By: Jules Zimmerman
According to The World Counts, we dispose of a massive 2.12 billion pounds of waste each year. If all that waste was loaded onto standard garbage trucks, stacked up, those trucks could circle around the globe about 24 times. This waste can be toxic to the environment and our health, especially waste containing arsenic, lead and dioxins.
As someone that cares about the environment and the future of mankind, I challenged myself to reduce the amount of waste I produce for three days. This was a very difficult thing to navigate due to the essential resources that large conglomerates produce. How typical food items are packaged is a cost motivated decision for the company, but it is ultimately not great for the environment. It leads to an abundance of plastic waste. This challenge was one of the most thought-provoking and conscientious things I have ever participated in.
I started out my first day on a high note. Instead of drinking from a plastic water bottle, I filled up my reusable Starbucks cup from our Brita filter. I don’t purchase plastic water bottles anyway, so this wasn’t a huge adjustment for me. Due to COVID-19, a lot of places aren’t accepting reusable cups, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use them at home!
For lunch, I made some pasta with marinara sauce. Both the box and the tomato sauce jar can be recycled, and I plan to do so once we finish them. Because we bought the noodles in bulk, the noodle box unfortunately came in a plastic wrap that I was unable to recycle, so I officially started my pile of waste.
For dinner, we went to El Burrito Loco here in Oxford for Margarita Monday. Instead of using the plastic straws there, I brought reusable ones for myself and my roommates. If you’re not a fan of metal straws, these rubber bendy straws are just for you! They are cheap and typically come with a straw cleaner so you can wash and use them over and over again. Because we ate out at a restaurant, I used two napkins, so I bundled them up and took them home to add to my pile.
I of course wore my washable mask to the restaurant. According to the United Nations News, 75 percent of used masks, as well as other pandemic related waste, will end up in landfills. I refuse to purchase or wear disposable masks, as they are creating a larger problem in our environment and oceans. Washable masks are sold everywhere, so pick yourself up a few and throw them into your laundry as needed.
On the second day, I woke up and put in a pair of contacts, but I quickly realized that I had just created more waste. The plastic containers holding the contacts can be washed out and recycled, but the plastic film covering them has to be thrown out. This is an unfortunate situation because I need to be able to see everyday, but I’m not sure of any alternative, greener options for contacts, other than wearing my glasses of course. I wear daily contacts, so that night I had to take them out and throw them away as well.
For dinner, I made food at home. I have banned all plastic cutlery, cups and paper plates. I don’t even allow my roommates to purchase them because it creates such an unnecessary amount of waste. Although plastic and paper kitchen utensils and plates are extremely convenient, it’s worth it to take the time to wash reusable kitchen items. They can be cheap to buy and typically last a good amount of time as well. They even sell kitchen tools at the Dollar Tree, so it won’t break your bank.
The container that the spinach was in is plastic, so I can recycle it after use, but the gluten free chicken nuggets are in a bag that will unfortunately have to be thrown out when I finish them.
After dinner my roommates and I went to McDonalds for a sweet and salty treat. When it comes to fast food, it is hard not to create waste. The bag and my fry container had grease on them, so they ultimately were added to my pile. It’s frustrating that a lot of the chain restaurants that surround us don’t offer alternative, more sustainable options to transport and consume food. This is of course due to the fact that it’s cheaper to serve someone food in Styrofoam than glass or plastic that could be recycled.
I don’t eat out often because making food at home reduces waste overall, but I wasn’t feeling well that day so I couldn’t resist. I forgot to decline a receipt, so I unfortunately had to add that to my pile as well. According to Treehugger, most receipts can’t be recycled due to the harmful chemicals in the ink, so next time I’ll remember not to ask for one.
I was extremely taken aback by this challenge. I thought that I was an environmentally conscientious person already, but as you can see, I still have a lot of learning to do. The sustainable habits that I have formed like using reusable straws, cups, washcloths, masks, etc., are great, but I can obviously do better. Creating waste is so mindless. I had to adapt and think more before I purchased an item, something that I have never really done before. All of this thinking was so odd to me because society has taught us that convenience should be placed above sustainability.
This challenge opened my eyes to the amount of waste I produce as a single individual. We should all evaluate our daily routines and see how much waste we produce and take action to find solutions to decrease this amount.
Cover photo courtesy of Unsplash, other photos by Jules Zimmerman