My new year’s resolution for 2015 is to go zero waste. Yes, my goal is to throw out nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. What does mean? That means no more nicely triple-washed bags of spinach, no more perfectly cut up cylinders of pineapple to snack on, no more bulk-buying shrink-wrapped cheese. Instead, I’ve started buying in bulk using my own containers, am using cloth hankies, and I’m making my own personal care products these days. And because your mind probably went there: don’t worry; I’m still using toilet paper. Why have I gone completely insane and where can I get my head checked out, you might be wondering. I’m wondering that, too.
About 9 months ago, I decided I wanted to save more and so I decided to downsize to a smaller apartment and move in with roommates. As my moving date neared, I started to panic about the vast amount of stuff I had. I had boxes and boxes of things in my apartment that I never used, that I never touched, that was just taking up a whole lot of space. After Googling “decluttering tips,” in an effort to make the move easier, I stumbled across the website theminimalists.com. The website advocated for a life free of excess and unnecessary possessions and instead on focusing on the essentials.
The philosophy felt like something I had been looking for my entire life. I had always been the kind of person who would wear the same clothes over and over, who didn’t wear much makeup, who felt happiest when I was on travel and living out of a tiny suitcase. But I felt this societal pressure to buy, to consume, to be fashionable, to have a lot of things. The words I read allowed me to embrace the fact that I only wanted a few necessary, quality possessions in my life.
I ended up selling over half my furniture and I gave away or sold about half of the rest of my possessions. I stopped shopping for “fun,” and I ended up spending much less time each week cleaning and organizing because I had simply had less space to clean and I had fewer things to organize. The more I gave away, the lighter I felt. For me, spending my time with the people I love and spending my time on experiences that made me happy resulted in a fuller, richer and happier existence that was also better for the environment, my health and my wallet.
Subsequently, I have turned my attention to my other shopping and consumption habits, specifically household cleaners, personal care products and food. I realized that though I considered myself to be an environmentalist and though I had started onto a path of what I call a more “intentional” life, I had never paid much attention to how much trash I was producing. I already avoided single-use utensils and plates when I could, had started composting and wrapped presents using recycled newspaper, but I was still sending a lot into the trash each week.
In 2012, Americans, on average, produced about 4.38 pounds of waste per day, generating 251 million tons of trash total that year (EPA). The amount of pollution created from all of that waste being transported is also enormous. In addition, landfills themselves can leach of toxic chemicals into groundwater as electronics break down and the decomposition of food scraps without the presence of oxygen releases methane into the atmosphere.
Partly as a challenge to myself, partly to make an environmental statement,I decided to go zero waste in 2015. I wanted to stop my life’s cycle of overconsumption and underappreciation and focus on making larger strides. Obviously, it’s nearly impossible not to throw anything out, but I’m going to try to get as close to zero as I can.