One summer in 2014, while sitting in a car driving from Brussels to Luxembourg, I was bored. This is the moment an idea came upon me suddenly, a sort of intense Eureka moment with a bright light-bulb: “Luxembourg needs a packaging-free organic grocery store!”. This would be the solution to all the packaging waste we bring home. But then I wondered, “Does such a store even exist? Is it feasible?”. As soon as I got home, I asked my research assistant, Google, to look into it. This is how I discovered Béa Johnson’s book and the “zero waste” movement. All over the world, there were people trying to avoid waste at its source. I decided to become one of them. It was the start of a beautiful adventure that would lead to take part in the opening of OUNI, Luxembourg’s first packaging-free store.
But first… what is zero waste?
People who aim to live zero waste lifestyle try to avoid waste as much as possible. They apply the principles of the “waste hierarchy”, a way to prioritize how we minimize waste.
The first two elements of the hierarchy, reduce and reuse, refer to waste prevention and are the least harmful to the environment. Only when the possibility of those two strategies has been exhausted should recycling be an option. Despite the benefits of recycling when compared to manufacturing new products from virgin materials, recycling does use energy and create pollution. It’s also a cumbersome and expensive process. Plastic is often more down-cycled than recycled (a plastic bottle cannot become a plastic bottle again). Glass recycling is also difficult.
This is why waste prevention at the source is the best option. It requires a slight shift of mindset to stop engaging with things that will very quickly become waste.
After applying these simple principles, some zero wasters send very little or no waste to the landfill or incinerator. Béa Johnson and her family of four are famous for having pushed the zero waste lifestyle to its limits. Their yearly trash fits into a small jar. Lauren Singer, who is single and lives in New York City, has several years of non-recyclable trash in one jar. Some companies, which apply zero waste or “cradle to cradle” principles, design their products so that all the parts of the products can be reused.
The Waste Hierarchy
Anyone can take part: every little bit counts
“There are no small actions when we are millions doing them.”
While no one ever achieves absolute zero waste, aiming at producing no waste at all makes it fun and challenging. Consider it a game you are playing with yourself trying to overcome hurdles and finding alternatives. Don’t stress if you do not manage to avoid waste all the time. Every little bit counts. Imagine if all of us would refuse plastic bags and plastic bottles? The demand for these products would disappear and so would the production.
With time and practice, circumventing waste will become a second nature, and before you know it, you might find yourself taking out the trash bin less frequently and devising new strategies to prevent waste from entering your home.
In my next blog posts for HealthyLux, I will share some zero waste tips. In the meantime, shopping in bulk is already a great step that will make you feel like you’re saving the planet while running your errands.
Here’s a picture of my latest shopping at OUNI, it includes muesli, rice, milk, cream, cookies, chocolate, olives, cheese and butter, fresh fruits and veggies etc. – and it will generate zero waste from packaging.
Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below or on the HealthyLux forum.
Vanessa Paul is a co-founder and Board member of the cooperative OUNI, Luxembourg’s first packaging-free organic grocery store. OUNI opened its doors in December 2016 and offers a wide variety of food and household products in bulk or in reusable containers. The shop also offer a series of unique products that will help you reduce your waste, from reusable nespresso capsules to Furoshiki gift wraps.