, but it doesn’t just go away. The cost of waste disposal is enormous.
The methane that seeps out of landfills, for examples, is one of the top sources of greenhouse gas emissions — one ton of methane leads to up to 72 times the warming caused by one ton of carbon dioxide.
Some municipalities will just burn trash using emission controls as a “greener” alternative, but that solution isn’t much better — the incineration process and electricity use both generate notable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
Even recycling systems demand energy use that subtly contribute to climate change.
Realities of Ocean Pollution
Trash doesn’t always make it to the landfill. Without responsible disposal, waste often ends up in places that are devastating to the environment.
Single-use plastics have clogged the oceans. At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, and the waste has become a widespread problem that has devastated marine ecosystems:
- Plastics lead to disturbing effects such as indigestion, suffocation, and entanglement of marine animals.
- Trash often makes it back to beaches and accumulates in enormous garbage patches in the ocean.
- Microplastics and toxic contaminants can make it back to the water we consume.
Destruction of Forests Continue
Our world’s forests are being cut down at an alarming rate to supply the products people consume — whether to create paper-based products or provide space for businesses to operate.
Deforestation reduces the world’s ability to process carbon dioxide and filter the air. What’s more, as climate change becomes more severe, more uncontrollable forest fires will wipe out areas that were once protected — meaning fewer opportunities to reverse the troubling environmental trends.
Zero Waste is Better for Communities
When it comes to climate change, people often throw up their hands and turn their heads. The problem seems insurmountable, and the solutions seem arcane. What is zero waste, and is it even possible?
Experts believe it is. Studies show that zero waste products and zero waste living habits can help to curb greenhouse gas emissions by more than 400 million metric tons of CO2 per year by 2030. Efforts to dramatically reduce waste by adopting practices such as upcycling will benefit both the planet and the people who inhabit it.
Consumers and businesses can support their communities by learning more about their ecological footprint and living habits. By taking part in and encouraging zero waste living, it’s also possible to save money too.
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