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And They Called Her 'Zero Waste Zoe'

Zero Waste Living. What a concept! This came to me when discussing with my sister the wastefulness of using plastic straws, a hot topic these days. There's no doubt plastic pollution is a huge issue, you saw how concerned I was in my first post about dead fish. Every year 35 million tons of plastic pollution is produced and a quarter of that ends up in or around the water. Scientists encourage pollution prevention at the source (us...we're the source). Easier said than done.

What WOULD my life be like if I was living zero waste? I welcome you to join me on this day in the life of the one and only ME if I was living zero waste...or close to it.

But first...

What's the big idea?

According to EPA in 2013 Americans were throwing away an average of 4.40 pounds of trash per day (1.51lbs of that was recycled). This number was at its highest in 2000 when Americans were throwing away closer to 5lbs per day. Sure, that was 18 years ago now (WOW TIME FLIES), and in my little Southern California bubble we're more aware of our environmental footprint now than ever, but the truth is, we're still wasting a sh*t ton of, well, waste. In 2013, before recycling, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash, which is 508 billion pounds, or 3.6 million adult male elephants, or 84.6 million Hummer H2s. Lots of numbers here, but you get the point. It's a lot of trash, ok?

The ways in which scientists suggest pollution prevention include considering packaging when purchasing anything, reusing containers, reducing the amount of disposables used, and recycling. This seems pretty straightforward, and to be honest it sounds like everything we've ever heard before.

Let's give it a shot

I'd like to think of myself as a pretty sustainable girl. I get pangs of guilt when I use a paper towel to clean myself after eating Whole Foods Hot Bar chicken with my bare hands, just like any other grown adult woman.

It's currently Tuesday, May 1, sparing all May memes, and I'm spending today documenting how much trash I use. Tomorrow (May 2), I'm going to live the entire day zero waste. My sister tells me I can still print documents at work, since I literally have to do that for my job (right?).

So here's all the 'wasteful' items I documented myself using today:

  • Contacts (dailies)

  • Paper towels

  • Wrapper for breakfast bar

  • Makeup (and as we know, the makeup chemicals are bad for the environment)

  • Floss

  • Nail polish remover/cotton rounds

  • Nail polish (I use a peel off base coat so when my nail polish comes off it has to be thrown in the garbage which is BAD)

  • Utensils for lunch

  • Cotton round for makeup remover

  • Tissues (my seasonal allergies!!!)

  • Receipt from Whole Foods

  • Whole Foods Hot Bar container

  • Midday Tejava at work

  • Hershey's Kisses at work (I'm not perfect and I never said I was)

  • Online ordering (future packaging)

  • Peel off face mask

  • Food waste (i.e. the chicken bones from my Whole Foods Hot Bar chicken)

And now since I've bared my soul to the world via a look inside my personal trash can, let's dive into a day without trash.

Wednesday, May 2

Today's going to be all about not contributing any waste whatsoever. I fully recognize that living zero waste takes more than one day of doing it, because I already have all these packaged foods in my apartment and would need to shop in bulk, but we're living and learning today, people.

It's 9:50am, I arrived to work a short while ago and boy did I have an interesting-- ZERO WASTE -- morning. I'm wearing my glasses, no makeup, and have sneezed a total of 9 times. I refuse to use a tissue because I am in it to win it, and look like absolute death because of it. For breakfast, I had leftover lentils and a (reusable) cup full of gorilla munch cereal....yum! I made my coffee as usual because I buy grounds and use a reusable K-cup, baby!

It's 4:54pm and it hasn't been terribly hard today. I can't snack as much as I'd like which I suppose benefits me in the end. And again, I have to remind myself that living zero waste takes a lot more preparation and planning. To have truly had a zero waste salad for lunch, I would have had to buy lettuce and other vegetables from a farmer's market, buy lentils in bulk, and put all the scraps in a compost bin (unsure how to do zero waste salad dressing?). Foregoing packaging is easily the most difficult hurdle to becoming zero waste, so I'm at a loss when it comes to what I'm going to do for dinner. I'm going over to my sister's apartment so it has to be something on the go or something that I can make there.

By 8:15pm I had fully given up. As the sun set on another Glendale, California day, my options for dinner became less and less while my hunger grew. Driving to my sister's apartment I thought, "There must be something for me at Whole Foods, she's never let me down before." And as I stumbled through those emerald green automatic doors, I saw a sign from a higher Whole Foodsier power through the dirty lenses of my prescription glasses:

Nothing about this felt right but Whole Foods was basically begging me to Hot Bar, and that's just what I did (it should be noted that their containers are compostable, though).

What did we learn here today?

Good question. I think my biggest takeaway is that living zero waste, while so incredibly good for the planet, is not a viable option for most people (including me). I work full time, 9:30am-7pm most days, and try to fit the gym and social life in there somewhere too. I consider myself extremely lucky, and yet, I still don't have the means-- including time and money-- to take on this lifestyle. There are plenty of people out there that work multiple jobs, have to care for loved ones and/or are on a tight budget. Living zero waste means EVERY MEAL comes from butchers, bakers, fresh produce sections, farmer's markets and bulk dried goods where it's available. That adds up and is often difficult to find in some areas. It also means that every meal is cooked and prepared at home, which takes A LOT of time.

Maybe the best solution is big companies making more sustainable packaging. That seems like a long shot. For now, I am glad that I'm hyper aware of everything I throw away that isn't recyclable or biodegradable, and I'm going to work on reducing the amount of packaging in my pantry.

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