March: Gone with the Waste

Hi Live Green! Enthusiasts, 

It’s Isabelle, the Live Green! Social Media Engagement intern, again. February was a great month of celebrating small acts of sustainability for a bigger impact on our world. Sustainapalooza and The Symposium on Sustainability connected students and the community with resources and knowledge on sustainability. March will be all about living a zero-waste lifestyle without breaking the bank.

March’s campaign is called Gone with the Waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the average American produces about 4.4 of trash a day – 1,606 pounds of trash a year, per person. By making small changes to our daily lives, we can make a difference in the amount of waste produced and discarded. 

So, what does zero waste actually mean? In the simplest terms, zero waste means nothing ends up in a landfill. But it is much more than just redirecting waste. The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as…

“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health”

Why Zero Waste?

Why should you be bothered to live a zero-waste lifestyle? Zero waste is beneficial for both people and the environment. Part of going zero waste involves purchasing quality products that last longer. As a result, we end up buying less frequently and using less resources since every aspect of the production of goods requires energy. Even when a product is thrown away, it is still contributing to climate change as it decomposes. The EPA attributes landfills as being responsible for about 15% of human-caused methane emissions. 

Plastic waste is a good example. Plastic is one of the most prevalent materials in our lives. According to Protea, packaging is the number one contributor to plastic pollution. Over half of the world’s plastic thrown out is from packaging. Waste in landfills, whether biodegradable, plastic, or anything else, emits greenhouse gasses and contributes to climate change.

As well as reducing emissions, because we are buying products less frequently – through a zero-waste lifestyle – we are also saving money and time spent aimlessly wandering around the store for unnecessary products. Author and Zero-Waste Advocate Kathryn Kellogg estimates that she saved $18,000 in the first two years of committing to a zero-waste lifestyle. Imagine how that money can be used in a more meaningful way, such as taking a trip! 

Zero waste creates job opportunities and boosts the economy. According to Lochtree, “zero waste creates 10 times more jobs through reducing, reusing, and recycling than through trash disposal. More jobs are created in rental, repairing, reusing, and sharing businesses.” 

Zero waste also encourages community initiatives, such as meal-sharing or ‘take a book, leave a book’ libraries. The concept of the “Little Free Library” is to keep waste out of the landfills and provide a place for people to drop off books and pick out a new treasure. Learn about starting a community book exchange in your own community and find resources on the Little Free Library website

Photo Courtesy of Skokie Library

Getting Started

Working toward zero waste in your own life, does not have to be intimidating. It is important; however, to first understand your challenges and opportunities. Step one – consider doing a trash audit. As featured in this month’s newsletter, a trash audit is a method for determining the type of trash (and how much) you generate. To start, dump all your trash and begin to sort through it. Count recurring items and make a tally every time you notice the same item. This exercise opens your eyes to where the majority of your trash is coming from. Notice areas where you can easily improve to cut back your waste. Read more about trash audits on the Going Zero Waste website (and check out March’s newsletter!).  

Zero Waste With Zero Hassle 

Now with an understanding of your trash challenges and opportunities, you can start planning your strategy. Making steps towards a zero-waste lifestyle does not have to begin with splurging on specialized products. Small tweaks or alternatives to everyday products can reduce what you send to the landfill. Here are a few zero waste ideas to get started:

  • Loose leaf tea instead of tea bags
    • Why: Loose leaf tea is better for your body and the environment! Tea bags are made out of several raw materials including carton, paper and plastic. Some tea bags are not biodegradable and will eventually end up in landfills. Some tea bags can also contain Epichlorohydrin, a compound used as a pesticide. Because loose leaf tea requires less processing than tea bags, the tea retains the original, yummy flavor and does not require added artificial flavoring. To read more about the benefits of loose leaf tea over tea bags, visit the Topic Tea website. 
    • Modification: Compost your tea bags! Not all tea bags can be composted as-is because of the various materials used in manufacturing, but the tea leaves within the bag can be composted. To learn more about how to properly compost tea bags, visit the Tea How website
  • Replace your keurig or coffee maker with a french press
    • Why: A french press does not produce any by-products, other than coffee grounds (compostable!). According to TenTree, the french press is the most eco-friendly way to brew coffee. On top of that, when you use a french press, you do not need to buy pricey k-cups or coffee filters. Fresh coffee from a french press tastes better than the processed coffee packaged in single-use plastic. Read about what the founder of Keurig K-cups had to say about the coffee maker and the disposable pods in an interview by The Atlantic.
    • Alternative: Compost your coffee filters! Or if you are using a keurig, consider repurposing the k-cups. Visit Buzz Feed for 33 creative ideas to reuse your k-cups. 
  • Soap bars instead of liquid soap packaged in plastic 
    • Why: According to Reduce Plastic Waste, over 1.4 billion body wash bottles are thrown away or recycled each year. Bar soap generally uses no plastic packaging, is biodegradable and is typically made from natural, food-grade ingredients. And don’t worry, we are still keeping your wallet in mind — some bar soaps can cost as little as $1 and last a lot longer than liquid soaps. 
    • Alternative: Repurpose your old soap containers instead of disposing of them. For example, clean out the container and fill it with a GIY (Green-It-Yourself) cleaning solution. Find an eco-friendly soap recipe on the Lovely Greens website. Another option is to buy in bulk and refill a soap container to cut down on the plastic waste. For more ideas on how to reuse plastic liquid soap containers, visit the SFGATE website. 
  • Powder laundry detergent instead of liquid
    • Why: Liquid detergent is typically packaged in large plastic containers. Even though they are recyclable, only about 30% of the jugs are properly recycled. And once a jug makes it to the landfill, it can take up to 500 years to properly decompose. Also, the handling of liquid detergent is not as easy as powder. The liquid is difficult to measure out the exact amount needed, wasting resources and leaving residue on clothes. Powder detergent is packaged in cardboard (recyclable), cheaper, produces less waste and lasts a long time. 
    • Alternative: Green-It-Yourself at home! Find a four-ingredient, eco-friendly detergent recipe on the Zero Waste Memoirs website
  • Reusable notebook
    • Why: How many times do you buy a new notebook in a year? Consider purchasing a binder or three-pronged folder and replacing the loose leaf paper when it runs out. 
    • Alternative: Purchase notebooks made from recycled paper and from companies that prioritize sustainability! For ideas on eco-friendly and zero- waste school supplies, visit the Sustainable Jungle. At Iowa State, you can donate or request lightly-used school supplies from the College of Design Closet. Find more information and the list of materials on the College of Design website
  • Reusable bag for takeout 
    • Why: Instead of taking a disposable bag to carry your leftovers home, bring a reusable bag! According to the Earth Day website, Nearly 2 million single-use plastic bags are used every minute across the globe. Plastic bags never leave our environment. The Center for Biological Diversity reported that plastic bags take 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill and even then, they become microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment. 
    • Alternative: If you forget your reusable bag at home, check if the restaurant has paper bags because they are easier to recycle and are biodegradable. If not, there are ways to reuse plastic bags, rather than sending them to the landfill. Use the bags as trash liners, reuse for future groceries, empty the vacuum cleaner, etc. Visit the Kitchn website for more unique ideas on repurposing disposable bags. And if you cannot find a use for disposable bags, grocery store retailers such as Target, Walmart and Hyvee offer option/drop-offs for recycling plastic bags. 
  • Green-It-Yourself whenever possible!
    • Making something yourself is a great way to save money and contribute to environmental benefits. Reusing materials, or upcycling, is an even better option for creating no additional waste. Plus, making something yourself results in a sense of pride and accomplishment! Dale Dougherty, Founder of Make Magazine, describes “the joy of making” as the pleasure one gets from making versus buying. Read more about the make versus buy argument on the Make Magazine website
    • Visit the Live Green! Pinterest page for Green-It-Yourself ideas related to home, health/beauty, aromatherapy, upcycling, and more! Green-It-Yourself opportunities are also highlighted in each Live Green! newsletter. View all the newsletters on the Office of Sustainability website

Additional Zero-Waste Resources

Now you know the ‘why’ behind a zero-waste lifestyle, how to complete a trash audit and hopefully jotted down a few ideas for getting started. Once you start, pursuing zero waste can be pretty addictive; so, we wanted to empower you with additional zero-waste resources. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Zero Waste Life Hacks Podcast
  • The Zero Waste Life Hacks Podcast features tips for living more sustainably through daily habits. The host, Sofia Ratcovich, and cohost, Michelle Sinclair, offer zero-waste opportunities and feature special guests in each episode. They have tackled topics like toothbrush tubes, shipping and packaging and plastic bags. Listen to the the podcast for free on Apple music or Spotify
  • The Clean Bin Project
  • The Clean Bin Project is a movie about a competition between a couple to lead a waste-free life and refuse consumerism. In their journey to produce as little waste as possible, Jen and Grant have a few awkward encounters (asking for a sandwich without the toothpick!), but most importantly, learn about the greater importance of their small actions. Watch the full trailer on the Clean Bin Movie website. **As an interesting Iowa State University connection, the 2022 Symposium on Sustainability keynote speaker, artist Chris Jordan, is featured in this movie – related to his artwork visualizing mass consumption.
  • The (almost) zero waste guide: 100+ tips for reducing your waste without changing your life 
  • Author Melanie Mannarino offers 100 simple and practical tips to live a greener life that is (almost) zero waste! Mannarino draws from her own experiences to recommend small steps for cutting down on waste. In the spirit of zero waste, rent the book from the Ames Public Library or check your local library for availability. 
  • A Zero Waste Life in Thirty Days 
  • Author Anita Vandyke embodies the gains — more time, more money, and more life — of living a zero-waste lifestyle. Each chapter provides a fresh, practical tip for eliminating plastic waste without sacrificing your lifestyle. In the spirit of zero waste, borrow the book from the Ames Public Library or ask your local library for availability. 
  • 101 Ways to go Zero Waste
  • Author Kathryn Kellogg created this book as a beginner’s guide for eco-friendly and sustainable living. No matter where you are in your zero waste journey, you can gain unique tips and recipes for beauty, cleaning, and food scraps from following this easy-to-digest handbook! Included is a homemade floor cleaner, botanical perfume, whitening tooth powder and more eco-friendly recipes! In the spirit of zero waste, check-out the book from the Ames Public Library or ask your local library for availability. 

You have learned about the what, why, and how behind going zero waste. Your challenge now is to figure out the when! Everybody’s zero-waste (or close to zero-waste) journey looks a little different and is about progress, rather than perfection. Consider these five personal questions to ask yourself when starting a zero-waste life on the Wait Don’t Waste website

  1. Why do you want to start living with less waste?
  2. What 2-3 changes will you focus on first?
  3. How will you educate yourself even more about the topic of zero waste?
  4. Where are you going to shop?
  5. Are you ready to accept that progress is better than perfection?

For more tips and resources about zero waste, stay connected to Live Green!’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To be featured on our social media, message us an image of any zero-waste life hacks that you try out this month. 

Wishing you a waste-free and meaningful March as you embark on implementing positive, eco-friendly habits in your daily routine!

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