Waste not, want not

Art by Ross Du

There is nothing I know now about living an environmentally friendly lifestyle that I didn’t know five or even 10 years ago. Caring about the waste I create has been a fixture of many a New Year’s resolution past. But because of the demons of convenience and other excuses, I didn’t really ever make good on any of the promises I made to myself. Sure, every now and then I’d probably buy an eco-bag or two and place it in a bag that I’d eventually change. This created a cycle of buying an eco-bag, forgetting about it, and not being able to put it to use at all.

Recently, I’ve done a bit better with my commitment to embracing a more eco-conscious lifestyle. I’m better at saying no to a plastic bag if the size of my purchase permits. I spend my money on local, organic brands that use upcycled packaging and offer refills on their products. I’ve ditched individual bottles of water in favor of large refillable bottles. Admittedly, it’s still not a super green thing given that these bottles are typically attached to energy-consuming hot and cold dispensers. But it’s still a better option. I also painfully chose to receive my bills and bank statements online. This saves me at least 16 to 20 pages of paper per month in exchange for a stressful push notification. If I had to pinpoint a time in my life when I started to take a transition to a zero-waste lifestyle seriously, I would say it began last year when I traded in my box of tampons for a single menstrual cup. I was a lifelong fan of the convenience provided by individually wrapped cotton cylinders in their plastic applicator tubes. But each time I used one, I was also bothered by the fact that it entailed creating four pieces of largely non-biodegradable trash. Yes, there are applicator-less variants but that still meant that I would be contributing thousands of vampire teabags to the landfills during my lifetime — and I wasn’t okay with that idea anymore.

Around six months later, I find myself sprawled over my bed reading articles on the Internet during our holiday office shutdown. I stumbled upon an article that talked about a group of people who make bricks out of plastic bottles packed tightly with non-biodegradable trash. I immediately fell in love with the idea because it was a way for me to still make trash, but have a way to dispose of it in a productive way with very little effort on my end.

“My week of counting my trash has been very thought-provoking but not enough to make any solid change in habits.”

I started collecting my non-biodegradable trash on Jan. 3 so I’m technically still a zero-waste baby. I chose a convenient back-to-work day to start because I would have waste from the packaging of my brand new office supplies to kick-start my process. Hindsight is 20/20, and I see clearly now that waiting to have trash is not the best way to commit to a life of minimizing trash. Every day, I sit at my desk and cut up my trash into little bits and pack them into a Ziploc that I reused from my boss’s baon. I wanted to start with an experiment to see how much trash I made before actually cutting down as a way of guilting myself into doing better by the environment.

On the first day, I was so excited to get started in seeing how much trash I made that I also got carried away and asked for other people’s trash. I cut up everything in sight that remotely looked like non-biodegradable waste even though it would have probably been better recycled in some other way.

The second day was a lot less eventful. After the initial excitement and pre-planned trash I created on the first day had died down, I got a bit sad that I didn’t have much to cut up anymore. It was a pretty silly feeling so I had to check myself and realign myself to the greater point of the whole thing, which was to try and not create any trash at all.

A week in, and my Ziploc bag is full in the bagof- potato-chips kind of way — considerable, but still full of air. I was surprised that I don’t actually make a lot of trash to begin with. A large part of that is thanks to free coffee at the office, cutting down on my need to buy coffee in take-away cups. Most of the trash I’ve made comes from office supplies, chocolate wrappers, and popcorn bags — things that I love and have not figured out how to buy without superfluous packaging.

Truth be told, there are still a lot of things I do that I have not figured out how to make waste-free, thus creating trash that ends up in a landfill and not in my bottle. For example my lunch typically comes packaged from the cafeteria in flimsy plastic ice bags which I still end up throwing away. I have not overcome the trouble of washing and putting them in my waste Ziploc. I’m also at a loss as to how to begin reconciling my desire to buy those diet delivery meals without thinking about how much plastic containers I will be receiving weekly and how all that stacks up at the end of the month, with very few ways to reuse them after.

My week of counting my trash has been very thought-provoking but not enough to make any solid change in habits. Currently, it’s a daily battle of trying to switch out chocolate for fruit so I could snack on something and not worry about cutting the packaging into tiny pieces to fit the bottle. A trip to the bookstore is still problematic because my heart wants the copy covered in plastic over the unwrapped book whose pages might have been touched by someone’s grubby little fingers. In the coming weeks, I’ll be trying to gamify my waste management a bit less while thinking of other ways to help cut down. I just joined a support group of zero-wasters who actively share ideas of how to be conscious of waste so I don’t have to feel defeated when I hit a roadblock.

We only have one world to share, so we better take care of it. We can still save the world by trying to want less and consume less. And if the world ends up getting destroyed in some environmental catastrophe, you can rest easy with the thought that it was a lot less your fault.


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