Here is just some of the garbage that I accumulated in a week of trying to be very conscious of my waste. A food wrapper, Q-tips, medication packet, and some old tissue paper. These items are used almost daily for many people. They are all disposable and items that didn’t necessarily first come to mind when I would think of everyday “waste.”
I tried going zero waste for one month. It was all an experiment to see if a) it was possible and b) if it was possible while also maintaining a relatively normal life and level of enjoyment. Turns out, I thought I would be a lot better at it than I actually was. Going zero waste was much more difficult than I imagined and highlighted just how much our way of processing, producing and disposing is out of date and behind the times. I would like to mention, however, that living a life of absolute zero waste is nearly impossible, unless somehow you have no need for modern goods or services. Otherwise, as a modern human living a somewhat conventional life, the challenges are endless.
This is not to dissuade anyone from getting as close to this point as possible or to say that being eco-friendly is futile, but rather to show some flaws in our modern society that so often go unnoticed. When you limit the products that you are allowed to buy and use purely by the packaging and how it is disposed of, it’s like taking a flashlight and shining it on the shadowed, hidden and inconspicuous defects in our production and distribution of items. For one, it’s difficult to find any sort of product with reusable packaging, especially packaging without any plastic. Cereal, clothes from Amazon, my ninja bullet and its various parts that I got for Christmas, papyrus mailing cards and countless other items that have no business needing plastic packaging all seem to have them! The EPA estimated 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging were generated in 2017. By being overexposed to this kind of material and seeing it on everything, eventually, we become numb and “blinded” to the sight of it and don’t notice it anymore. It is only until forcing yourself to see it that it becomes apparent that there is unnecessary packaging everywhere.
On Instagram and over social media, it has become popular to show pictures of a mason jar full of trash and title it “My Waste of One Year” or “How my Family and I Haven’t Touched Plastic for 6 Months”. While the shock value of this is impressive and draws people into the concept of living more sustainably, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story of waste in this country. For example, Lauren Singer who has a channel on YouTube shows her trash for four years that has come out to one mason jar. This is incredibly impressive and something we should all aspire to. As I was watching this video, though, I couldn’t help but think of the methods that go into making these products. In the mason jar, there are produce stickers from fruit, which most likely, have come from fruit that has been imported and been grown with pesticides. In addition, the clothing tags, usually come from clothes that have also been imported and contain harmful dyes. The crux of this is that the material waste created isn’t the only problem. I would suggest that people also consider the methods that are being used to create these items and look to the manufacturers to also make changes.
In regard to what citizens and consumers can do, as far as packaging is concerned, a lot of good can be done by reducing and eventually eliminating packaging, especially when it comes to food. Currently, I am in the process of creating and establishing a “to-go” program where food containers are taken home with restaurant leftovers and then are returned, reused, and washed and can be used again by another patron. These “Eco-Go” containers would save on the Styrofoam and plastic “to-go” containers and would create a more sustainable and eco-friendlier world. There are also so many companies who are taking a stab at this problem. “From 2020 to 2025, Nestlé will phase out all plastics that are not recyclable or are hard to recycle.” Even Washington D.C. passed legislation in 2009 that required all businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge 5 cents for each carry out or plastic bag.
For those who have concerns about the state of our future, there is hope and it is everyday people who care that really make a difference and inspire change. By attempting to go zero waste and monitor what is being disposed of, we become more aware and cognizant of our daily waste and as a result can be more proactive in our steps to affect climate change in a positive way.