30 Days of Less Waste.

The last 30 days have been all about waste. I have made it a point to really focus on all the unnecessary waste I create while living as a middle class person in America. When I really paid attention I was disgusted with how much I, a single human, can create.

My goals for the last 30 days were to focus on five areas where I could reduce waste. They included: not buying new clothes, bringing my own reusable coffee cups to coffee shops, bringing my own bags to the grocery store, creating less food waste, and bringing my own containers for restaurant leftovers. 

Out of the fives things I did there were three things I did great at, one I did okay at, and one I failed miserably at. As much as I would like to give myself credit for the things I did well, there is always room for improvement.

I will review the things I did great first because I should be kinder to myself and highlight triumphs verses failures. As Lana Del Rey in her song Blue Jeans says “Whether you fail or fly, oh shit at least you tried”. Overall, I improved my carbon footprint and was more mindful of my choices and will continue to improve moving forward.

  1. Buying Clothes Used/Thrifted:

I love thrifting. I love the hunt and findings deals. I make a list of what I need and I go “digging”. When I find something I need for a deal it is like finding gold. With websites that sell used clothing and an abundance of thrift stores in my area, buying clothes used was something I succeeded at and enjoyed doing. For 30 days I did not buy a single clothing item new. This saved resources like water, fuel, fabric, other natural resources, which includes (all) costs of labor. It also kept the clothing out of a landfill and more money in my pocket. My next focus will be not to shop for clothing as I have a thrifting addiction…..

**Ps. My husband, Paul openly mocked me for taking photos of my thrifted clothes that I laid out on the floor for this photo.

2. Reusable Coffee Cup:

I went out for coffee/tea four times in the last 30 days. I usually make coffee at home to save money, but I traveled for work during two days-which meant it was easier to get coffee from a shop vs the Keurig (aka an environmental disgrace) in my hotel room. I also went out for coffee once with my husband as a treat, and one day I just really wanted a matcha latte with macadamia nut milk from a really good local coffee shop just because (and also because I am a millennial and love my fancy milk and fancy tea). Every time I got coffee I brought my reusable cup. I went to Starbucks one time and they used a plastic cup to make my drink and then poured it into my reusable cup and threw the plastic cup away. Therefore, I did not go to Starbucks after that. The other, local coffee vendors made my drink in a steel steamer cup and then poured it into my cup. All vendors gave me ten cents off my drink for bringing my own cup. I kept a clean reusable cup in my car so I would always have one ready for any impromptu coffee stop. Good for the environment and my wallet.

3. Reusable Grocery Bags.

During my 30 days of using reusable bags, my hometown banned single-use plastic bags in retail stores over 10,000 feet (3040 meters) in size. The ban went into effect nine days ago on April 1, 2019. For smaller businesses, the ban will go into effect September 1, 2019. This ban is a huge step towards a more sustainable environment! The past 30 days I have made sure to bring my reusable cloth bags every store I have made purchases, especially for groceries. Some grocery stores even gave me 10 cents off every reusable bag I brought in. In order to be successful, I kept the bags in the back of my car and the moment I got home after shopping I emptied the bags and put them right back in my car. I even got Paul to start using reusable bags before we even knew about the plastic bag ban. Getting him to bring reusable bags to the store I would say was my biggest accomplishment of the 30 days.

4. Less Food Waste.

Food waste was one thing I did okay at improving. I really tried to buy fresh foods that I would be eat before they rotted. I did really well in the beginning. When I noticed there were vegetables in the fridge starting to turn I added them to soups or cut them up and froze them for later. I stored food in airtight jars so it would stay fresh. I even tried to clear out the fridge to avoid missing food and it expiring in the back. One time I cooked a chicken in my Instant Pot and saved the broth leftover to use for another recipe. There were a few times I missed items like a red pepper in a container that was half chopped and got slimy, a moldy container of (unrecognizable) leftovers, a sweet potato that was wrinkly and growing extra sprouts, and a carrot that was hidden under a bag of apples that was shriveled up. Otherwise, I really focused on eating up leftover foods to avoid them going bad and was more mindful about not overbuying items that would not get eaten quick enough. There is room for improvement, but I am getting better at improving my waste. I even am going to purchase a compost bin for food scraps so I can turn it back into nutritious dirt for my garden.

5. Reusable Takeout Containers/Utensils:

I did terrible at remembering to bring reusable containers to restaurants for leftovers. I did not even do it once. I had a reusable container in my car ready to use and still did not manage to use it. I went out to dinner a few times in the last 30 days. One time I went to a restaurant that had a bunch of food trucks lined up, but we went in Paul’s car so I did not have the container. I saw everyone was using paper plates so I figured I would be fine, but unfortunately the food truck I chose had styrofoam containers (aka satan’s takeout containers) instead. Another time, I was out of town for work and ate most meals out. One of the times I ordered what I assumed was a light breakfast, but ended up being a feast. I did not want to waste the food, but I had forgotten to bring my container on the trip so I asked for one. It was (of course) styrofoam. Then a few days later I went to visit my friend who was sick and she had ordered us ramen to be delivered to the house before I got there. The food arrived in plastic containers with plastic utensils and in a plastic bag. The only time I ate out that did not require a container was when I had a friend eat the leftovers because I had been in Paul’s car and had forgotten my box (again) and did not want to waste takeout containers. Needless to say, I sucked at this one. The only perk was I kept a fork and spoon and reusable napkin in my tote bag so any time I needed one of those items I had them handy. When a coworker wanted help eating their takeout I pulled my own reusable spoon out to use. When I needed a napkin for my snacks at work, I used my own.

There were many things I improved upon in the past 30 days to decrease my impact on the environment and some that could use more work. While I chose to focus on these five, I incorporated other things like using reusable bags for my snacks instead of ziplocks, buying a shampoo bar and bar soap instead of ones in bottles, and even remembering to turn off the lights for every room I left in the house. These are small changes, but if every single person could make similar, small changes the world would see a big impact. I am motivated to experiment and consciously make more eco-friendly choices because as the philosopher Albus Dumbledore once said (and because I want to end on a Harry Potter quote) “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”

Beach, Please.

My friend invited me and a few of his friends to go surfings three weekends ago on the Oregon Coast. Oregon is not known for its warm beaches and is not people’s first choice for surfing. While there definitely are surfers in Oregon, they are not like the kind featured in my favorite teen surfer movie Blue Crush- with board shorts and tribal tattoos. In fact, when Oregonians brave the waters they wear 3mm thick wetsuits, masks, hoods, booties, and gloves. That is because Oregon coast waters are polar and the beaches are rainy with winds blasting sand so hard in your face it feels like being stabbed with needles. I am not being overly dramatic, honestly.

The weekend turned out to be unseasonably warm- as if God purposely wanted a clear view to watch me drown as I attempted to surf. I pulled on my wetsuit (which smelled like old urine) and it squealed in protest as I tried to pull it up my thighs. We all made our way down the narrow steps to the beach and that is when I saw what I thought was piles of multicolored pebbles washed up on shore. As we got closer, I realized it was not pebbles, it was plastic. Little pieces of blue, red, black, yellow, and white plastic. There were chunks of styrofoam, shreds of bottles, and even plastic bands of watches littering the whole entire beach. The photo above is just a section of what the whole beach looked like.

Oregon is my home. Arguably, one of the most beautiful states in U.S. with mountains dusted with snow, evergreens sprinkling the whole state, and of course, the frigid but beautiful beaches. Almost everywhere you drive looks like a postcard. It is the perfect place to raise kids, or in my case, my 95 pound puppy. One can only imagine how it felt seeing my Oregon beaches resembling a dumpster.

I am one (fairly average and insignificant) person. I claim to “care” about the environment, but let’s be honest, I do do more harm than good. As a human I create waste; we all do it. By just being born we impact the environment. If you were born in a hospital just think of all the disposable medical equipment (gloves, for example) it took to deliver you safely (and hygienically) into this world.

As the wise Helen Keller once stated, ““I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everythingbut still I can do somethingand because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” Here is what I can do: I can mindfully choose more environmentally friendly options when going about my life. There are people more dedicated to an environmental friendly lifestyle (looking at you people who use “washable toilet paper”. Yes it is real, you can buy it on Etsy or make your own……). I am not quite there as far as dedication. I am going the route of baby steps, per my usual M.O. I meet goals one wobbly step at a time. Once I meet one small one I titrate up to more. For the next 30 days, I am going to do five things to reduce my waste:

  1. Less disposable coffee cups. According to Earrthday.org 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year. These are coated with plastic to laminate the inside of the cup and then there are the plastic lids on top, so they are non recyclable nor compostable. I have a great coffee Hydro Flask (not sponsored, I wish..) and I will be using that anytime I get coffee to go. A lot of coffee shops give a discount if you bring in your own cup. This includes Starbucks, which gives 10 cents off in America.
  2. Less plastic grocery bags. According to Earth Policy Institute,  a trillion (!!!!) single-use plastic bags are used each year, which is nearly 2 million each minute. Plastic bags are one of the top polluters of our oceans. I do not know about you, but I have reusable bags coming out my eyeballs from events and God-only-knows where, so I will be using those not just to grocery shop but for any type of in-store purchases. I even got a bag that folds up tiny and can fit in my purse for emergency shopping trips.
  3. Less Styrofoam. Styrofoam is basically “the devil” (as Bobby Boucher’s mom from The Waterboy would say….) There was tons of it on the Oregon coast and it definitely does not biodegrade. According to Green Dining Alliance, the world produces more than 14 million US tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) each year. It also notes that just Americans alone throw away around 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year. The culprit for me is takeout containers. I love leftovers, but I notice that when I ask for a box I am usually brought a styrofoam one. For this, I intend to bring my own container for leftovers and leave one in my car and if need be, put it in my purse. This way I can say “boy, bye” to styrofoam hopefully forever.
  4. Less food waste. Guilty. The biggest thing for me to work on will be wasting less food. I have a habit of buying or making things and then forgetting about them in the black hole that is the back of my fridge and leaving them to rot. Just the other day I bought a yellow squash and forgot about it and then found it too late. According to the USDA, in the United States, food waste is estimated between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds of food and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. Fuuuuuck! There are people starving all over the world and here we are wasting 133 billion pounds of food. I am sure the number has only gone up since 2010….
  5. Less new clothes. According to PBS, Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85 percent of their clothes — each year, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste. Not only do we throw away clothes which creates waste, but then our clothes come in non recyclable packaging. According to Sciencemag.org over half of the world’s plastic thrown out in 2015 was plastic packaging. That’s over 141 million metric tons! I know packaging also includes food and other packaging, but still. Let us also not get into the unfair labor and fossil fuels it takes to make our clothes…. With websites like Poshmark and Ebay where you can buy and sell gently used clothing online and of course, brick and mortar thrift stores, there is no need for me to buy new clothes for the next 30 days. Not to mention it is better for my budget to buy used than new.

I know there are way more ways to improve the planet and maybe even better ones, but these are the ones I believe I can attain for the next 30 days and then hopefully I can add more and work my way up to living in my own self-sustaining treehouse community. Still not going to do the “family roll” (the formal name for reusable toilet paper) thing, though. Sorry, not sorry.