Jonathan Levy of ZeroWasteGuy is a Zero Waste Consultant, Supply Chain Expert, and content creator. He was inspired to begin a zero-waste lifestyle after working in a Target warehouse around ten years ago. During his time at Target, he helped optimize the flow of disposable consumer goods, like water bottles and diapers, and noticed how unsustainable these products are.
Jonathan shares, “I didn’t know what the solution was, but I felt like working in that industry, doing that role, didn’t really align with my values.”
He quit his Target job and traveled to Europe for three months. Upon returning to the United States, he enrolled in a certificate program for sustainable resource management.
He shares, “Instead of calling it waste management, it’s resource management because most of what we throw away still has value. It’s a resource. From there, I started consulting, and before you knew it, I had a job. For the past five and a half years, I’ve been working for an environmental consulting company.”
Creating the ZeroWasteGuy Instagram
Initially, Jonathan’s Instagram account was called Upcycle LA, but he changed the name after realizing that the term ‘upcycle’ didn’t align with what he shared.
On his account, he receives many questions about what items are genuinely recyclable, what happens to recycled items, how to compost, and much more. He also shares tips about reducing waste at home.
Jonathan shares, “[My mission] used to be trying to show people how to transform waste into a resource, but now there’s a lot of analogies, a lot of metaphors, in our consumer-based society that we’re in that it almost feels like I’m helping transition people to show that they are resources. A lot of people set goals and let themselves down, and we don’t follow through… Our lives have turned into disposable relationships.”
He explains that society has an attitude that people and relationships are almost disposable too. If something breaks, we go out and buy a new one or find a new person.
“It’s more than just zero waste because zero waste in itself is an oxymoron. It’s not possible in this consumer-driven, big infrastructure society. Maybe if you lived in the woods in an indigenous community where you lived off the land, it would be possible, but in our modern world, it’s not.”
Jonathan’s content focuses on relatable circumstances tied to sustainability. For example, he recently had an air fryer break. He went through the process of trying to get the company to fix it, but it was no use. Instead, he deconstructed it and demonstrated how to fix it in his Instagram Reels.
Most people would have thrown the air fryer away, but by sharing content about how he was able to fix his air fryer, he hopes to inspire others to do the same when things break.
He shares, “The most popular post that I’ve had to date was of a recycle bin at Disneyland, and it was pour your liquids over here and then put your recycling in the other side. When you look inside the container, the pour hole went right into the recycle bag. So, it was like they’re asking you to do something different, but then it was just going into the same place anyway.”
Jonathan also creates content to show the reality of what happens to materials thrown away or recycled. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as throwing something in the recycle bin.
“It’s not as straightforward. It’s not as easy as people think it is. Recycling is like a material. It’s a commodity on the market, and somebody has to purchase it, so just because there’s a recycle logo on it does not mean the material is actually going to get recycled because it has to go to a facility. They have to use various forms of technology and humans to extract the material.”
After the material is extracted, the facility has to find someone willing to buy the material too.
He adds that water bottles and soda cans are among the easiest materials to recycle because many parts of the country pay a deposit on these items so that they will get recycled. However, most food packaging is not recycled. As a result, Jonathan recommends that people try to replace disposable items with reusable ones as often as possible.
Jonathan has done a few brand partnerships. However, it’s typically difficult for him to advocate for products because of his niche and beliefs. The campaign he is most proud of was for Bank of the West, where he created awareness about the company’s funding for sustainable energy products, specifically kinetic energy.
“It [the campaign] was fun because it involved travel and involved us doing things differently than I normally did, and then it was also creating awareness for a concept that I had never seen. I’ve heard of kinetic energy, but seeing it used in this way was really cool.”
One of Jonathan’s most significant career highlights is being in a place now where he has a lot of flexibility and autonomy in his job. Due to this freedom, he can focus on specific clients and programs he is passionate about.
Jonathan’s Dream for the Future
Jonathan shares that he would love to see Instagram’s algorithm shift and learn how to engage more people in sustainable living practices.
“Instagram is my primary content form, and what’s missing is this feeling that my followers are really engaged. If I hit something, some viral piece of content, it’ll do well, but then at the same time, 10% of my followers see it, and 90% are not following me. I don’t know if it’s an Instagram thing or if it’s just the way social media works.”
He notes that people get riled up on social media but quickly lose steam and don’t make any adjustments or long-term changes. As a result, he’d love to see individuals taking small steps to work towards a more sustainable lifestyle, regardless of where they are starting from. For example, one small step to use a reusable coffee cup would save a considerable amount of plastic from going to landfills.
Jonathan reveals that he is also committed to writing a book on consumption, specifically on a societal level.
“For me, it’s a logical next step because a lot of my thoughts are a little bit longer than is possible to really share in a social media post. I t have thousands of thoughts that I’ve written down over the years, whether it be on Instagram or my blog or my personal journals.”
In closing he adds, “If everybody made an effort to consume a little bit less, to do a little bit better, to spend a little bit more time being mindful, to spend a little bit more time developing relationships with friends and family than the world would just a more pleasant or less polarizing place.”