#ethicalwritersco

EWC Zero Waste Challenge: Paying Attention Counts for Something

zero waste challenge

This week of the Zero Waste Challenge was harder and easier at the same time. I know that doesn't make sense, but here's why. On the one hand, there were some unavoidable trash moments because I attended both an open house through my work and a launch party for new business, Hem and Haw. Where finger food is, you'll almost inevitably find disposable plates and cups and obviously I wanted to eat, drink, and be merry, so I used a couple of cups and a paper plate.

On the other hand, I think I've come up with a long term strategy for reducing my waste.

It's called paying attention


I'll totally overwhelm myself if I cut everything out at once, but several of you have suggested some easy alternatives to things I wasn't sure I could let go of:

  • I currently use cotton balls to apply toner at night. This week, I opted to tear them in half to reduce waste. As soon as I'm out, I'll switch to a crochet ball variety that can we washed and re-used (I previously purchased cotton pads for this purpose, but they weren't absorbent enough). I'll either purchase from an etsy seller or beg my mom to make some for me. 
  • There are some produce items and food that don't really need to be sealed shut in the refrigerator. As Teresa suggested, I will dedicate a plate or container to half-used onions and cover leftovers with a ceramic plate instead of wrapping everything in plastic wrap. I think I'll also try to stock up/save wide mouth jars, as Eimear suggested, to store bulk items and leftovers.
  • At home and at work, I use too many paper towels. As Rebekah suggested, I'll grab some unsellable donations from the shop to cut into rags for cleaning and make sure to put a towel in the bathroom at work for employees to dry their hands off with. 

Did I manage to stay abreast of any of these zero waste innovations this week? No, unfortunately. When things get busy, I start to forget that I'm supposed to be reducing personal waste. I've decided to be gracious with myself but move forward with achievable goals. 

I didn't keep a proper tally of my waste this week, but it's fair to say I used several paper towels, toilet paper, and a few cotton balls. Additionally, there was one unavoidable straw and napkin at a restaurant, a couple of plastic cups, and a cardboard frozen dinner carton.

The good news is that I triumphantly avoided a disposable cup at the coffee shop this morning! I had to catch the barista quick before he made my cafe au lait.

What I've Learned:

Generally, I've approached this challenge the way I approach food. I eat mostly vegetarian/pescatarian at home, but I won't put on a dramatic monologue and refuse "unacceptable" food when it's offered to me at parties and people's homes. In the same way, if a server puts a straw in my drink, I'm not going to throw a tantrum. 

I make the choice when I have the choice to make, but I don't want to harass people or shame them. Ultimately, reducing waste must be a collective, systematic goal. We need to change our food and manufacturing systems, prioritize local and bulk options to reduce packaging, and make the long term effects of trash more apparent. Honestly, we should probably live closer to landfills. It would help to see that it doesn't just go away after we've tossed it.

Additional Reading/Viewing:



Check out the triumphs and struggles of other members of the Ethical Writers Coalition on their blogs:

EWC Zero Waste Challenge: Introduction + Days 1-2

zero waste challenge with the ethical writers coalition
Graphic by Elizabeth Stilwell

After a lively conversation about how difficult it is to go zero waste without losing friends and being mean to service workers (this may be an exaggeration, but it's awfully hard to say no to paper and plastic items when you're not totally in control of your shopping and eating), me and a handful of other members of the Ethical Writers Coalition decided to take on a 2 week long Zero Waste Challenge.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Baseline is not sending anything to the landfill.
  2. As long as you can (responsibly) recycle it or compost it, it doesn't count as waste.
  3. You have to verify that the items you put in your recycling or compost bins are actually recyclable.
  4. You must document how much waste you produce and why, honestly.
  5. Waste produced on your behalf at restaurants and other public places counts as your waste, too.

For the first couple of days, instead of actively going zero waste, I decided to carefully monitor my normal habits at home. Since I'd already purchased food and kitchen implements that produce waste, I used what I had. For simplicity's sake, I'll just be listing the waste I produced.

Saturday

  • Coffee filter
  • Pre-packaged spinach bag
  • Plastic produce bag containing cucumber
  • Plastic wrap and styrofoam tray from mini red potatoes packaging
  • Cotton ball 
  • Toilet paper
  • 3 paper towels
  • Pre-packaged snack cake plastic
  • 3 pieces of chocolate wrapped in foil (recyclable, but I forgot to put them in recycling bin)
  • Onion skin (compostable, but I didn't compost it)

Sunday

  • Coffee filter
  • Pre-packaged lasagna with plastic wrap and soiled cardboard (not recyclable)
  • Banana peel (compostable, but I didn't compost it)
  • Tea bag (compostable, but didn't compost it)
  • Napkins used at restaurant
  • Cotton ball
  • Toilet paper
  • 2 paper towels

What I learned so far:

The saddest thing on this list are the items I could have composted or recycled that I just didn't think about. My local farmer's market has a communal compost bin, but I'm afraid they'll be closing up for the fall pretty soon, so I'll need to examine better ways to compost (plus, I hardly ever make it to the farmer's market - Saturdays are for sleeping in!).

I should also note that I chose potatoes wrapped in plastic over the alternative because they were the only mini russet potatoes available and they looked fresher than the unpackaged, full sized variety. I really need to get myself some reusable produce bags, though (I'm going to do that today!).

I just ordered a pour-over coffee kit with a reusable filter with birthday money from my mother-in-law (thanks, Kathy!), so that will take care of my coffee filter usage longterm (I'm excited about finding daily rituals to force me out of bed when the mornings are dark, so I'm also thinking this pour-over switch will help with my mental health through the winter months).

I never use straws anymore, so I avoided that issue altogether when I ate out Sunday night.

Shopping List:

  • Reusable Cotton Balls (I have pads, but they don't absorb toner very well)
  • Reusable Produce Bags
  • Composting setup

I'll post again in a few days!


If you'd like to participate in this challenge with the Ethical Writers Coalition, just make sure to tag us (#ethicalwritersco and @ethicalwriters + #ewczerowastechallenge) on social media!


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See why I'm trying to go Zero Waste here.

EWC Second Hand Challenge: don't chuck your junk in my backyard

Ethical Writers Coalition Second Hand Challenge

The Ethical Writers Co. of which I am a part has decided to host a Second Hand Challenge for the month of September. That means something different to each of us, but we're all hoping to bring to light the beauty of buying second hand. I've gone on and on about the benefits of secondhand shopping already, even writing an article about it for Relevant Magazine, but I'm still learning to Shop Secondhand First for everything instead of impulse buying on Amazon.

Since I manage a thrift shop, my perspective on the secondhand industry is perhaps more obsessively parsed out than most. While I think that the used goods market is a vital middle man between retail stores and the landfill, it is by no means a perfect system. For one, a lot of donors assume that everything they give to thrift shops and other charities will find a happy home and go on to live a full life, but that's just not the case. At my shop - and I think we're rather generous about what we keep - we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day. We send most of that off to another charity in the hopes that they'll find some use for it, but we're fooling ourselves if we don't admit that half of that pile will end up being thrown out.

"...we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day."


This is the biggest pitfall of the secondhand market: it operates (for many) as a guilt release valve for over-consumption. People don't feel bad about buying new stuff because they know they can hand over all their old stuff to charity. They don't have to deal with the burden of tossing it in the trash.

This point assumes, of course, that people tend to feel guilty about throwing things away, but that's not true for everyone. Some people give to thrift shops simply because it makes them feel like they've done their good deed for the week. One donor even told me that she considers donating her stuff to thrift shops her primary act of goodwill, as if handing over unwanted items to us is a heavy burden for her. While I'm sure every charity shop is immensely grateful that people donate, it shouldn't replace real activism. The donor-receiver relationship is mutually beneficial; it's an exchange, not a great moral deed.


"If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them."


Another downside of the secondhand market's existence is that it allows people to be flippant about their possessions and the human and environmental costs of production. If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them. I've made it a habit to pray for the makers of the things I buy, use, and wear whether they were fairly sourced or not, not so much because I think my prayer will change the lives of those I pray for, but because I think the habitual act of prayer will change my heart for the better - it will orient my thinking toward justice and intentionality.

Despite its shortcomings (but let's be honest, they're really our shortcomings), shopping secondhand is still a very good thing, because it gives perfectly usable things another chance to live our their intended lives instead of being thrown out or otherwise abandoned. And everyone can benefit from the secondhand market: people with lower incomes have access to nice things, shopaholics can curb their spending, landfills don't fill up so quickly, local charities receive financial support, and the people who made the goods in the first place are remembered and respected through the long term use of their products. But, as with everything in this life, we must act responsibly.

rules for shopping with intention

Shopping secondhand is a budget friendly way to shop more sustainably and I'm determined to get in the habit of buying more than just clothes on the secondhand market. Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift. Plus, there are a ton of other ways to get exactly what you're looking for on the secondhand market thanks to marketplaces like ebay and thredup; or you could host a swap with your friends or in your community and find things you love for free (plus, passing things on to the specific people you know will value them is often a better option than donating willy-nilly to a thrift shop). I figure that if I can buy something that's on a slippery slope to the landfill instead of buying new, that's a small win for sustainability.

"Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift."


So follow along with me and the EWC this month as we take on the #ethicalwritersco Second Hand Challenge. If you use our hashtag on social media, we'll be able to see what you're up to and get some inspiration! You may be a novice to shopping secondhand or a seasoned pro, but we want to know how you're taking advantage of charity shops and online consignment sites to create a more sustainable, less wasteful life.

Additional Reading:


From the EWC: