Reducing Waste to Gain Perspective
We are pressured to ‘find our passion.’ You know, have that ‘thing’ that we’re known for or be an expert in something…all by our mid-twenties. And sometimes it’s hard when we feel we have no idea what we’re doing. But what are we ‘supposed’ to be passionate about? What does being ‘passionate’ about something even mean?
At the start of 2018, when the ‘New Year, New Me’ mentality was at its strongest, I spent a lot of time thinking about this elusive passion. I was in Miami spending time with family in my childhood home when I went to go dispose of my plastic lunch carton and was delighted to see the recycling bin was nearly full. It reminded me of my past-self advocating for sustainability by encouraging my family to actually start recycling...and I was glad to see it stuck!
I went back to the couch, pleased and motivated by my family’s new recycling habits, and set out to fulfill one of my new year resolutions: researching graduate programs in sustainability. Minutes morphed into hours, and what began as researching graduate programs soon evolved into immersing myself in articles and blogs on ‘Zero Waste.’ The more I read, the more I resonated with the lifestyle and felt inspired to act on the environmental issues I cared about. I realized that I could reduce my mark on the Earth through the power of choice: paying attention to what I buy and knowing where it comes from as well as choosing items that create less waste and impact on the planet.
I started my path toward a Zero Waste lifestyle (and it’s a long journey!) once I got back to the Bay Area by performing a trash audit. This may sound formal, but it’s really just gaining an understanding of what you’re sending to the landfill. Most of us have no idea how much trash we’re producing since it is taken away every week – out of sight, out of mind, right? But I wanted to know!
So, instead of tossing my trash like I usually would, I collected a month’s worth of non-recyclable, non-compostable material to see just how much (and what) trash I was contributing to the landfills each month. It was eye opening to say the least. Even though I was conscious of my trash production, I still managed to fill a six-person dining table with junk! Single-use packaging was the biggest culprit, and while seemingly small, it piled up, from ripped tea packets, to sticky cheese packaging, and shiny strips of crinkly granola bar wrappers. Unable to ignore the trash in front of me, I was compelled to change my habits. Now, I buy loose leaf tea and seek out snack brands with more sustainable packaging!
The Zero Waste movement has helped me find my center in that I can now not only really care about these issues but also have a better idea of how I can make a difference--and it’s fun! I’ve learned that part of the solution is having people literally ‘see’ the effects of their choices and being shown the small, simple actions they can take to decrease their impact. In case you’re inspired to reduce your own waste, here are a few easy tips to help you get started:
0. Start by NOTICING your habits and waste patterns!
1. Buy in bulk when possible and choose produce that isn’t wrapped or packaged with plastics
2. Be conscious of where you purchase clothing from by choosing sustainable brands and fabrics
3. Use glass Tupperware and reusable bags for food storage
4. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to things like plastic straws, free giveaways, and snacks
5. Don’t recycle or compost? Well…that may be the simplest one yet--start doing it!
Here I am, six months after I began this Zero Waste journey, and I discovered my passion: living life in a sustainable way and inspiring others to do the same! Sustainable living can mean different things to different people. But, however you define sustainable living, I hope this will shape the beginning of your journey.