August was a blog staycation for me..which just means I didn’t blog for a whole month in order to destress and recharge. And it was beautiful. But I am back!
Do you ever see trash jars from expert level zero waste activists like Bea Johnson or Lauren Singer and think, “THAT is my goal: to fit a year’s worth of landfill trash into a mason jar.” or “Well, THAT’s never going to happen.” or “HOW MANY YEARS FIT INTO THAT JAR?!” Yeah, me too. All of those thoughts. I am pretty sure my August landfill trash is what some activists make in 6 months or a year. But hell, I am really happy with this month’s output. But don’t let my picture scare you or deter you. Whether you produced 1/4 as much waste as I did or 100x as much, it doesn’t really matter. Because ultimately, zero waste isn’t simply about trying to reach ‘zero’ (currently unattainable in our linear economic system). What truly matters is that each individual is doing as much as they can when they can, and making lifestyle changes and sacrifices as they go. Zero waste is no cake walk! My motto: be gentle with yourself and never stop striving.
There are so many factors that can influence waste reduction: where you live, the resources + stores you have access to, your financial situation, your family and their willingness to participate, disabilities and medical needs…I could go on. Any of these coupled with an individual’s personal commitment to make changes. There are always going to be roadblocks or set-backs. I’ve been active in the zero waste movement for nearly 2 years and I certainly can’t fit my trash from 2017 into a mason jar. My landfill trash for the year is currently filling up a 3-gallon can. And you know what? That’s OK. Because I know that I will create close to 1000% less trash in 2017 than I did in 2015. But I am still not at zero and I probably never will be. But you better believe I will never stop trying.
I am lucky to have access to a variety of bulk stores and an ever-growing zero waste community in Washington, D.C. Yes, I often go to great lengths to avoid needless waste. But I still make mistakes all the time, I am not always as prepared as I should/ could be, or sometimes I back down from my values because of a particularly uncomfortable or awkward situation. I know there are people who produce far less trash than I do and others who produce far more. But I am striving to avoid making the zero waste lifestyle about comparison. I already struggle so much with comparing my life to the seemingly better lives of everyone else around me. Other bloggers who have a bigger following than I do. Instagram feeds or blogs that have better content posted more regularly. Individuals with more beautiful photos, blogs, and Instagram feeds..or who are just more beautiful than me, period. Every day, I have to fight against the desire to compare my life to other people’s. I have to remind myself that my life is my own: it is unique, beautiful, inspiring, messy, imperfect. And so, I am striving to keep my blog real and raw, rather than curating photos, captions, and posts to look or sound better than my reality.
When I start to compare my zero waste progress to other people’s, I am either overly hard on myself for not being active enough or I am patting myself on the back for my little pile of waste, all the while losing my mind over how to be better than someone else. Gosh, who wants to follow or be friends with THAT person?? I have to fight against having a negative, divisive mindset–whether it is towards myself or others. But the zero waste movement should’t be about comparison. In reality, it is truly rooted in community, ethics, compassion, transparency, striving to inspire others, and helping each other to take 1 more step forward in protecting the planet, our fellow man, and animals, even if it is followed by 2 or 3 steps back.
I’ve only posted a handful of pictures and videos of my trash in 2 years–a few on Instagram and a few in a Facebook group. The reason I don’t show my trash every month is because some people find trash jars/ audits very inspiring, while others find them divisive, off-putting, or simply annoying. When I started out in zero waste, trash jars were incredibly inspiring to me; they sparked a deep desire to change as much of my life as I could to be less wasteful. But as I have become immersed in the zero waste movement and community, I think trash jars can be misleading because they don’t show the reality of a person’s waste. What about recycled waste, composted waste, or upcycled waste? The zero waste movement is full of passion, and at it’s core, the commitment and dedication of all the environmental activists is really inspiring. But the notion of ‘zero’ waste can be deceptive. That is why I look at the zero waste lifestyle as a continual journey towards zero vs. zero being seen as an attainable destination.
I consider my landfill waste, recycling, and compost to all be part of my waste output, and I am always looking for ways to reduce in these three areas. But if I can’t eliminate a source of waste from my life (i.e. medication bottles, certain canned foods, dish + laundry soap…the list goes on), I will certainly rely on recycling and composting to give some of my waste new life. So why am I suddenly showing you my landfill waste from August?
All of my rambling is to say that I’ve decided to do a 3-month series to give you a real look into ALL the waste I am creating (on average) each month. September, obviously, is dedicated to my August landfill waste, October will be dedicated to my September recycling, and November will be dedicated to my October compost. My goal is not to create a competition or to highlight my progress. My goal is to show you the reality and totality of my ‘zero’ waste life after two years of working hard to reduce my impact. I do hope to inspire readers to keep on striving, to keep on making a difference in their homes and their communities. Just remember: this is only the trash I created in August. There are definitely other forms of waste that I produce during the year that I didn’t create last month. And believe me, my monthly recycling is far less impressive.
Yellow Concert Wristband: I surprised my best friend with Coldplay tickets for her birthday. (Yeah, yeah–roll your eyes at Coldplay…come at me!) I was able to download e-tickets on my cellphone but we were given yellow wrist bands to access our seats, along with light-up bracelets that were part of the show. The venue didn’t allow any outside water bottles or beverages so we tailgated in the parking lot with a moderately delicious bottle of cheap wine and our own container of freshly sliced watermelon. At the venue, we bought a large can of beer to share. We were forced to pour our beer into a plastic cup at one of the ticket security check-points, which seemed needless. The security guard recycled the aluminum can and I recycled the plastic cup before leaving the venue. The light-up bracelets went into an e-waste recycling bin. And the wrist band will head to the landfill.
Disposable Utensils + Plate: (Plate not shown.) I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding; the bride and her family went to great lengths to make me really nice vegan food and desserts at all the various wedding meals. I got nervous and didn’t feel comfortable drawing any additional attention to myself at the rehearsal dinner by using my own utensils, when people were already making sure I had enough food to eat. To be fair, I wasn’t prepared enough to think about bringing my own reusable plate. But in the interest of honesty, I did have my bamboo utensils in my purse and I chose not to use them. The disposable utensils and the plate from the rehersal dinner were made of a non-recyclable plastic. Womp Womp. Since I am trying to track this year’s trash, I stashed the utensils in my bag but I threw the plate away. A plate covered in juice from ratatouille and salad dressing wasn’t about to go (or fit) in my bag. I plan to wash the utensils and keep them in my car as back-up for when someone needs an extra set. They will eventually go the landfill.
Clothing Tags: I cut the tags out of 2 articles of clothing this month, they were driving my crazy. I usually leave the tags attached to my clothes unless they are itchy or visible.
Lint Roller Tape: I really miss my disposable lint roller. There, I said it! Sigh. That sticky, landfill-bound tape sure did make life easier. But I did recently invest in a great reusable lint brush made by Redecker that is made of wood and rubber. And it works really well. I would be lying if I said it worked AS well as the disposable alternative. I have one roll of lint tape leftover from my pre-zero waste days. Once that roll is gone, I won’t be buying anymore. (Tip: sometimes I vacuum clothes that have a lot of fuzz/ lint that the reusable brush can’t pick-up!)
Stickers: Ironically, I just admitted how much I miss lint roller tape..but I do have a deep dislike of stickers. Environmental nightmares. Tiny, sticky bits of plastic trash that will never break down and get stuck to everything. WHY? But produce stickers are a regular source of waste in my life. The farmer’s market stands don’t use stickers but the local grocery stores are all sticker happy. I try to pick produce that doesn’t have any stickers on them. Speaking of stickers, I also bought an extra phone charger for my office and it had one attached to it. Grr.
Container Seal: When I decided to switch to a plant based/ vegan diet, the hardest food to give up was cheese. Months later and it is still the hardest food to say no to. (Call me a bad person for still craving cheese after 9 months. My brain hates me or something..) From time to time, I will buy vegan cheese to see if I like it. And so far, I am not a fan. Eeehh. Unfortunately, vegan cheeses are usually packaged in non-recyclable plastic. This month, I tried Heido-Ho’s spreadable cheese. It doesn’t really taste like cheese but it WAS delicious! The round plastic seal was under the lid. I recycled the plastic container + lid.
Receipts: Did you know that most receipts aren’t recyclable?! If the paper has a glossy, waxy finish, it’s headed for the landfill. For stores that can e-mail me a receipt, that ask if I want a receipt, or that have a ‘Do Not Print’ option, then I always opt for no receipt. If the cash register auto-prints a receipt and it is handed to me, I take it with me. Since I made the purchase, I consider any printed receipts to be my trash and my responsibility. Most of my receipts are from Nall’s Produce (a local grocery store) or from dining out. The Whole Foods and my local gas station both have a ‘Do Not Print’ option. I try to always ask establishments that auto-print receipts if they would consider only printing receipts “on request” or adding an e-mail option.
Bottle Seal: I buy a bottle of Follow Your Heart’s vegan ranch dressing about once a month. This dressing tastes like the real deal and I use it as a veggie dip or on salads. The bottle is glass but it has a green, plastic seal. I often keep the bottles + lids to use around the house.
Plastic Bottle Cap: This blue + white cap is from the top of a vinegar bottle. I re-use glass vinegar bottles at home for storing all-natural cleaners or garden bug repellents. I buy vinegar in bulk but the co-op that sells it is an hour away from my house, so I only make it there every 3-4 months. If I run out of vinegar before my next scheduled co-op trip, I buy a glass bottle at the local grocery store. Small plastic caps like this one don’t get recycled because they tend to clog the recycle machine. Even when they can be recycled, they usually get thrown into the trash after they arrive at the recycling facility.
Plastic Twine: I bought a reusable box to wrap a wedding gift, instead of using wrapping paper or a disposable gift bag. The box had a paper tag that was attached with a piece of fake, plastic hemp string.
Straw: This sucker ended up in a glass of water. With straws, you always have to stay one step ahead of your server. But sometimes a server brings water to the table before you even get a chance to talk to them, which is how I ended up with this red straw.
Prescription Bag + Printout: I take an anti-depressant and an an anti-anxiety medication every day, so I usually end up with 1-2 pharmacy bags each month. The white CVS bag is recyclable but the rest of the prescription paperwork is printed on sticker paper (again with the stickers!), so the paper consists of plastic adhesive glue and is attached to a plastic backing. On the bright side, I am able to recycle all of my prescription bottles at my curbside recycling!
Flower Pot: My friend, Julie, got me an adorable succulent plant. Long story short: I’m a klutz. I knocked it over. I shattered the pot. My plant no longer has a home. R.I.P. adorable tiny pot.
Floss: Not shown. I use Ecodent’s floss. It comes in a recyclable, paper container but the floss itself is waxed and so it can’t be composted.
What area of your life do you struggle with the most? Or are you looking at my trash and wondering, “How has she been able to avoid <<insert random form of trash here>>?” Comment away, e-mail me, or direct message me on Instagram! At the end of this year, I will do a total trash audit to show you all of my trash–successes and failures alike.