Challenges Linger Over More Healthful School Lunches
“I think many people are ready to cut their waste,” says Kellogg. However, she doesn’t want people to fixate on trying to stuff all their trash into a jar. Zero-waste is really about trying to minimize your trash and making better choices in your life, she says. “Just do the best you can and buy less.” A Thriving Community
A breast cancer scare in college led Kellogg to start reading labels on personal-care products and finding ways to limit her exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. She found alternatives and started making her own products. Like her own readers, Kellogg learned from others, including New York City’s Lauren Singer, who has the very popular Trash is for Tossers blog. Singer started reducing her waste footprint as an environmental studies student in 2012 and has turned zero-waste into a career as a speaker, consultant, and retailer. She has two stores dedicated to making trash-free living easier for everyone. Plastics 101
There’s an active zero-waste community online sharing ideas, challenges, and support for those struggling with unhelpful friends and family who think it’s weird to worry about trash. “There’s a fear of being rejected when you try to do things differently,” Kellogg says. “But it’s not a radical act to clean up a kitchen spill with a cloth towel instead of a paper towel.”
Many of the solutions to cutting waste use practices that were commonplace before the era of plastics and disposable products. Think cloth napkins and handkerchiefs, vinegar and water for cleaning, glass or stainless-steel containers for left-overs, cloth grocery bags. These, and similar old-school solutions, produce no waste and are cheaper in the long run. Questioning What’s Normal
Going zero-waste means questioning what’s normal and thinking outside the box, Kellogg says. As one example, she mentions that she loves tortillas but hates making them. But as part of her zero-waste quest, she didn’t want to buy packaged ones at the grocery. Eventually, she hit on the solution: buy a bunch of fresh-made ones from her local Mexican restaurant. The restaurant was even happy to put the tortillas in Kellogg’s container because it saves them money.
“Many such solutions to waste are insanely simple,” she says. “And any step to reduce waste is a step in the right direction.”
Cincinnati’s Rachel Felous took more than a few steps in January 2017 and cut her waste to one bag for the year. Felous was surprised and delighted with the impact it’s had on her life. View Images
Residents drop off materials at the new Zero Waste Center in Vancouver, Canada, in March 2018. The center is a one-stop household garbage collection site where residents can drop off waste for reuse or recycling, in order to help reduce the amount going to landfills. Photograph by Liang Sen, Xinhua News Agency
“Going zero waste has been great,” she says. “I found an amazing community, made new friends, and new opportunities have come my way,” says Felous.
Although an environmentally aware nature lover, Felous hadn’t really thought about how much waste she produced until she moved. That’s when she realized how much stuff she’d accumulated, including a dozen half-used bottles of shampoo and conditioners. Not long after reading an article on zero-waste she vowed to take more responsibility for her own footprint. Felous also documents her struggles, challenges, and successes on Instagram during her quest to slash the trash.
By weight 75 to 80 percent of all household trash is organic matter that can be composted and turned into soil. As an apartment dweller, Felous deals with her organic waste by putting it in the freezer. Once a month, she takes her frozen lump to her parent’s house, where a local farmer picks it up to feed animals or for composting. If the organic waste went to a landfill it likely wouldn’t compost, because air can’t circulate enough there.
Felous, who runs her own web design and photography business out of her home, advises others to approach zero waste with small steps and show themselves kindness. Making a lifestyle change is a journey, it doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s worth the effort, she says. “I don’t know why I didn’t start sooner.” A Regular Family
Shawn Williamson started ten years ago. While his neighbors in the suburbs outside of Toronto drag three or four bags of trash to the curb on cold winter nights, Williamson stays warm inside watching hockey on TV. Williamson, his wife, and daughter have taken just six bags of trash to the curb in those 10 years. “We live a very normal life. We’ve just eliminated waste,” he says.
Contrary to what most people think, cutting out waste isn’t a lot of work, he adds. “We buy in bulk to cut down on shopping trips, which saves us money and time,” Williamson says.
The only unusual thing about their small, 20-year old house is the amount of shelving used to store bulk purchases of rice, flour, dried beans, nuts, toilet paper, and other products—enough to avoid going shopping for a month, he estimates. “It’s not cluttered. I still park my car in the garage.”
Williamson, a business consultant specializing in sustainability, says his goal is simply to be less wasteful in all aspects of life. “It’s a mindset of looking for better ways of doing things. Once I figure it out there’s little effort to maintain it,” he says.
It helps that his community has a good recycling program for plastics, paper, and metals and he has room in his backyard for two small composters—one for summer and winter—that produce lots of rich earth for his garden. For everything else, he shops carefully to avoid waste and notes that throwing things out costs money: packaging pushes up the cost of the product, and then we pay for disposal of packaging in our taxes, he says.
Buying local makes it easier to buy foods and other products without packaging, from meat to soap. And when there is no choice, he leaves the packaging behind at the checkout counter. Stores can often reuse or recycle it, and leaving it sends a message: many customers don’t want their avocados wrapped in plastic. View Images
These peppers packaged in plastic are for sale in north London. But 42 firms, responsible for 80 percent of plastic packaging sold in Britain, have signed a pact that aims to reduce plastic pollution over the next seven years through a series of measures. Photograph by Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty
Even after ten years of slashing waste, new ideas still pop into Williamson’s head. And here he means waste in the broader sense—not getting a second car that’s parked 95 percent of the day, or shaving in the shower to save time. His advice: take a good look at what you might be wasting in your life. “If you eliminate it, you’ll have a happier and more profitable life,” he says. Five Principles of Zero-waste From the Experts*
1. Refuse – refuse to buy things with lots of packaging
2. Reduce – don’t buy things you don’t really need
3. Reuse – repurpose worn out items, shop for used goods, and purchase reusable products like steel water bottles
4. Compost – up to 80 percent of waste by weight is organic. But this rarely decomposes in landfills
5. Recycle – It still takes some energy and resources to recycle, but it’s better than sending stuff to the landfill or allowing it to become litter
*These are listed in order of importance
Editor’s note: We corrected the spelling of Kathryn’s name from an earlier version of this story. Read More

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