Journey to Zero Waste

About a month ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and stumbled upon the #ZeroWaste hashtag. Intrigued, I clicked on it and was greeted by hundreds of photos of people around the world striving to use fewer single-use products in their daily life–all in beautiful, Instagram-worthy photos. I was hooked.

What is Zero Waste?

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

The Zero Waste International Alliance

 

My personal implementation of Zero Waste is the pursuit of reducing the amount of trash I produce and extending the life cycle of the products I us to lessen my environmental impact. Obviously, all aspects of my life cannot be Zero Waste, but I’ve been making some small, yet significant changes to my daily life, and intend to do more.

Why go Zero Waste? In 2014, Americans produced 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day, with 2.3 pounds of that waste going directly into landfills. Even though our landfills are projected to keep pace with this amount of trash production, I personally want to introduce less waste into the world.  Making plastics is energy intensive, it doesn’t decompose, and not all of it can be recycled. I’m fortunate enough to have the privilege of time, energy, and resources to make changes to contribute less waste, so Zero Waste is a good fit for my lifestyle!

The tenants of Zero Waste are simple and something we are all familiar with: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (note that recycle comes last in the phrase, meaning it should be your last option). Some Zero Waste bloggers have expanded the tenants to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. Here are three easy ways I have put these tenants into action in my daily life:

  • Buying In Bulk: We are very fortunate in the Capital Region to have an amazing co-op with an excellent bulk foods section. What’s even better is that you’re encouraged to bring your own containers. I can buy all of my dry goods (e.g., pasta, flour, spices, snacks), oils, and vinegars using my own jars and bags. I’m consistently amazed at how less expensive my grocery bill is after every co-op trip. It seems to me that you’re often paying more for the packaging than for the actual product.
    • Buying Produce without Packaging: I love berries, but hate how they come in plastic containers when they are out of season. I saw that a large percentage of my waste was coming from berry packaging, so I have shifted to buying more in-season fruits and vegetables that aren’t bagged or plastic-wrapped (e.g., pears, oranges, and apples). This summer, however, I will be gorging on all of the berries and cherries I can get my hands on.
  • Bringing My Own Utensils: I love take out. What I don’t love is getting plastic-wrapped cutlery packages and Styrofoam containers that are used once and then sit in a landfill for thousands of years. So now when I am heading out, I bring my own take-out kit: a reusable cloth bag, a set of traveling utensils (including a metal straw!), a cloth napkin, a reusable food storage container, and a reusable water bottle. With this, I can go basically anywhere and eat pretty much anything. It sometimes takes a bit of explaining to staff, but most restaurants have been more than happy to accommodate my requests to not use disposable items.
  • Eliminating My Use of Paper Towels & Napkins: I’m not sure about you, but I have a massive drawer of tea towels, kitchen towels, and cloth napkins that have been gifted to me. Many of them sat idly in my drawer, but that has all changed. Instead of a paper towel, I use cloth towels and wash them when they’re dirty. I have found that the cloth towels work better than paper towels in just about all of my uses. On a totally superficial level, I really enjoy the fancy feeling of using a cloth napkin instead of a paper one.
  • Making Coffee at Home: This was a real tough one for me. I used to love getting a cup of Starbucks in the morning or using the Keurig in the upstairs kitchen. Instead, I now take 30 seconds in the morning to grind coffee beans and make my coffee at home. If I think I need an afternoon pick-me-up, I’ll go over to our local coffee shop with my reusable mug and buy a cup of coffee.

In addition to these easy-ish steps, I compost, I make some of my own skincare products (e.g., shaving cream, lotion), and I try to buy second-hand as much as I can. My future plans include getting a safety razor to replace my disposable one and investing in a (hopefully second-hand) chest freezer to store summer produce in over the winter without having to purchase plastic-packaged foods.

I’m by no means perfect. Right now, I’m eating take-out from Shalimar in disposable containers (but to be fair, I did bring in my own and ask if I could use my reusable containers instead of the restaurants, but was politely turned down.). I also really enjoy getting food from Field Goods, but a majority of the food comes wrapped in plastic bags or with other plastic packaging. It causes some internal conflict for me—do I care more about supporting local farmers or reducing my environmental footprint? For now, I’m choosing the farmers, so I send back the plastic bags they give me each week and reuse the plastic containers they provide until they crack.

Are you interested in learning more about Zero Waste principles? Here are some blogs I’ve found useful on my journey to less waste that you might find helpful:

Health and Wellness, Whole health

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

2 comments on “Journey to Zero Waste

  • Hi Holley,
    Learning to say “no” was the hardest part of beginning #zerowaste for me. It is part of your nature to accept offerings from staff when out, so politely declining straws and extra single use cutlery sure took some getting used to. So great to raise awareness and be an advocate for living with less plastis and adoptiong the zerowaste mindset.
    Thank you
    Bren

    • Thanks, Bren! It’s been about a year since this post and I’m happy to report that I’m still making strides on my Zero Waste journey!

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