One Goal: Zero Waste
A couple of months ago, I was watching a video of a woman going through her trash. In under five minutes, she pours all the trash she has accumulated over four years onto a tabletop and describes every single item. Amazingly, not a single trash bag appears in the video.
In fact, all her garbage fits inside a 16-ounce mason jar.
The woman’s name is Lauren Singer, founder of The Simply Co. and a blog called “Trash is for Tossers,” and she is an advocate for living what is called a zero-waste lifestyle.
The idea behind living with zero-waste is that you produce no trash and subsequently send nothing to landfills. In other words, all the waste you produce will either be recycled or composted, minimizing harmful effects on the environment.
On average, a person produces about 30 pounds of waste per week with a little more than half of it ending up in landfills. In 2015, Illinois accumulated more than 44 million cubic yards of solid waste in its landfills, which at the current rate are projected to reach full capacity in less than 21 years. This expiration date indicates that sending our garbage to landfills is not a sustainable solution.
Those of us that are environmentally-friendly (or at least claim to be) are aware of facts like these, so we recycle when we can. Some of us may even take it to the next level and compost, too. Our mindset might be that we are already doing our part in helping the environment by producing less waste. Any trash we send to landfills is an unfortunate byproduct of some things being made from or packaged in materials that we cannot recycle.
Though it is natural to have this mindset, Singer challenges us to do more than just the minimum. In fact, through her videos and blog she shows that with a little mindfulness and diligence we can avoid generating all trash, even that which we may have previously thought was unavoidable.
A zero-waste lifestyle is arguably an extreme on the spectrum of actions we might take to reduce our carbon footprint, but with it in mind we can be better at “living our values” – that is forming sustainable habits that help us transition into lifestyles that more accurately represent our interest or passion in environmental conservation.
What you may have gathered by now is that zero-waste living, though good for the environment, is difficult! We have busy lives, and especially for those with families and multiple mouths to feed, producing absolutely no trash seems unrealistic. However, it is possible to take on the mindset of living with zero-waste and gradually produce less and less waste. You could even start today!
I recently proposed to my apartment roommates the idea that none of us would have to take out the trash again under this lifestyle, and it was hard for them to turn down. Although we are far from zero- waste, we are more conscientious about how our daily decisions contribute to our trash production. Singer’s blog has more information on this, but here are some things we keep in mind:
• The Less Packaging the Better – This could mean buying food in bulk or fresh from the farmer’s market to reduce the possibility of acquiring plastics or other materials that cannot be recycled. In the restroom, you could consider using bar soaps to eliminate shampoo and body wash
bottles. And the surefire way to reduce packaging waste is to make the things you need yourself! Singer’s YouTube channel offers many recipes for hygiene products if you need inspiration.
- Think Ahead – This could entail bringing your own container to a restaurant to take any leftovers to-go. Or maybe you could bring your own handkerchief to dry your hands at public restrooms if there are not any air dryers. You obviously cannot prepare for everything, but the idea is to think about how or where you might be producing unnecessary waste when you are out and about and reducing that amount.
- As always, recycle and compost! – Fortunately, in Evanston where I live, there is a system set up that makes recycling easy, but composting is another beast. With two-thirds of our waste being compostable, it makes sense that we do more of it to reduce waste, but it can be difficult. However, the city of Evanston’s website offers many resources on how to compost at home and provides alternative composting solutions like the Collective Resource, which is a company that does curbside compost pickup.
Ultimately, sustainability takes on many forms. Everything you do now to conserve the environment helps, but if you ever thought about doing more, consider living a zero-waste lifestyle. It is more than just eliminating the trash you send to landfills, since to take on such a feat, you must rethink the way you eat, the way you buy everyday products, and your daily actions. It is a privilege to be able to fully commit to this lifestyle, but it is important to realize there will not always be a place to dump our trash. If we can waste less, we can do better for the environment.
Student at Northwestern University studying Radio/TV/Film and Computer Science
Disclaimer: I was not paid to include any of the people, brands, or entities mentioned in this article.