ewczerowastechallenge

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: All the Gory Details of My Repeated Failures

An Update On My Zero Waste Efforts
This stock photo really spoke to me because I had the privilege of waiting for a small herd of deer to cross my path on the way to work earlier this week. 

If you didn't catch my introduction to this challenge earlier in the week, please read this post before proceeding.

To say this week's Zero Waste efforts did not go well would be an understatement. Even one of my concerted attempts to make life more zero waste resulted in more waste.

Let's start from where I left off:

Monday

I don't work on Mondays, so to some extent I could control my day - and the waste I produced - a little bit better. I made Risotto using arborio rice and mushrooms covered in plastic for lunch, and covered half of my remaining onion with plastic wrap (I know, I know. There's really no excuse for still using plastic wrap, but I always convince myself that it's better than all the water waste that would result from using a storage container. I don't think that's true, probably, but given this article, could it maybe be true?).

Later in the day, I went out to dinner with friends and used a paper napkin.

Today's Waste:
  1. Coffee Filter (compostable, but I didn't compost it)
  2. Packaging on virtually all lunch recipe items
  3. Paper napkin
  4. 2-3 Paper Towels (half sheets)
  5. Cotton Ball
  6. Toilet Paper (but it was post-consumer recycled if that helps)

Tuesday

The dreaded grocery day, which puts a real strain on my efforts to go zero waste. 

But before we get there...I received my pour-over coffee maker with reusable filter Monday, so I was able to go filter-free Tuesday morning and my coffee tasted great, too (I bought this coffee maker if anyone's interested). Bad news is that I ate a granola bar for breakfast and it was covered in plastic. 

On Tuesdays, one of my sweet volunteers brings us bagels from the local bagel shop (shout out to Bodo's!) and my bagel was covered in wax paper. I threw it in the shop's single stream trash can, so who knows what will become of it. At work, I also tend to use a lot of paper towels to wipe off grubby donations and surfaces. 

Because we're lazy (and traffic in C-ville is insane during rush hour), Daniel and I decided to go to the closest grocery store instead of Whole Foods, so it was difficult to totally void packaging. I bought more mini potatoes covered in packaging, plus chopped carrots and a pre-made salad (I factored in a lot of details on the salad, including how much more packaging I would have created if I'd bought a full bottle of dressing and a full bag of cheese to go with my unpackaged romaine). I also got a package of Goldfish, which is technically paper with foil inside, so it might be recyclable. Will have to check before I toss it. 

I also sent a package in a plastic mailer, so there's that.

Today's Waste:
  1. Granola Bar packaging
  2. Bagel Wrapper (?)
  3. Several Paper Towels (half sheets)
  4. Toilet Paper
  5. Cotton Ball
  6. Plastic wrapping on a myriad of produce items from grocery store
  7. Plastic mailer

Wednesday

Wednesday was super busy at work, so I can't remember much else. Oh! I made Red Beans and Rice with sausage for dinner, so that generated some waste. Fortunately, the can is recyclable and the brown rice I use comes in a cardboard container, but the sausage was wrapped in plastic and I covered the leftovers in plastic wrap (I know, I know).

Today's Waste:
  1. Granola Bar
  2. 3-4 Paper Towels (used at work)
  3. Toilet Paper
  4. Cotton Ball
  5. Plastic covering Amy's Frozen Lunch
  6. Plastic packaging on Andouille sausage
  7. Plastic Wrap

Thursday

After I wrote my last post on this subject, I had the brilliant idea of purchasing reusable produce bags to make grocery shopping easier. They arrived in a large box surrounded by plastic bubble wrap (which is weird since they're made of mesh), which was sort of a *headdesk* moment for me. Had to throw the bubble wrap away, but at least I may start making progress at the grocery store.

I had leftover beans and rice for lunch, so no additional waste! I ate some tuna for dinner and the can was recyclable (as is the mayo container). 

Daniel and I headed to Trader Joe's for a couple of things and I bought a refrigerated cinnamon roll kit in one of those biscuit cartons that pops when you press on it. Theoretically, the whole thing should have been recyclable because it's cardboard, but there was a big piece of plastic packaging holding the small, plastic-sealed container of frosting inside the tube, so that's another headdesk for the day.

Also, got some packages in the mail. A couple were wrapped in plastic mailers.

Today's Waste:
  1. Banana Peel (compostable, but I didn't compost it)
  2. 3-4 Paper Towels (half sheets)
  3. Plastic from Cinnamon Rolls
  4. Toilet Paper
  5. Cotton Ball
  6. Floss
  7. Plastic mailers

Friday

Our lawn guy gave me free lunch in a styrofoam container (people give me a lot of food at the thrift shop; it's incredible). I made some potato soup for dinner and wrapped my leftover onion in plastic wrap. 

Today's Waste:
  1. Styrofoam Container
  2. 3-4 Paper Towels (half sheets)
  3. Plastic Wrap
  4. Toilet Paper
  5. Cotton Ball

What I've Learned So Far:

Well, that's 32 trash bullet points listed for 5 days. I know I can easily get that number down if I just strategize a little better.
  • I'm not going to quit toilet paper anytime soon, but I think I'll try to seek out post-consumer recycled options for the long term.
  • Gotta find better cotton ball and paper towel options.
  • Do a better job of weighing convenience versus reducing waste for produce and other grocery items.

For what it's worth, my husband already thinks I'm a crunchy hippie and I've barely skimmed the surface of this whole zero waste thing. You have to start somewhere. 

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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.