We’ve all been through it – you take out the trash one day just to see it completely full the day after. Most of us, myself included, go through our lives happily ignoring how much waste we produce. That is, until we find ourselves regularly lugging bags to the dumpster.
On the bright side, this constant struggle is not really our fault. We’re living in a disposable society, where everything is made toss-able for our convenience. Admittedly, it is relieving to be able to throw away the cup after having my morning coffee rather than toting it around all day, but after decades of paper plates and plastic bags, I have to wonder: what are the repercussions?
Most of us wouldn’t smile if someone called us a trash queen, but that’s just what Lauren Singer is. In college, she noticed the wastefulness of her peers and decided to do something about it. As she explained in an interview with MSNBC: “One day after class when I was feeling kind of upset [about it], I went home to make dinner and I opened my fridge and I saw that everything that I had was packaged in plastic… I kind of made a decision there to just go for a zero-waste life.”
From then on she changed her ways, and now she can fit three years’ worth of waste in just one 16oz mason jar. About a year ago, she introduced her 5-day challenge in a collaborative video with Refinery29. It may be old news, but it’s still more relevant than ever. Here are a few things you can learn from watching Lucie Fink successfully take on the challenge.
1. “Become Your Garbage”
The first thing Lauren suggests is to “become your garbage.” It might sound gross, but it’s important to figure out what exactly it is that you’re throwing away so you can change your habits. I promise you only have to do this once – after you start the challenge you won’t even have any trash left to go through (if you’re good at it).
2. Reusable Packages are Life
It might sound annoying having to carry packages everywhere, but nobody said being ecofriendly is convenient, and that’s what makes you awesome for trying it. In the video, Lauren makes a list of 4 staples: glass jars (these are great to use as cups and/or containers), reusable silverware, reusable napkins, and reusable bags. She also suggests buying steel straws. These will help you get through your day easily without having to rely on plastics.
3. Ditch the Extras
It’s amazing how much waste can be produced from unnecessary excesses like straws, toothpicks, and coffee cup sleeves. Usually the things that are disposable are products that we use often throughout the day, which is probably why you’re taking out the trash so much. Next time you go out to eat, ask the waiter to hold extras like these. Also, if you know you’re not going to eat something on the dish you ordered, like bread, ask them to leave that off too. Food waste is a growing problem in our country, with Americans throwing away more than 20lbs of food per person each month, according to a report by the National Resources Defense Council.
4. Shop Smart
Grocery shopping is where you’ll rack up the most trash, so it’s important to make sure you have a game plan. Plan ahead by making a shopping list and don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bags and containers. As an added bonus, waste-free grocery shopping leads to a healthier diet – no more boxes of cookies and bags of chips. Your pantry will be a little empty, but your fridge will look beautiful when it’s filled with colorful fruits and veggies. Use the USDA FoodKeeper app to help with storing groceries and planning expiration dates; oftentimes the date from the grocery store is misleading.
5. It Won’t Change the World, but It’s a Start
Of course, one person going zero-waste won’t change everything, but it’s still worth trying. Imagine how much trash one American produces. Now multiply it by 319 million and think about how long that trash sits in a landfill. If this makes you sad, then give the 5-day challenge a try. Even if you don’t follow it strictly, there are plenty of good lessons here that will help you reduce your waste and help make the world a little cleaner.