As someone who wants to be as green and eco-friendly as possible, I’m always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly. But there are so many terms out there — sustainable, eco-friendly, zero waste, etc. What do they all mean? And which is the best way to go?
Sustainable, eco-friendly, and zero waste all have different meanings in relation to environmental protection. These terms may seem similar at first glance, but they are significant differences.
Here’s a quick primer on some of the most common green terms. Read on to learn more and find tips on how you can start making your life more eco-friendly.
Sustainability refers to the ability of something to be maintained at a specific rate or level. This can apply to natural resources like forests, water supplies, fisheries, and human-made systems like businesses and economies.
To be sustainable is to minimize one’s negative impact on the environment without sacrificing economic productivity or social well-being. In other words, the ultimate goal of being sustainable is to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations and other living things (e.g., animals, plants) to meet their own needs.
Eco-friendly is often used interchangeably with sustainable, but there is a difference. Eco-friendly refers to environmentally friendly products. Eco-friendly products produce little or no hazardous substances into the environment when they are disposed of properly.
Eco-friendly products may or may not necessarily be sustainable, but they are specifically intended to impact the environment less than other similar items. For example, eco-friendly clothing could be made from organic cotton instead of conventional cotton, which uses up to 25% more chemicals in its cultivation.
Being eco-friendly means you can feel good about your purchase because it was made with the environment in mind, but it doesn’t mean that the product is perfect. It’s important to be mindful of how you dispose of eco-friendly products, as improper disposal can negate any benefits they have for the environment.
Relatively straightforward, zero-waste means reducing one’s negative environmental impact as much as possible by focusing on reducing consumption and reusing, recycling, or composting what is already made.
The term “zero-waste” has come about recently as a way of describing how we can all reduce our environmental impact by focusing on making sustainable product choices and reducing consumption overall.
Zero waste aims to create no trash whatsoever, whether it’s organic or not. Zero-waste products are any that can be reused and recycled indefinitely without ever entering a landfill (other than during production).
One popular example of this type of product is bamboo toothbrushes made from renewable bamboo instead of plastic. After using it for a few months, you can compost the bristles and stick the toothbrush’s body right in your garden.
As a zero-waste maker, I avoid using disposable plastic and focus on living a low-waste lifestyle. It can be anything from refusing a straw when I order my drink to bring my own cloth bag for groceries.
A zero-waste lifestyle is definitely not easy, but my consumer choices must reflect the values I want in life.
Which one is right for you?
The truth is, there is no single answer that fits everyone. Most importantly, you find the term or terms that resonate with you and start making small changes in your everyday life.
Sustainability, eco-friendly, and zero waste are all important steps on the road to a more sustainable future. By using the correct terminology, we can make this journey a little easier for everyone:
- Sustainability refers to the ability of something to remain unchanged or continue operating in the same way over time.
- Eco-friendly is an adjective that describes products, services, practices, and policies that are environmentally responsible.
- Zero-waste is a goal, not a status quo. It refers to the 90% or more of all materials that can be diverted from landfill and incineration.
So, what’s the best way to start making these changes in your life? The first step is understanding the terminology. Once you know the difference between these three terms, you can begin to make more informed decisions about living a more sustainable lifestyle.
From there, it’s up to you to decide which path works best for you and your lifestyle, whether that’s sustainable living, eco-friendly products, or zero waste.
And remember, just because a product is environmentally friendly doesn’t mean that it’s sustainable. In fact, if you’re not careful, some “eco-friendly” products can actually do more harm than good. So be sure to do your research before making any big purchases.
The bottom line is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to being green. But by using the proper terminology and making small changes in our everyday lives, we can all work together to create a more sustainable future for the next generations.
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