Journey to Zero Waste

Almost all of the trash I created in March & April 2017.

Ever since the November elections, I felt the need to make a change. With no immediate luck finding somewhere to offer my professional services, I decided to make changes to my lifestyle.

What are small changes that contribute to a larger impact?

For the months of March and April I challenged myself to cut back substantially on the amount of trash I created, document my progress and collect what little trash I did create.

A few months prior I read about a woman, my age, in New York City who fits all of her trash in a small jar. Lauren Singer lives the, “Zero Waste Lifestyle,” actively avoiding disposables and opting for reusables. This seemed out of my reach when I first heard about it, but very attainable now that I was looking for a challenge.

For two months I made daily changes to reduce the amount of trash I created. Here’s how I started:

Immediately, I learned about another woman, Bea Johnson, who has converted her family of four to a zero waste lifestyle and produces about the same amount of trash as Lauren, little to none! She actually visited Austin on a book tour and I went to see her in person. Truly inspiring to see her slideshow of every little thing she does at home to avoid trash.

Here is a resource link from Bea’s site of how to get started:

Bea’s rules to living Zero Waste is to follow the 5Rs:

  1. Refuse what you do not need
  2. Reduce what you do need
  3. Reuse what you consume
  4. Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse
  5. Rot (Compost) the rest

This is what I collected in two months:

Almost every single piece of trash I created in a two-month time span.

What trash did I collect in two months?

  • Twisty ties for veggies like kale and radishes from the farmer’s market
  • Toothpaste tube (I think I can recycle this if I clean it out and mail it back to the manufacturer)
  • Flea medicine for my cat
  • Birth control pill packages (seriously considering an IUD in place of this)
  • Blue Apron plastic bag packaging (the ONE time I get a free meal kit…)
  • Bag of snack crackers from the plane cause I was starving and ill-prepared
  • Plastic wrap from a bouquet of flowers (love you, boo)
  • Dryer sheet thats made out of polyester (haven’t made this mistake since)

Biggest issues:

  • Grocery Shopping — I go to the bulk section and farmer’s market now! But, I do also buy things in glass and aluminum containers. You’d be surprised how many stores offer buying in bulk in your area. I use this Bulk Finder to find stores near me.
  • Paper Towels — I carry a cloth napkin/handkerchief around with me at all times. Its been tricky to fight the urge to grab one in the event of a spill.
  • Straws — Tell your server ahead of time that you don’t want a straw, even if they don’t ask. I cheated by not collecting these during my two months. Definitely was given a few that I didn’t take home.
  • Plastic Utensils — Bring your Own! I keep a set of silverware at my work desk and carry around a set with me in my purse. You could also carry around a bamboo set or one that you take for camping.
  • Food Scraps— Luckily I live in a neighborhood that offers weekly pickup of food waste, i.e. compost, so I keep my food scraps in a big bowl in my freezer and dump it in the bin the night before. If you don’t there are still options!
  • Freebies — This was one of the toughest things to change. I had previously been that girl with the free tote, free pair of sunglasses, free sample tube of serum, but now I politely decline. Free food is the toughest, but if its pre-packaged, I turn away.
  • Carry Out Bags — Just say no thanks! I have a canvas bag with me at all times.
  • Kitty Litter — My local pet store offers a refillable container for litter that you buy once full-price and then pay per pound after that, saving me about $5 each time. I bring it in when empty and fill it up from a large tub of litter.
  • Ordering To-Go — This one is tricky. The safe bet is to eat in and take any leftovers in a container you brought from home. I’ve had luck at food trucks by asking before I order if they don’t mind putting the food in a container I have brought myself. If they decline, double check that their packaging is paper-based and can be recycled/composted, or simply opt out of take out at certain restaurants.
Does any of this make a difference?

Since November, I started following a huge crop of new accounts online that offer daily advice for being active in your community to make a difference from the ground up. This particular post made my heart sing:

In a way, the zero waste lifestyle offers a positive change in today’s troubling political landscape. By turning inward, I am “Designing my life.”

There are little things we can all do, but I can’t control everyone, I can just control myself. — Lauren Singer

I’m not here to judge, I’m here to inspire change. The reality is that we vote with our money, so opting for more sustainable alternatives is an easy way to encourage a circular economy, rather than one centered around single-use resources. Upon making this change, I noticed how easy it is to talk to people about how we as humans can make small changes for the betterment of the environment. This is definitely a lifestyle that I want to continue.

It has been an amazing feeling to take out the trash at home, where I live with two roommates, and know that none of it is mine. I also have the advantage of access to a compost collection at work, so I don’t have to take food scraps home.

There are bigger issues, like the method of transportation I use and how eco-friendly my car is, but that’s where I’m headed next. What is my impact on the environment as a whole? What is my overall footprint and how can I make active measures to reduce it?

What kind of world do I want to leave for future generations?

My takeaway for anyone reading this is to start asking yourself why you do the things you do; if they are out of necessity or simply habit. Are there incremental changes to your daily lifestyle that can lead to a more sustainable future? If so, I challenge yourself to consider putting them in to action now.