One Week Zero Waste Challenge
Last week I challenged myself to live 7 days zero waste! Although I’ve become more of a minimalist and a conscious shopper, my garbage can fills up every few weeks or so mostly with food waste. It’s hard for me to imagine my life zero waste, so I want to challenge myself to see what would happen if I lived my life without producing ANY trash.
Why? Well, the average American produces 102 tons of garbage in a lifetime. Yikes!
Zero Waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, zero waste is an ethical, economical, efficient and visionary goal to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles.
In other words, being zero waste is to challenge yourself to not send trash to landfills.
Here are my utensils for this challenge:
- 4 mason jars with lids
- 2 tote bags
- 3 muslin bags
- bamboo cutlery
- cutlery holder
- reusable straw
- cloth napkin
- reusable drinking container
Basically I’ll divvy up my waste into 3 categories: recyclable, compostable, and trash. My hope is to have no trash by the end of the week! Did I do it? Here’s what happened!
Day 1: Saturday
Today’s the first day of the challenge! I made myself a cup of tea and mid sip I froze—I realized that the staples on my tea bag are not recyclable or compostable. Yikes! Just a few hours in I already have my first piece of trash.
Looking ahead I was excited to try my first time hardcore zero waste shopping. I went to Lassen’s, an all-natural food store that has a whole aisle dedicated to bulk bins. I brought my mason jars, muslin bags, tote, and loads of confidence.
When I went inside I immediately asked the guy at the cash register how he would like me to go about using my mason jars, such as if he would like to weigh them first.
The employee told me to just do my thing and he would figure it out. I filled out 3 out of my 4 mason jars and left one empty, just in case they wanted to weigh it separately.
At the register, it turns out nobody in the store knew how to subtract the tare weight of the mason jar from my food, so they ended up pouring the contents out into plastic bags. I shrugged and laughed, what else can ya do? This first day of this zero waste challenge has already been rocky, but it’s a learning experience!
One thing that surprised me was that I was only the second person to come into Lassen’s to buy things zero waste. Crazy! What’s the point of bulk shopping if you don’t bring your own jars? And secondly, if nobody in Los Feliz is zero waste, which is one of the most hipster neighborhoods in Los Angeles, who the hell is?
I was perplexed. Anyhow, the store workers at Lassen’s ended up giving me my bulk food for free and promising they would figure it out for me next time. So nice! I’ll take it!
After shopping I went home and decided to make homemade tortillas so I wouldn’t have to buy a plastic bag with them. They were SO easy to make and totally delicious! I just used flour, water, olive oil, and salt. Yum! I opened up a jar of salsa that was in a reusable container to realize it had a plastic seal on top for freshness. Whoops, I didn’t realize this when I bought it! This is my second piece of trash.
I finished off the day by trotting to the East Hollywood Farmers Market. I boldly told the sellers that I did not need a plastic bag. The guy told me to just pick it up myself then and sat back down, seeming a bit rubbed the wrong way. I understand how slightly annoying customers are when they alter your routine. I also see how being zero waste would require many people you interact with at shops to adjust according to your needs. This is neither good or bad, just an observation.
At night I went to a birthday party in the Hollywood Hills. I didn’t know what the food situation would be, so I made a veggie taco and placed it in a reusable container and threw it in my tote bag. Easy!
Day 2: Sunday
On Sunday I had brunch in Silverlake after cheering on my incredible roommate run the LA Marathon. At the restaurant my friends and I ordered water and the waiter gave us glasses with straws already in them. How interesting is it that a straw is giving to me even though I didn’t need one? This is my third piece of trash, but I’m still hanging in there and staying positive!
I spent the day hanging out with my friend Sarah before we went to this awesome sustainable fashion event held by UN Women! It was in downtown LA with awesome speakers such as Erin from Eco Sessions and Taryn Hipwell from Beyond the Label. At the conference were lots of organic treats! I picked up a plate made from tree fiber (bamboo, I’m assuming) and opted out of a plastic fork by using my own bamboo utensil. It was painless to do this! The weirdest part was sticking the bamboo plate in my purse to compost is later. haha.
At night Sarah and I ate at this delicious vegan restaurant in Silverlake. I had some food leftover, so I gave it to Sarah who had a takeout box for her to take home.
Day 3: Monday
Lots of veggie tacos were eaten today. I also considered hiding my paper towel roll so I wouldn’t accidently use it. It was a solid day since I spent most of it writing and catching up on my work.
Day 4: Tuesday
Tuesday I started getting really hungry and irritated. I didn’t properly plan my lunch for work so I brought my jars to Wholefoods to pick up some muchies. There are not many bulk options that you can quickly eat—it’s mostly beans, rice, pastas, pretzels, and oats. I picked up some yogurt covered almonds and granola, but knew I needed more than just that to sustain me. I decided to also buy a sandwich in a recyclable container. When I opened it I realized it came with some plastic-like paper that doesn’t look recyclable. Dang it! I also thought my sandwich was chicken but it’s tofu. Blah! Being zero waste is starting to get on my nerves, but I’m determined to make it though the week!
On a brighter note, my super cute reusable cloth napkin from Etsy came in the mail! It’s vintage and has daisies so I knew it was meant to be.
Day 5: Wednesday
The kale in my fridge was starting to go bad, and since I’m trying not to toss any food waste I decided today was the day to try making kale chips. I used bulk nutritional yeast on top for a vegan cheesy flavor and they were really good! I’ll definitely be trying this recipe again!
Next I realized that the compost Tupperware I’ve had in my fridge was filled to the brim, and it needed to be emptied. I searched online on lacompost.org to look for ‘Compost Hubs’ for me to drop off my veggie and fruit peels. I saw there was one at a juice stand near my apartment, so I gave them a call and told them I wanted to drop off my compost. The guy on the phone was very confused. I explained to him that I’m doing a zero waste challenge and I’m trying to not produce any trash, and he asked me why I’m not just burying the produce scraps? LOL. I asked him again if I could just drop it off with them and he said sure.
When I arrived the initial employee had gone off his shift and a new employee was there. She wasn’t sure how to handle my unusual request so she called the owner of the juice stand and handed the phone to me. Basically the owner explained that people can come by to pick up compost, but can’t drop it off. Whoops! In lieu of my time and confusion the owner graciously offered me a juice on the house. It makes me laugh about all the free stuff I’ve gotten this week out of miscommunication and error. It’s nice that people are willing to help me in other ways, such as with a free juice, even if they can’t necessarily help me not produce waste!
I walked back through the crowds to my car with my big Tupperware, feeling a little stupid, but I can’t help but laugh at the situation. It makes me realize, wow, this world isn’t designed for this lifestyle.
As I drove home with my giant tupperware chilling copilot in the passenger seat, I spotted a green bin on the side of the road. I pulled over, dumped my contents into it, and sped off. I felt like I just did something illegal (and perhaps I did?). I imaged how funny it would be if the homeowner chased after me asking me what the hell I just dumped in their bin, and having to explain my day to them.
Wednesday night I went to a Starbucks to get work done. I forgot my reusable coffee container so I ordered an iced coffee in a recyclable plastic cup, rather than the paper/wax cup.
As I sat down and fiddled with my reusable straw to fit into my coffee lid, I realized something. At this Starbucks, approximately a quarter of the people inside were homeless. It wasn’t until now that I realized the privilege I have to do the zero waste challenge. Because of this, I felt kind of dumb giving myself a pat on the back for sticking a reusable straw in my coffee. I thought, wow, my biggest struggle today was trying not to produce any trash. How blessed am I? How privileged am I to be able to afford to shop at expensive all-natural food stores like Wholefoods and Lassen’s to do this challenge?
The zero waste challenge takes extra effort, planning, and commitment. It’s initially hard to do, and I would never tell anyone that they should be zero waste. Because, how could you, when so many people don’t have the privilege to make accumulating trash an obstacle in their day?
Plus, how silly someone might feel pulling out their cloth napkin and reusable utensils when they live in a neighborhood that’s built near a landfill, or in a heavily polluted industrial area. It reminds of Environmental Justice, a concept I work on frequently. It’s “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmental justice is a need because it’s often easier for hazardous companies to establish in low-income neighborhoods who don’t have the resources or privileged power to oppose their corporations.
That being said, maybe people may not see the ‘return of investment,’ so to speak, of saving one piece of plastic from the landfill by going out of their way to do so, when their living situation is set up to be exposed to several areas of pollution on a daily basis. Perhaps composting isn’t a priority, when simply feeding yourself or your family is.
I say this because it hit me that engaging in these challenges is unfortunately not attainable for so many people who struggle in society, who can’t afford natural food stores, or don’t even have those food stores in their neighborhood.
Also, I couldn’t help to think of how this zero waste challenge reminds me of one of those ‘white people things’ (aka: jokes poking fun at how privileged and thereby whacky white people can be). I mean, I kept compost in my fridge, made vegan kale chips with nutritional yeast, and saved my trash to talk about it later. It kind of makes me cringe. But as Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers once said, “There’s no shame in giving a shit.” Plus, I feel enlightened, humbled, and highly sensitive to my environment. These are not bad things to feel and experience.
Day 6: Thursday
On Thursday I kept reflecting on my thoughts from Wednesday night. So many great realizations hit me and I was so excited to write about the breakthroughs I achieved through living zero waste. I understand the need for positivity, and that’s 100% what Sustainable Daisy is all about. But I also thought about how important it is to highlight some of the nitty-gritty stuff nobody is talking about, and that was something I thought was worth noting.
I also think it’s okay for environmentalists to admit their mistakes and unsustainable parts of their lives. For one, I’m not perfect and I knew I would probably fail at having no trash the week before it began, and I was totally okay with that. I welcomed opportunities to fail because I wanted to talk about the reality of being an American, being an Angelino, and highlighting issues like waste management, single-use plastic, and resource allocation.
Today I am mentally and spiritually fueled, but physically, I’m tired. Never before did I realize how sporadic and quick my food choices were, and because of this and my lack of preparation, my diet was pretty poor.
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m having for lunch or dinner until moments before. Today was one of those days, and although I could buy food with my mason jars, I decided embark on my lunch break to try to find the most sustainable take-out food in the LA Valley.
I decided to go to freshii, which is one of my favorite eco-friendly lunch spots. I asked the employees to not include any napkins or utensils with my order, and they happily complied. They also handed me my order without a bag, which I really appreciated. I was able to recycle the lid and shred the biodegradable bowl for my compost bin. This is what I call zero waste take-out food! Not too shabby.
Day 7: Friday
For my final day of the zero waste challenge I went to Ralphs, my nearby grocery store. I was craving a peanut butter sandwich to I went to the peanut butter aisle. I found that every single jar, even the fancy-expensive kind, either came with a plastic seal on the inside of the lid, or an outer plastic seal around the lid. Blast! Do zero waste people just never eat peanut butter? lol. It occurred to me later I would have to go to one of those shops where I could grind my own peanuts into butter right then and there.
But even so, where is that store? It sounds like there would be one in Wholefoods or Lassen’s but what about Ralphs or Vons? What if you don’t have a fancy all-natural bulk food store in your neighborhood? This makes being zero waste much more initially difficult, but probably easier over time once you get the hang of it.
I bought a few single bananas that didn’t have any stickers on them and a can of tomato soup in a recyclable aluminum can. Not very glamourous, but it got the job done!
Here are the Results!
I found the task of not producing trash to be SUPER eye-opening. More than just diverting trash from a landfill, being zero waste makes you look at the world differently. It made me realize how much plastic our society uses and how nearly impossible it is to ‘conveniently’ be zero waste without prep or forethought. It brought to my attention my living habits, sanitation laws, and what I could live without.
Perhaps this week was especially difficult for me because I wasn’t used to it. For example, if I keep it up I’d probably get to know my farmer’s market guys, the cashier register at my local bulk store would get the hang of subtracting the tare weight of my mason jars, and my local butcher wouldn’t look at me weird for asking him to place meat in metal tins. Over time, I’d also probably develop an established location to toss my compost. I can see how you can get the hang of it, which is very encouraging.
I want to learn, be better and do more, which it why doing the #oneweekzerowastechallenge was a fantastic challenge to help me understand sustainable living in a whole new way. I would encourage everyone to try this challenge, even just once!
Things I’m going to continue doing:
- Bringing my cloth napkin, reusable straws, and bamboo cutlery in my purse
- Buying bulk beans, rice, etc., (it tastes so much better than canned!)
Things that surprised me:
- How many times I was asked if I wasn’t using toilet paper. lol!
- How often people at cash registers were not used to zero waste shoppers
- If you’re not a good cook, you’ll start getting cranky (talking about myself)
- How often I was hungry
- How fast sugar was omitted from my diet
All jokes aside, I was really happy with what I learned and figuring out what I can do to better sustain the earth!
If you decide to try this yourself, use #oneweekzerowastechallenge and tag me, @sustainabledaisy!
Have you ever tried being zero waste? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!