It all started with this short video about a town in Japan that's gone completely zero waste. I saw it while mindlessly scrolling through social media around Christmas time in 2017. The video shows how an entire community used better recycling and composting strategies to transform from a city who burned their trash or threw it into nature, to a town who has some of the best waste diversion in the world. I was convicted and motivated! If a whole town could do it, I could too.
I was nervous! I wanted to do something I could stick to. I know I wasn't ready to COMPLETELY eradicate my waste (like this famous video of the Lauren Singer, who fit all of her trash for 5 years in a mason jar, wowie!) so I needed to come up with a solution that worked for me. I wanted to do something that helped me understand the consequences of my waste, and drastically reduce it. I settled on...
"For all of 2018, anything I used that I couldn't compost or recycle, I would have to KEEP."
That's right, for all of 2018 I had a laundry bag full of all my trash in the corner of my bedroom. At first it sounds really gross, right?! Luckily, since I was composting all of my food waste, I only had non-smelly things like plastic packaging, tags from clothing, wrapping paper, etc in my bag. I tried to be strict with myself, which meant looking a little silly sometimes, but it was always worth it! People were very supportive as I put the odd package in my purse, asked for no straw, or ordered food differently at restaurants!
"I'm glad you enjoyed your food! I can take your plate if you're finished!"
"Actually I'd like to keep it for a few minutes..."
"Oh! Ok, why?"
"Well, I'm trying to reduce my trash, and I've chosen to do that by keeping all my trash that can't be composted or recycled and since there's a plastic liner on the plate, I'm going to take it home. And I'm going to take this little bit of leftovers home in the to-go container I brought."
(Usually... ) "Oh wow! That's such a great goal! I'd like to reduce my waste, too. Thanks for inspiring me, keep up the good work!
The average american produces about 5 pounds of landfill waste every day (that's 1,825 pounds a year, yikes) and by simply correctly sorting and disposing of my waste, and having more mindfulness about which packaging I chose, I reduced my waste to less than 15 pounds for the entire year! That's
Y'all, I am extremely proud of this progress, but even more than how much I reduced, I'm proud of how much it taught me. Having this goal for myself naturally drew me to doing a little extra research and finding myself in communities of people who taught me to be better. I learned a lot of things I'd never considered before, things like...
- Food waste does not break down the same way in a landfill as it does when it's composted. It actually releases methane gas into the atmosphere, instead of making amazing healthy soil that grows tastier healthier food! Check out this short video about how amazing composting is.
- I live in a region with great recycling practices (thanks Boulder Eco-Cycle) but not all recyclers are the same, and I'd really known very little about how recycling centers even worked! I encourage you to figure out where your recycling goes, and poke around a little on their website to see what resources are available to you.
- I learned how much I love EARTH WORMS. Weird, I know. There are lots of ways to compost, many cities will pick it up for you, or you can use a private company (we use Compost Colorado at my house these days) but you can also start a compost bin in your yard, or inside using worms! I did this for most of the year.
- The most important thing I learned was simply how to pay attention. When I choose to buy something now, I'm thinking about the waste it may generate and how I plan to dispose of it. This doesn't mean I make the perfect decision every time, but it does give me the tools to decide whether it's worth buying. To keep up the momentum after the big push in 2018, I've done things like remove the trash can from my bedroom and office, so I have to think a little harder about what I throw away. There are tons of small things you
It should be noted, through my grand adventure with waste diversion, and the education I've received through starting Simple Switch, I've learned that diverting your waste is not always enough! We should be striving to consume less from the beginning. Even though recycling and composting our waste is a great alternative to adding it to the landfill, our priority should be reducing any waste to avoid needlessly using the resources needed to create that waste in the first place, like the water it takes to produce our food. Remember to FIRST reduce your consumption, then reuse what you can, THEN recycle (or compost) what's left.
I hope my experience helps you find ways to reduce your own waste. If you decide to use my strategy, even just for a week, let us know! We'd love to celebrate you for taking steps to help our planet and better notice your impact. Let us know what worked for you (or what didn't!) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in the comments!