Globally, we generate an enormous amount of trash: at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other solid waste each day (ten times the amount we did a century ago). Unfortunately, the U.S. leads the pack, producing 250 million tons of trash per year or 4.4 pounds per person each day.
Sadly, the waste we generate is wreaking havoc on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from hauling, making, using, and throwing away waste and food.
In response to overconsumption and excessive waste generation, eco-conscientious individuals and businesses have begun exploring the idea of “zero waste”: a relatively new phenomenon and recent hot topic.
You might have heard of zero waste… but what is it really? Is it attainable for the masses — or a niche idea accessible to only die-hard devotees? How might individuals and businesses — salons, for example — incorporate zero waste principles into their daily activity?
Read on to find out.
What does it mean to be zero waste?
In short, living “zero waste” means creating as little garbage as possible. While recycling is a key component of zero waste living, the focus is often on what happens earlier in the consumption cycle: preventing waste from existing in the first place (more on that later).
The goal of zero waste is to prevent trash from filling oceans or landfills, which — as the third-largest source of human-related methane gas emissions — contaminate the soil around them and emit harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change.
Who is the zero waste movement for? Who can participate?
What — or who — do you think of when you hear “zero waste”? Perhaps it’s someone like Kathryn Kellogg, a San Francisco-based blogger who downsized her trash pile so significantly that two year’s worth fit inside a small mason jar.
This example is as extreme as it is admirable. While “zero” might suggest a complete elimination of waste, most people that follow this lifestyle agree: it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all waste. Instead, the goal of zero waste is to reduce trash output as much as possible in an attempt to get close to zero.
In a sample “zero waste clause” created for local governments to implement in their own communities, the EPA defines “zero waste” as: “[promoting] the highest and best use of materials to eliminate waste and pollution, emphasizing a closed-loop system of production and consumption…” Here, “zero” isn’t set in stone; instead, it’s an effort to move in the right direction, getting as close to zero as possible.
Keep that in mind if you decide to embark on your own zero waste journey. The worst thing you can do is to adopt an “all or nothing” mentality that prevents you from making any progress — no matter how small.
So, to answer the question, “Who is the zero waste movement for?” That’s easy. It’s for everyone.
Which brings us to our next point:
How can salons incorporate zero waste principles?
Zero waste experts share five principles that can help all businesses reduce the amount of waste they generate.
- Refuse: Refuse to buy things with lots of packaging, or things that will generate more waste than necessary.
- Reduce: Reduce what you do use, and don’t buy things that you don’t really need.
- Reuse: Reuse what you can; this could mean repurposing old items and shopping secondhand.
- Recycle: Recycle what you can’t refuse or reduce.
- Compost: Compost food scraps and paper pieces to return nutrients to the earth.
Salons can incorporate these principles in a variety of ways. Here are some of our favorite:
One: Ditch disposable products.
Take inventory of the products you use in your salon and make eco-friendly swaps where you can. Trade plastic cups for glassware, paper towels for cloth towels, plastic bags for canvas bags, and paper reminders for email reminders.
Not only do these swaps limit your waste — they also elevate your clients’ experience. Drinking out of glassware feels much more luxurious than sipping from the equivalent of a red Solo cup. Same goes for drying your hands using a fluffy cloth towel as opposed to a scratchy paper one. (Find more easy ways to make your salon green here.)
Two: Recycle hair and other products like foils, gloves, and aerosol cans.
At GLO™, we’ve made it our mission to build a greener tomorrow by transforming the salon industry — starting with salon recycling. We partner with salons to divert common salon waste — think human hair, foils, gloves, and aerosol cans — from landfills.
When you sign up for our GLO™ Salon Recycling Plan, you’ll subscribe to one or a combination of GLO™ Boxes, which we’ll mail to you each month. Once you fill the boxes and ship them back to us, we’ll get to work giving the recycled items a Second Life®. (Currently, we’re donating recycled hair to local farmers to use as compost.)
We’ve made salon recycling simple, cost-effective, and customizable. Click here if you’d like to learn more.
Three: Partner with other green vendors.
Consider all of the vendors you partner with to make your salon a success — from the companies who make the hair products you carry to the dry cleaners responsible for keeping your towels fresh and fluffy.
What are they doing to protect the planet — are they prioritizing sustainability and limiting their waste output? Send business to green vendors whose eco-friendly values and priorities align with your own.
All in all, when it comes to going zero waste, the most important thing you can do is to take the first step. Start small, with easy wins (like that plastic cup to glassware swap) to build momentum. In the end, it’s not about being “perfect.” It’s about moving in the right direction. Every little bit counts.