Sustainability Series: Shannon

“The problem is people weaseling out of the growth.  We are addicted to not being inconvenienced by reality.  Even in mundane circumstances.”
― Lindy West, The Witches Are Coming

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been digging into waste reduction and will be presenting a series of posts on the subject.  I have asked friends to chime in on their sustainability practices but I thought I should be vulnerable and tell you my struggles and successes with zero waste effort first.

To start, I really resonate with the above quote by the fabulous feminist author Lindy West.  She wasn’t referring to plastic use, but she was referring to willful ignorance, applicable in many situations.  To closing your eyes to reality.  To what I was doing about single-use plastic.  I bought frozen blueberries and quickly tossed the bag, not even thinking of where it would end up (most likely in the belly of a sea turtle).  I realized that if I was truly going to live honestly in caring for the earth, I needed to address this major blind spot. IMG-6504

Here are some startling facts about plastic waste in America: 

  • A single American consumes roughly two years per year in paper products
  • 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR are tossed in the trash in the U.S.
  • We only recycle 30% or our trash.
  • Glass and aluminum are infinitely recyclable!
  • Americans use 65 billion aluminum soda cans per year.
  • In one day, the energy used to create and distribute junk mail in the U.S. could heat 250,000 homes, and almost all of that product ends up in landfills

In summary, we buy too much shit and don’t recycle the shit, so now we are choking on shit and the shit is going into our oceans.

It ain’t good.  And no one can change it but ourselves.  So, I realized I needed to start taking this seriously.

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All of the clothes in this photo were bought second-hand or given to me by a friend 🙂

Beginning: 

I recognized the need to change how I consume products.  I started out by taking an audit of what I use in my house, did research on how I could make those choices more sustainable, looked into resources in my community, and reached out to those who are father along on the journey.  It was eye-opening and made me realize that I had lulled myself into thinking that my habits were ok.  I had relied on the fact that my environmental impact is smaller than that of my non-vegan neighbors and stopped researching.  I foolishly patted myself on the back for a job well done and stopped learning more about what I could do to help the environment.

Auditing my trash was the most important step.  Zero Waste Educator and Consultant, Katie, from That Minimal Life said it best:

“When you audit your trash, it can feel very vulnerable and eye-opening.  It may highlight where you could be making healthier choices in your life, or the amount of excess you may have that you don’t really need.  You have a choice then.  Do you stick with “ignorance is bliss” or do you commit to taking one step at a time toward something better, something powerfully meaningful?

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“Change is hard and slow . . . Sometimes people on the defensive rebound into compassion.  Sometimes smart, good people are just a little behind.”
― Lindy West, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

Successes:

I realized though my trash audit that my biggest household waste is from the grocery store.  I bet this will be the same for you, as well.  Things like granola bars, cereal, yogurt, coffee, tea, frozen items, the list goes on and on!

On my first grocery trip of the new year, I challenged myself to not buy any plastic at the store.  I made a grocery list and had to leave off convenience items, like packaged cereal and packaged granola bars.  I made a single exception for this trip and bought two cartons of oat milk because I can’t figure out how to make my own (I tried and it looked like a murder scene).

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Before I went to the grocery store, I gathered my bulk dry goods bags and shopping bags.  I also prepped my old jars and containers at home to fill upon my arrival.  I cleaned old plastic containers to bring to a zero waste store to refill (laundry detergent, dish washing detergent, etc.).

I looked up zero waste stores in Denver, and thankfully, there was one less than a mile away I could walk to.  At the zero waste store, I took an old laundry detergent container and filled it with detergent from their giant tubs.

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I also bought a shampoo and conditioner bar that I use in lieu of bottled shampoo and conditioner.  Most zero waste stores will also sell things like deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, and sometimes even makeup.

I also thought about what I really needed.  Do I really need 15 different face serums/lotion?  Or do I just need a vitamin C serum and some sunscreen?  I personally don’t wear deodorant anymore but I notice that Ty has like 10 different types of deodorant, what a waste!  When you open your eyes to this concept, you start noticing how much waste your household produces without thinking.

I also bought dryer balls to cut down on the amount of dry time we have (energy!).  Dryer balls separate clothes better than dryer sheets, allowing hot air to circulate more evenly and efficiently, which then reduces drying time.  I bought ones made of hemp from an Etsy store, and because the hemp is so absorbent, it can reduce drying time by 25%.

Challenges:

I am not a great cook or a good baker.  But I realized I am going to need to make a lot of my own food to avoid plastic.  For example, baking bread, making my own granola bars, making my own oat milk.

I also learned that preparation and habit-building are KEY.  I forgot my grocery bags one day when I was going to the store and ended up accepting two paper bags instead.  I will reuse those paper bags for something else, but that could have been avoided by being present (or with a sticky-note on the door).  Doing grocery prep and meal prep is something that takes much more time, but I think it will ultimately save me money, calories, and decrease my impact on the planet.

Makeup and beauty products are two areas I need to do more research on.  I haven’t purchased anything new yet, but I’m noticing that a lot of my current products come in plastic.

Traveling has been difficult and because I wasn’t prepared for certain things, I ended up purchasing plastic items. Womp.  I am doing research on how to offset my carbon footprint from flights.  But last month, I bought a diet Coke at the airport to settle my stomach and felt bad about that, but I remembered that we don’t need one person to do zero waste perfectly – we need millions of people doing it imperfectly! Just making an effort and thinking about it will save our oceans and our wildlife!  I realized I don’t need to beat myself up about one plastic bottle, I just need to notice it, and try to do better next time.

Ways to Reduce Consumption: 

While transitioning to a less-plastic life, I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people and have some tips I would love to share with anyone who is just starting out!

Here is what I’ve learned:

  • Carry reusable utensils.  You will be amazed at how many restaurants automatically serve plasticware!  I bought some at REI and use them all the time (along with metal chopsticks and a metal straw that I keep in my purse).
  • Carry a reusable coffee mug and reusable water bottle.  Coffee shops will be cool with providing coffee to you in your own mug (and you may get a small discount).
  • Use canvas bags for produce and dry goods at the grocery store (or, if feasible, just throw veggies and fruit in your cart, raw-dog (Ty hates when I use that phrase about our produce)).
    • You don’t need to buy new bags – that’s not the point! You can make your own bags from old pillowcases, or repurpose other materials.  If you don’t have anything like that and do need to buy new, I like these.
  • Research the closest grocery store with bulk items.
  • Use shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottles.
  • Those who menstruate – use a menstrual cup (they are awesome for camping too because you don’t have any trash and you don’t need to empty it as often as you would need to change a tampon).
  • Buy used clothes whenever you can, or better yet, repair what you have now and don’t buy anything at all.

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Resources: 

  • I recently connected with That Minimal Life funder, Katie.  She is a zero waste consultant, lives in Denver and has a really awesome website with lots of tips. Last month I got to video chat with her and she answered a lot of my zero waste questions. I highly recommend her website, That Minimal Life. 
  • The Food Empowerment Project provides information to make the most ethical and sustainable food choices we can. The goal of the Food Empowerment Project is to raise awareness about how our food choices can change the world.
  • Bea Johnson’s TEDx Talk 2016
  • documentary on Zero Waste
  • Jen Rivera Bell has a fun YouTube channel
  • 2020 Recycling Trends
  • Waste Dive 2020 – recycling impacts in all 50 states
  • Educational Resources from the Zero Waste International Alliance

Thanks, everyone!  Feel free to ask me a question or provide a tip for how you reduce your plastic or waste!

Next week I’ll be introducing you readers to my friends who are letting you peek into their lives!  They will be describing the various ways they live sustainably and I’m so excited to share their stories and tips with you! 

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