What does zero-waste mean?
"Zero-waste" as a way to describe a lifestyle or system really came into popularity in the early 2000s. And boy, did those words rub some people the wrong way. The aspirational nature of the concept of producing literally zero waste made many feel it was an unattainable goal and therefor not worth attempting. People on "the internet" were blogging about their waste reduction efforts and using a single jar to house all of their household waste for an entire year. Critics were further incensed by the implication that this isn't a fair representation of waste all along the supply chain of a given product. Honestly, if viewed from a reverse psychology perspective, it was a great way to get folks caring about life cycle analysis.
But, for our purposes, "zero-waste" refers to an approach, rather than a goal. It refers to considering the waste and environmental impact of a given purchase or action and revisiting this consideration throughout our lives. We know that corporations, governments, and entire industries are doing much more damage to our island home than the consumers at the whims of these institutions are. We also know that our collective actions hold power, so we continue to value these daily decisions.
If you're thinking "okay, but that's just the environmental impact of a product, what about the way people are paid and treated when it was made?" you'd be right to do so. That more holistic consideration of a purchase can be referred to as its sustainability, and you can read more about that here.