Can I go zero waste?

I made this toothpaste with four simple ingredients: baking soda, coconut oil, water, and peppermint essential oil. My mouth still feels clean and fresh without creating waste by disposing of a toothpaste tube!

I made this toothpaste with four simple ingredients: baking soda, coconut oil, water, and peppermint essential oil. My mouth still feels clean and fresh without creating waste by disposing of a toothpaste tube!

By Sarah Martinez, Student Sustainability Ambassador

I went waste free for a month, and here’s what happened.

Helping to create the Recycling Ambassadors program, analyzing recycling behavior on campus, and writing blogs on waste forced me to reflect on my own lifestyle. What I discovered made me feel like there was more I could do. A month ago if you asked me about adopting a waste-free lifestyle, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. As positive as I wanted to be about solving the waste problem, going waste free didn’t seem practical, especially as a student.

But I was wrong.

I was first inspired by a video I stumbled upon via UpWorthy. Lauren Singer, a recent graduate from New York University’s Environmental Studies department describes how hypocritical she felt studying environmental issues and not putting her knowledge into creative action. After watching the short video, I went about my life, continuing to aimlessly troll Facebook for other temporarily inspiring quotes and videos. It wasn’t until my next visit to the grocery store that I noticed a change in my habits. Involuntarily, I began to take note of all the packaging that food requires. The plastic bags, the salads in plastic boxes, the bread in plastic, the cereal in cardboard boxes and plastic, all the different berries in plastic boxes, all of my baking needs in a variety of plastic and cardboard packaging, the shampoo and conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes.

Plastic is everywhere.

With my newfound motivation, I invested in a few mason jars (a whopping $6 at Savers) and reusable produce bags ($8 on Amazon) to start. After my small investment, my first trip to the grocery store I had only one small plastic produce bag that I used for my granola. I struggled for a week or two to figure out how to successfully use my mason jars at the store to purchase bulk items without paying for the weight of the jars. It turns out there’s an easy fix: simply weigh the jar and jot down the weight in marker somewhere on the bottle for the cashier at your grocery store to deduct at checkout. (So far, I’ve found that Sprouts and Whole Foods are happy to accommodate!)

After reconsidering my own choices, the only real waste I’ve created from purchasing food has come from the unavoidable produce stickers and twist ties. I have to say, there is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that comes with knowing that I am creating almost no waste.

Now that I have the no-waste food shopping thing on lock, I’ve begun to explore the world of creating my own hygienic products. Not only does this save you from creating unnecessary waste, it also saves money. I started with the easiest of products to make—toothpaste—and thus far I love it! There are a multitude of recipes out there for other products, such as shampoo and body wash, though I haven’t progressed to that just yet.

A major form of waste in my regimen was from the cotton rounds that I used to clean my face. I found a great shop on Etsy that makes organic cotton rounds that are reusable. I just throw them in with my laundry to clean them!

A major form of waste in my regimen was from the cotton rounds that I used to clean my face. I found a great shop on Etsy that makes organic cotton rounds that are reusable. I just throw them in with my laundry to clean them!

One thing to understand about going waste free is that it’s a process. It won’t happen overnight unless you throw out everything and begin anew (but in doing that you are creating a lot of unnecessary waste). Enjoy what you have now and as things transition out of your life, try and replace them with sustainable, durable products. It’s a fun and rewarding transition. I highly recommend giving it a shot!

Sarah Martinez is a student sustainability ambassador for the Sustainability Office.

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