By Maya London-Southern
Though the United States ranks third in the world for highest population, it generates by far the most trash. The nation produces over 250 million tons of waste annually, with the average American throwing out about 4.5 pounds of garbage each day (China, with a population four times that of the US, generates about 190 million tons per year). But for thousands of years, humans did not produce any trash, and people have proven that even in this era of consumerism, it is possible to live without generating garbage.
Source: Armaud Martinez. www.istockphoto.com
Lauren Singer is such a person. She is at the forefront of the Zero Waste movement, and can fit all the trash she’s produced in the past four years in a 16oz mason jar. She is the author of the blog Trash is for Tossers. In 2014, she founded The Simply Co, which makes sustainable and toxin-free laundry detergent, and this past May, she and Daniel Silverstein opened a pop-up store called Package Free in Brooklyn.
I first heard of the Zero Waste movement in passing, but didn’t pay much attention to it until I saw a New York Times interview with Singer in January 2017. I was attracted to the way the lifestyle massively simplified her life, and I realized that what she was doing actually aligned with my desire to live minimally. The sustainability aspect was a plus in that. As I read more of her and Bea Johnson’s (a woman living a Zero Waste lifestyle with her family of four, and author of the book and blog Zero Waste Home) blog posts and watched each of their how-to videos, I realized that if I lived this lifestyle (or even just adopted aspects of it), I would declutter my life and save money, all while reducing what I send to landfill. It would need some adjusting to, but I saw the massive benefits to be well worth any growing pains.
I started with the basics, which was really just a consciousness of what waste I produced every day and an understanding of what could actually be reused, composted or recycled.
The simplest change was always bringing a reusable bag with me when I went shopping. A lot of people already know about this sustainable alternative, but by making myself commit to refusing any plastic or paper bags, I saved resources, resources that if I had used would have either sat around in my room or I would have just used for trash (but in not producing trash, you don’t have a need for the plastic to dispose of it either).
I would also sometimes throw out banana peels and apple cores when I wasn’t near a compost bin on my college campus, but over 25% of all food the US produces for domestic sale already ends up in landfill. What’s more, when food waste is in landfill and unable to compost, it generates methane, which traps heat within the atmosphere. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills make up 34 percent of all methane emissions in the country. When possible, the best option is to eat or use your food scraps for something else. This saves the energy that would otherwise be used to grow and transport new food products. For example, you can make water infusions with citrus peels (more resourceful ideas to come in later blog posts). But if nothing else, please please compost your food waste. Producing more soil instead of more landfill and methane was something I had to learn, but it’s actually a very easy transition.
Through Trash is for Tossers, I also learned that there are some easy swaps I could make. Instead of plastic toothbrushes (between 850 million and a billion of which end up in landfill each year in the US alone), there are toothbrushes made of bamboo, which are compostable (except for the bristles, which can be removed and recycled) and packaged in recyclable and/or biodegradable products. Singer recommends Brush with Bamboo. When you’re done with the toothbrush, you can also upcycle it for cleaning, art crafts, or plant markers (I upcycled my first one to use as a bottle cleaner).
Source (both photos): https://www.brushwithbamboo.com/
I made these changes over the school year, but I decided that I really wanted to try to go completely (or as much as possible) Zero Waste this summer. I started on June 1, and so far the only waste I’ve produced are a few fruit stickers, which I keep in my designated summer garbage jar. Dede Cummings recently gave me marigolds from her garden, so I emptied my trash jar to use as a temporary vase (it looks much nicer filled with fresh flowers than with trash).
I will talk more about what I’ve done to avoid producing trash in future posts, in the meantime, check out Trash is for Tossers and Zero Waste Home. I hope my own blog can be a way to get the word out about Zero Waste and encourage more people to adjust their lifestyles. Not everyone has to go completely Zero Waste in order to make a difference, but there are a lot of small changes anyone can make that will not only be better for the planet, but also get rid of unnecessary clutter in your life, save money, and be better for your health.
Thanks so much for reading, check back for more Zero Waste posts soon!
Maya London-Southern is a 2017 Green Writers Press summer intern and a student at Middlebury College.