Low-Waste Lifestyle: An Earth Day Story
HealthSource Solutions Program Manager
I have always been a big fan of the outdoors and most of my hobbies and interests revolve around outdoor activity in some way. Those who are closest to me can tell when I need to step away from the hustle and bustle to get outside – whether that be for an hour or for a week. One of my favorite quotes, and one that greatly sums up my outlook of life, is from Chief Seattle and reads:
“All things are bound together. All things connect. Whatever happens to the Earth happens to the children of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
We’ve all seen the recent reports on climate change and what is predicted to happen to the world if we don’t intervene. I’m sure we have all seen an image or video of some habitat or creature impacted by climate change and increasing pollution problems. Perhaps it was a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose, fields of forests being cut to the ground, a starving polar bear, or melting glaciers. We might have been filled with brief sadness or thought “Aw, what a shame!” but then carried on with our day.
It is so easy for us to recognize a global problem such as this and mistakenly think that it is up to someone else to fix the issue. It’s easy to turn a blind eye and think that you may not have the power to make an impact, but you do. We each have just as much power as politicians, big-business CEOs, influencers, and celebrities to make our home planet a little cleaner and greener, and I really recognized and tapped into that power just a few years ago!
I first heard about the “zero waste” concept in college, when a classmate of mine made a huge lifestyle overhaul and pledged to keep every bit of waste she created in a 16oz mason jar. A year later, her waste only filled a quarter of that jar.
I was impressed by her efforts and intrigued by this small but growing community of zero wasters, yet skeptical of the impact she actually had. It sounded great in theory – reduce your waste to help the environment! But it seemed so complex, time consuming, expensive, and overall just so not fun. I assumed that those living that kind of lifestyle surely had to sacrifice so many of the everyday conveniences and joys our society has gotten used to.
I started doing more research though and followed a few blogs/Instagram accounts of these zero-waste gurus. They all posted tips and tricks on how to transition to a low-waste lifestyle and I started to realize that it wasn’t really that hard - it just took a definite desire to want to change, some planning, and some self-discipline.
Despite feeling like I was always at least somewhat attuned to the necessity for environmental responsibility, doing more research on the state of the pollution/plastic problem the world is facing was a huge eye-opener for me and really kicked me into gear towards lessening my footprint. For example:
- According to the EPA, the average American sends 4.4 pounds of trash to the landfill every day.
- Only 9% of all plastic is actually recycled.
- Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it photodegrades, which means it breaks down smaller and smaller but never fully goes away.
- By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
- There are 5 major gyres in the ocean that are essentially floating landfills, the biggest of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It takes up 600,000 square miles – twice the size of Texas.
- Plastic has now been found in 94% of drinking water nationwide (this includes bottled water, which we often seem to think is cleaner and safer.)
Just like when trying to form any other lasting habit, I found success by making small changes here and there instead of trying to change everything all at once. You know the saying “reduce, reuse, recycle”? Aim to do those things in the exact order they are listed. The first, and arguably most impactful, thing I did was reshape my buying habits. I stopped buying so much stuff that I really didn’t need, started to take time thinking through purchases, and aimed to buy things I did need from ethical companies or secondhand stores.
I got in the habit of carrying reusable shopping bags and produce bags, a reusable water bottle, coffee mug or tumbler, and two sets of utensils everywhere. When things would run out at home, instead of replacing them with the same old disposable product, I would invest in durable, low-waste alternatives. Plastic baggies turned into food wraps, bottled shampoo, conditioner, body/face wash, and deodorant were swapped for bar versions, I ditched the awful plastic razors for a long-lasting metal safety razor and realized that menstrual cups really aren’t bad (hopefully that’s not TMI but hey periods are a natural thing!) I made friends with the bulk foods section at the grocery store, and when my boyfriend and I moved into a new apartment in November we scored a lot of great deals at secondhand stores, on Craigslist, and Facebook marketplace.
As someone who naturally plans (excessively) for everything and likes to constantly improve, this gradual lifestyle change has actually turned into a fun challenge for me. I’m often thinking: What other sustainable swaps can I make? How can I be better? I have found great pride and joy in knowing that I am helping to make our home a little greener and cleaner.
I have come so far, yet I have so far to go. There are so many things I still want to improve on and so many changes I want to make. This year, one of my goals has been to not purchase any clothing unless it is secondhand or from an ethical, eco-friendly company (running shoes are my only exception!) The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters worldwide, and investing in well-made, durable clothes that don’t go out of style makes a big impact. It has been super easy, and again keeps a lot of money in my wallet. I’m also still working on finding ways to reduce waste in the kitchen – I struggle with how almost everything is packaged in some sort of plastic! I can’t wait to have my own compost and I’ve been looking in to apartment-friendly options. One of the zero-waste bloggers I follow recently challenged everyone to pick up one piece of trash every time they go outside, so I’ve been working on that too! Imagine how big of an impact we could have if we all did that!!
It’s also worthwhile to note how I’ve noticed all of these changes positively impacting other areas of my life. For example, being a more mindful shopper has really helped my bank account. If I leave my shopping bags in my car, I walk back out to get them and get a few extra steps in that day! Forgot my thermos or tumbler? No afternoon coffee I guess, which probably results in me getting to sleep earlier! I’m eating more fresh, local produce and learning how to cook more things from scratch.
What’s even more uplifting is seeing my actions rub off on others around me. It makes me so incredibly happy when friends or family reach out to me curious about things they can do. Even if they aren’t ready to make an entire lifestyle overhaul, no action is too small and every little change helps.
I don’t think I’ll quite ever get to the point of reducing my waste so much that it can fit in a mason jar, but that’s okay. And honestly, unless our entire society greatly changed the way we all live, true “zero” waste isn’t possible. There will always be some sort of waste further up the chain. However, I know that the changes I have made and will continue to make already have made a positive impact. My actions count, and so do everyone else’s.
If anyone has any interest in making some change to reduce their waste and overall footprint, I say go for it! Its honestly probably easier than you think, and every action has a ripple effect. No action is too small. Our home is worth it, our lives are worth it, and the lives of everyone and everything around us are worth it.