This blog post was written by Charlie Cevallos. Cevallos is a student at George Washington University and Project Green Challenge 2014 participant.
The last time I wrote for the Conventional to Conscious Blog was in January. That post detailed my New Year’s Resolution to reduce my waste output in an effort to go Zero Waste. As I expected, there were a fair amount of bumps in the road including my summer study abroad experience and my move from a dorm to storage to an apartment. However, I have by and large exceeded my own expectations of my progress toward a Zero Waste lifestyle.
For the first part of the year, I tracked my waste output by weighing my waste, sorted recycling, and composting. From January to June, I collected each week’s worth of waste, weighed it, and tracked the data in a spreadsheet. This was more difficult to do in Europe, and I stopped the tracking in June.When I started, I was producing around 300 grams of trash per week. That’s markedly less than the average waste output of Americans: 8 kilograms (8000 grams) of residential waste per week. By the time June came around, I was down to an average of 50 grams per week; much less than my original goal of a 50% reduction.
When I was abroad, I wasn’t able to weigh my waste stream, but I did live as waste-free as possible. For my two months in Europe, I shopped at package-free outdoor markets and one amazing Viennese zero-waste store, Lunzer’s Mass-Greisslerei, and I took advantage of the wonderful waste management system of Vienna, Austria. In Vienna, waste was handled by the landlord/owner of the building, while recycling and composting services were provided by the city with public collection units in every neighborhood. After living in a place where it was so easy to live a low-waste life, I was reinvigorated to complete my transition to Zero Waste when I came back to the US.
As of the writing of this post, I am proud to call myself Zero Waste. I only recently began tracking my waste output again, and for the first three weeks of October I produced only 20 grams of waste; that’s less than one gram per day. Assuming I live another 70 years, one gram of waste a day comes out to 26 kilograms total, or 57 pounds. The average American produces that much residential waste in three weeks. How do I live like this? While it’s required a lot of self-evaluation and giving up some luxuries, it’s definitely doable. There are three main things to do to reduce waste output:
1. Bring Your Own…Everything! Use reusable bags, utensils, plates, bowls, towels, and even straws!
2. Shop at Farmers’ Markets and in bulk sections of the grocery store. Farmers’ Markets have package-free local food, and grocery stores with bulk sections are everywhere! I was surprised to find one in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, that had a larger selection than any bulk store in Washington, DC, where I go to college.
3. Say no to packaged food…but not to guilty pleasures. Going package-free doesn’t mean giving up yummy food and snacks. Whole Foods has everything from popcorn to chocolate-covered pretzels to gummy bears package free, and many stores have large candy selections too!
Even though I’ve reduced my waste output to almost nothing, I still have a way to go. One of the main ways I’ve reduced waste has been to use industrial composting, a process that mimics waste in many ways and encourages drastic resource use even though it produces soil/fertilizer. My next steps in this transition are to reduce the amount of food packaging I industrially compost and eliminate plastic recycling from my recycling stream. I hope to return to this blog down the line to discuss the developments in my transition to Zero Waste, and I plan on expanding promotion of the Zero Waste lifestyle in any way possible to encourage as many people as I can to reduce their waste output.