When my team first suggested a Zero Waste Week Challenge, I thought, What a good experience for the team to do together! While I try to be very vigilant about the waste I produce, I have most definitely found that there is always room for improvement. I looked forward to the journey we were all going to on together and figured it would be good to “sharpen” my waste reduction habits as well.
I got an immediate dose of reality on Day 1. Although it was a Sunday and I could cook at home, I decided to start my day with some leftovers from lunch the day before – leftovers I brought home in a Styrofoam container. So not even a day into the challenge, I was struggling to dissect a large Styrofoam clam shell takeaway container. The manner in which I got it to flatten and take up as little space as possible was the only impressive thing about my first half-day. I cooked the rest of Sunday’s meals, and the only waste I created for the remainder of the day was the wrapper around a stick of butter.
Day 2 was a university holiday, which allowed me to cook at home and produce no waste! Unfortunately, that glee was short-lived when I had to hang some posters around campus and the posters required special hangers that came heavily packaged. While the packages’ cardboard backing could be recycled, the plastic “bubble” that made up the rest of the packaging could not. Additionally all of the hangers had a little peel-back cover on that was also not recyclable. I also had to deal with a considerable amount of shrink wrap that had been put around the posters. While each individual item took up little space, by the time I was finished hanging posters my plastic bag was definitely filling up quickly.
Today I finished a 25 pound bag of dog food, which left me with a HUGE bag to throw away. This bag, intact and folded, would have completely filled my plastic bag for the week and I honestly would’ve had to lay on it to get the bag closed. So I started inspecting the bag in greater detail and found that the bag was manufactured in layers. As it turns out, two of its three layers were recyclable! So I still had a chunk of waste in my bag, but I also managed to save space! Throughout the rest of the day, I was careful not to add any more waste to my bag. I brought my lunch to work and I took all of my food waste home to compost it.
I ended the day virtually waste-less because I brought my lunch to work and cooked at home for dinner. I learned that frozen vegetable bags are not recyclable, so one of them went into my bag. The experience sort of made me want to opt for canned veggies, since I could recycle everything, but the frozen ones taste so much better. Social (self) sustainability just barely edged out environmental sustainability on that one.
I completed another virtually waste-less day, however I found myself pretty astounded by the amount of recycling items I was producing. Even though those items aren’t going to be landfilled, they still have to be processed and handled, which takes energy and resources and really makes an impact on the environment. I started looking at what exactly was in my recycling bin and began brainstorming options to make my recycling items decrease. I’ve decided that the first change I should make is to buy my yogurt in bulk and just eat it plain rather than having a different flavor, individually packaged each day. I also learned today that the little “pads” in the bottom of the plastic clam shell berry containers are not recyclable or compostable, so they were placed into my waste bag as well. Although they are flat and take up little space, it is still very unfortunate.
Day 6 was, overall, a good day! I did find myself taking the last bit of one of the goodies on the office treat table, so I was responsible for disposing of its packaging. Thank goodness this happened with a popcorn bag and not the huge plastic platter of cookies! Still, the experience made me think of bringing waste-free treats for my colleagues in the future. I’m also continuing to look through the recycling bin to come up with more ideas for reducing “end of life waste” in general so that I don’t even have a decision to make related to how to dispose of it. I’m very interested in source reduction..
Unfortunately, I definitely did some backsliding today. I left for vacation and traveled via airplane. Although I brought my own coffee mug that could also be used as a water bottle, there was still the challenge of not being able to pack my own lunch and snacks and being bombarded with all sorts of non-recyclable packaging during my 12 hours of travel in and out of airports and on and off of planes. I opted for healthy food options including salads, nuts and cut-up fruit, and not only was there more packaging, I also needed silverware to eat these items. So I grabbed a plastic fork, however I didn’t throw it away and instead kept it with me the entire vacation so that I could use it again and again and maintain some dignity to end the week.
Overall, I finished off the week very well and almost all of my waste pieces fit into my bag. Following the challenge, I am now very diligent in traveling with silverware and also in my continued consideration of consumption and waste reduction.