A few months ago, during the height of The Wellness Project book tour, I was on a panel at the Package Free Shop about green living. There was a gradient of experience among us “experts,” and it became clear as soon as I walked in the room that I was going to be on the lightest end of the sustainable spectrum.
One of the participants was Summer Rayne Oakes, and another last-minute addition to the panel, was the live chicken Summer Raines Oakes had on her lap. Throughout the evening, I learned not just about the intricacies of fostering a hen in a Brooklyn apartment, but about how you can change your internal climate from room to room by filling them with over 570 different types of plants.
Needless to say, by the end of the night, I felt like I had a lot of work to do.
Reducing my waste made the long list of self-improvements I hoped to accomplish during the great Wellness Project of 2015. It didn’t end up getting a full month’s worth of experiments and attention. But by making some healthier upgrades along the way—-getting a water filter for my tap, switching to natural personal care products, shopping more at the farmer’s market—-I ended up sweeping away a few toes from my carbon footprint in the process.
When you try to live greener, you end up living healthier, and vice versa.
Still, after that panel I knew that if I was going to take on some new challenges as part of an on-going Wellness Project 2.0 (or #4WeeksToWellnessChallenge), doing a no waste month was top of my list. And since Mother Nature seems to have finally lost her patience with us selfish beasts, there seemed like no better time than the present.
Charlie and I have decided that October is going to be our No Waste Month.
This is partially hyperbole, as we know we have many baby steps to make before we can actually pack all of our trash into one mason jar. We don’t fathom doing so in just a month. Instead, our goal is to not exceed one trash bag. And if we’ve done our job right, we’ll be able to sift through that trash at the end of the month and figure out where we can be better.
As I learned all too well in 2015, you have to diagnose the problem first before you can start finding solutions going forward.
In keeping with the traditions of my official year of wellness, let me lay out for you a few of the ways we’re going to execute this challenge, should you feel like following along!
From one (semi-green) healthy hedonist, to another,
First, let me start by owning some loopholes and caveats.
We are leaving town right out of the gate! I’ll be in California for a book event and a wedding until next week, but we will account for that time away by extending the challenge slightly into November.
Next, while we will try to do our best at home, we realize that we also produce waste out in the world that never makes its way back to the apartment. Some things that come to mind are paper coffee cups, plastic straws, and other disposable food containers. Some of these things are recyclable, and we’ll be vigilant about sorting at home. But that isn’t always an option when walking the streets of New York. Instead of getting too crazy about lugging empty bottles home with me, I’ll try to be aware and make notes about everything I throw away.
Lastly, I’ll try not to game the system by waiting until November to to throw things away, though there are some things (like dry-cleaning) I’ll go without. My hope though is that I can lessen the frequency and find greener ways going forward.
1. Compost and Recycle.
We are lucky that our neighborhood in Brooklyn instituted compost collection. I’ve long been jealous of California’s system for food waste. Once the brown bins were introduced, and we no longer would have to lug our compost to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday (not realistic given how much we travel), we decided to get on board in our home with a small countertop bin. The top has a charcoal filter so that the waste can breathe but doesn’t stink up the kitchen (it’s proven very effective so far). Not only has this cut the number of garbage bags we use in half, but it also means we don’t have to take out the trash as often just to get that miscellaneous sour smell out of our airspace.
This has become a partial habit, but we can still be better about scraping every last morsel into the bin. Since our main trash bag will be sitting untouched for the whole month, our ability to keep the apartment stank-free will be a testament to how well we compost and recycle.
As for the latter, I’d give us a 6 out of 10 for our existing recycling efforts. When we get takeout, we always save the plastic containers for other uses. Most of our store-bought condiments and packaged foods these days come in glass jars. One thing we’re going to try and work on is fully rinsing everything we recycle. I just assumed that this always got done by someone else down the line, but apparently, your city will make more money if you do a good job yourself. (Thanks for the tip Summer!)
Part of the benefit of this month will be that I’m forced to check every bit of waste to see whether or not it’s something I can compost or recycle, which will hopefully be a big improvement on our habits going forward. There are no doubt things I throw away that could be added to another bin. And there are no doubt things I am attempting to recycle that probably should go in the trash.
2. Cook more.
If you’ve read The Wellness Project, you know that takeout used to be a huge issue for me. I’ve reduced my orders big time to about once a week. But I could be more proactive about telling the restaurant to not put plastic utensils in the bag and making sure that every part—from the paper bag to the plastic lids—gets put in its necessary bin.
More than anything though I’m going to try to cook in the first place.
3. Shop less.
Convenience in a slippery slope, and sometimes it takes some extreme measures to pull yourself out of the Amazon Prime abyss. Buying local is great and all, but it should go beyond the scope of squash. When we are running low on dog food, the default response is to go online and order more. Even though there’s a pet store five blocks away.
It seems at some point I lost the subtle art of running errands. But I’m getting back in the game now. After all, one of the benefits of living in New York is that most of the things you need are within a block or two.
4. Carry a reusable bag and water bottle.
These two are fairly self-explanatory. One thing that I am going to make more of an effort to do though is using my water bottle for tea or juice if I’m ordering either of those things to-go, and forgoing a straw with my drinks.
The Lonely Whale Foundation recently introduced the #StopSucking challenge. Americans use 500 million plastic straws each day, which can end up in the ocean polluting water and harming sea life. One small change like this could have a big impact.
There are plenty of other little shifts that we’re going to have to employ this month, but I’ll save those for the recap, along with a piece of information I know you’ve always longed for: an itemized list of my trash!!
As for resources and senseis, I’ve been very inspired by Lauren Singer, founder of Trash is for Tossers, The Simply Co., AND The Package Free Shop…the site of that sustainable aha moment. Check out her list of Zero Waste Alternatives. My other fellow panelist, Emma Loewe (not the chicken) is the green editor for MindBodyGreen and has a lot of great advice in her article archive.
What are some small ways that you reduce waste in your home? Let me know in the comments!