When I’m traveling, most reasoning is thrown out the window. Eating healthy? Debatable. Staying active? Nah. Practicing zero waste? I’ll try… my best?
Without a lot of planning, practicing zero waste when traveling can be a struggle. Between a new city, camping trips, and hotel rooms, there are many moments where I’ll encounter items that are not eco-friendly. Will I give up street food – if I really want it – because it’s packaged in plastic? Truthfully, probably not (and that’s okay). There are some things I can’t control and it can be very discouraging to enjoy a trip when the constant guilt is on my mind. Though, this is where I have started to make small changes elsewhere.
One of the easiest things I can control is what I pack at home. In addition to bringing along my set of reusable utensils and reusable alternatives with me on travels, I’ve made the transition to packing a zero waste toiletries kit too. Shared a few tips below!
I recently made the switch to bar shampoo (will write more about this in a future blog post!) as a zero waste alternative. I love to travel with the Rosemary Shampoo Bar Soap from Meow Meow Tweet because it’s easy to pack and is not a liquid item – which means I don’t have to worry about it being under 3.4 ounces. I just shave off enough for the trip and place the soap in a reusable metal container. Hassle-free, TSA-compliant, and eco-friendly.
I’m guilty of buying travel-sized items from Target in the past. Although they are cute and convenient, there’s not much product in the container. After one weekend, it’s empty and the bottles will end up in the landfill. Fortunately, I’ve rediscovered bar soap again. I’ll do the same thing with bar soap – shave off just what I need for the trip and place this in the same metal tin box.
A few bar soap companies I love are: Zum Bar (can be purchased at Sprouts), Meow Meow Tweet, and any packaged-free soap I can find at my local farmer’s market.
Love love love my reusable toiletries kit from REI (I bought mine from an REI store back home and can’t find the same one on their website, but this toiletries bag comes close). The bag comes with many containers for liquid shampoo, conditioner, and body soap, but also face wash, serums, moisturizers, mouthwash, and anything else you need. I like them because they are made from silicone and the same plastic as my Nalgene bottles – meaning they’re BPA-Free and will last a long time! Silicone makes it easier to squeeze liquid soap too. I also camp a lot and these always come in handy.
How do you pack for a zero waste toiletries kit when you travel? Maybe a more affordable version of the REI toiletries bag to share?
What are your thoughts on the transition to a zero waste lifestyle so far? With any new change to a lifestyle, at first, it’s going to feel exciting, different, and out of the norm. For me, the hardest part of the transition was planning ahead of time and feeling “guilty” from time to time. Overall, it was a positive experience because this transition gave me an opportunity to think outside of the box, find better alternatives, and gain a new outlook on waste.
What did you find most surprising about the zero waste transition? About yourself? It was surprising to find how much plastic we use in our everyday lives. Even when we’re conscious about it, it’s hidden in places you wouldn’t even think about. You can’t escape it! We all know plastic waste is a big problem for our environment, but visually seeing the amount we consume makes the thought a reality.
What I’ve learned is to take the big picture and scale it down to what you can do so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. I’ve learned to let go of “perfection” and create a balance between my zero waste lifestyle and my happiness. I enjoy making my food from scratch and finding new ways to cut down my waste. We live in a world that isn’t created to be “zero waste”, but knowing that I’m doing the best I can is all anyone can ever ask for.
What habits do you think you’ll be more flexible about? I’ll be more flexible about my frozen Asian food, especially since I don’t live in an area that has much at all. I won’t be eating them as much, but I also won’t stop buying them completely. I do hope more Asian companies will consider the environment when making their products and packaging. It’s important to voice your thoughts to businesses and bring it to their attention. Email, write, or call them on why they should be eco-minded; speak up and question their process.
Most importantly, have fun and be creative! No one is perfect so don’t be so hard on yourself if you bought something with plastic or produced XYZ waste. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and when all else is lost, remember your “why.” I want to emphasize again that this lifestyle isn’t about giving everything up; it’s about finding better alternatives for yourself and the planet.
What ended up in my jar?
A couple of weeks ago, I was in San Francisco for work. I brought my food waste and compostable items up with me and dumped them in a compost bin. It felt so satisfying knowing that these won’t go to the landfill. People living in San Francisco, you’re so lucky to have a great compost system. Take advantage of it!
Thank you for following me on this journey. If you have any questions, comments, or tips please leave them in the comments section below. Feel free to email Tinycaravan at email@example.com as well!
What are your thoughts on the transition to a zero waste lifestyle so far? Two words: not perfect. I think the level of difficulty depends on how much you want to do. When I started the transition to zero waste, my goal was to be more active in a journey to limit my plastic consumption. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to change my lifestyle in one day. There were many factors involved – shifting my lifestyle, using the things I already owned (super important!!), being more conscious about buying things I needed (do I really need it?), and overall, enjoying the continuous learning experience. There are days where it’ll be hard and I will be frustrated, but in those moments, I try to remind myself that small impacts contribute to the bigger picture.
What did you find most surprising about the zero waste transition? About yourself? Sometimes I am still reluctant to open up my bag and take out reusable utensils. I know I shouldn’t mind what others think, but I just do not like bringing attention to myself. Luckily, I’ve found most responses to be positive and people are curious to learn. Once at a ramen shop, the waitress asked if I brought my own utensils because I didn’t trust that chopsticks at restaurants were clean. When I told her it was for sustainable reasons, she thought it was very cool! The support and positive responses I’ve received from friends and strangers are exciting and I love that people want to learn more about how they can help save the environment.
What habits do you think you’ll be more flexible about? I definitely won’t be keeping track of my waste in a mason jar. I think it can be counterproductive to the transition. When I documented the transition, I found that when I buy something which cannot be recycled I will think, “Oh I can’t buy this because I’ll have to add it to my jar,” instead of, “I shouldn’t buy this because it’s going to pollute the environment.” Down the line, I think that mindset can make me lose track of what’s really important and why I’m doing this. I’m doing this for the planet – not to prove anything to anyone. I understand that it’s a great motivator for some (and that’s great!), but it’s not something for me.
Any tips for someone who’d like to transition to a zero waste lifestyle? I really believe having the right mindset, tools, and support system are important for the transition. Understand that it’s going to be an ongoing journey. Gather the tools you need to replace plastic in your life. You can start off simple with a reusable water bottle, stainless steel straw, reusable utensils, or produce bags – most of these things we already have at home. I talked more about that in my Zero Waste: Week 2. Then, have a conversation with friends who are going through the same transition so that you can continue to motivate and teach one another. If you don’t have a group of friends who are on the same journey, join groups online. Two Facebook groups I’m in are: Journey to Zero Waste and Zero Waste Minimalist.
What’s in my jar?
Thank you for following my transition and journey to zero waste. If you have any questions, comments, or tips to help with my ongoing transition, please leave them in the comments section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katherine is an Engineering Technician at a landfill in LA County. She is beginning grad school this coming fall to further her education in Atmospheric Science. Katherine’s dream is to work in public service to help improve our air quality while protecting our public & environmental health. When she’s not working, she enjoys visiting national parks, seeing waterfalls, traveling, running, and mountain biking. Fun Fact: Katherine and her coworkers would mountain bike during their lunch break.
What does sustainability mean to you? For me, sustainability means to do more than “maintaining what we have” –– that’s not enough. Sustainability is about protecting and preserving the environment now and for the future. To be sustainable is to do what we can to ensure that all living things can survive and flourish. We must give back to an environment that has already given us so much.
How did you become interested in the environment? During my third year of college, I participated in a 10-day cultural immersion and sustainability trip in Costa Rica with the UCI Costa Rica Program. My group and I stayed on a sustainable farm and got to see how everything on the local farms functioned cohesively. We witnessed how aware farmers were of their impact on Earth and how they tried to find ways to minimize their ecological footprint. Farmers would turn their waste into compost or use it for biodigestion (a biological process that occurs when organic matter is decomposed by bacteria due to the absence of oxygen, creating biogas). Compared to the United States, the rural farmers in Costa Rica seemed to have limited technology, yet, they were able to think of innovative ways to be sustainable. It made me feel as though I can also make an impact even though I too, have a limited amount of resources.
Why is the cause important to you? My trip to Costa Rica truly inspired and reinforced my passion for the environment. Being there was amazing – seeing the rich biodiversity, the resourceful methods of constructing green spaces, witnessing the entire process of “farm to fork”, embracing the natural space, and so much more. It made me aware of all the things that I wish to protect, but it also made me realize that we aren’t doing nearly enough at home. The environment is the basis of everything; without land, air, or water, we can’t survive.I want to dedicate my career to the environment because without it, no living thing can survive.
“The environment is the basis of everything; without land, air or water, we can’t survive.”
You’re currently an Engineering Technician at a landfill. Can you tell us more about that? I like to say that I am protecting the public and environmental health [haha]. My job is to ensure that we are in compliance with air quality standards enforced by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). We engage in stormwater sampling, landfill gas monitoring, surface gas monitoring, ambient air monitoring, etc. to make sure no gas migrates outside of the site. A cool thing about the landfill gas is that our site is under a gas collection system. Because methane is the most prominent gas in the decomposition process, we send it to a power plant to generate electricity out of it. The experience I’ve gained with this job has made me think, “How are air pollutants being distributed within our atmosphere and how does it affect us as well as our environment?”
How has your job impacted your mindset on our waste? I think about trash more often now. In the past when I threw my trash away, I never thought about it again. I didn’t even know what a landfill looked like! Now I think, “Where is my trash going? What type of trash am I throwing away?” Landfills aren’t dumping ground where trash magically disappears. There are rules and regulations that we must comply with and quality standards that we must meet. All this information can be exhausting, but it has made me more conscious of what I buy –– the packaging and the materials that go into the product. I’ve started to feel guilty when I use single-use items, so I’ll try and buy items that can be reused.
You’re not alone; we definitely understand how that feels. Have you made any switches to use more sustainable products? I recently bought wool dryer balls to replace dryer sheets. Wool dryer balls have the same functions as regular dryer sheets, only, they’re an eco-friendly alternative. Before our water heater was fixed at home, I used to collect water from the faucet in the bathtub (as the water was heating up) to water plants outside. I’ll also collect the water used for washing fruits and vegetables to water the plants. At restaurants, I’ll refuse straws and make sure to have a reusable water bottle with me at all times. I’ll try to repurpose my things too; if I do have a plastic bag I will try to reuse it as many times as I can before it’s no longer usable. When I shop, I’ll think to myself, “Is this something I need? How much packaging went into this product?”.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen in the landfills? There are a few things that surprised me since working at a landfill. Like I mentioned earlier, I had never seen a landfill before working here and I lacked knowledge on how they were constructed and regulated. I expected it to just be a dumping ground for waste, but it’s more than that. To my surprise, in the areas where no more trash is being added, there is an abundance of wildlife such as deer, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, red-tail hawks, and more. There are also areas that provide habitat to native plants and flowers such as the California poppy, California sagebrush, and the California bush sunflower. Aside from the fauna and flora that exist at the landfill, it’s unfortunate to see how much waste we produce as a society, along with the items people throw away. There is so much plastic –– and some items thrown in the landfill are either still usable or brand new. I’ve been working here for over three years now and the landfill continues to grow. People who live near the landfill don’t want it to be in their neighborhood, yet, they are still producing the same amount of trash –– they’re not doing anything to help the situation. No one ever stops to think, “If we can’t throw our trash here, where will it go?” Eventually, all landfills have an end date and once it closes, cities will cover the land and put a playground or golf course over it. But that’s not always the best solution; the trash will eventually decompose and the ground will continue to settle for years to come. Instead, we should all be doing what we can to minimize our waste.
“Making a difference doesn’t have to be an in-your-face type of action, it can just be small changes in your lifestyle.”
You spend a lot of time in the outdoors. How has this affected your view of the environment? Being out in nature has made me realize how beautiful the untouched, natural world can be. I always make sure to practice the “Leave No Trace” principles. I want to preserve our natural spaces and protect wildlife. We’ve destroyed so much of their habitats and have endangered many species –– we must do what we can for them to survive. Many people go to the outdoors to recharge and escape from the hustle & bustle of life. We need the outdoors. But water pollution, trash, and smog can take those wonderful experiences away.
What would you tell someone who doesn’t think they can make a difference? It’s like what Tinycaravan always reminds me of, “Small changes make a difference.” I believe collective action is powerful. One person’s habits can make others think, “Maybe this is something I can do too.” One person’s lifestyle can change many others –– it’s a domino effect. After the Costa Rica trip, one of my friends said he wanted to pursue an education in this field. My family now recycles at home and people have asked about our water bucket (which has allowed me to start a conversation about water conservation). Making a difference doesn’t have to be in-your-face, it can just be small changes in your lifestyle.
Any last words? Every individual plays an important role in helping our environment and protecting it for our future.
Can you believe we’re at week 3 already? Zero Waste Month: Week 1 is about my expectations and why I wanted to transition to a zero waste lifestyle. Zero Waste Month: Week 2 is about my essentials and the changes I made. For week 3, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on what I’ve enjoyed most and least during the zero waste transition.
What’s one change you’ve enjoyed during your zero waste transition? Lately, I’ve enjoyed making my own food. So far, I’ve made hummus and almond milk, both of which are simple to make at home. Best of all, you can buy most of these ingredients plastic and waste-free. They also turned out better than I expected.
To make the hummus, I used garbanzo beans, garlic, water, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. The only plastic waste produced from the homemade hummus was the plastic bottle of the tahini sauce. I only had to buy the garlic and garbanzo beans, which were luckily available in bulk.
To make almond milk, all you need is water, honey (to sweeten), and almonds. I also bought these ingredients in bulk. The leftover almond pulp can be dried in the oven and use as an almond meal.
What’s one tip you would give to someone who wants to start making their own food? My suggestion is to take it easy and find what you’re interested in making at home. Making your own food can be more affordable and healthier. It’s also fun because you can experiment and customize each food to your liking. I love garlic so I made sure to add extra cloves to my hummus for a strong garlic flavor. I also rarely follow an exact recipe and don’t measure anything out to the T (unless I’m baking). If you fail the first time, that’s okay! Keep trying and trying until you get your desired flavor and texture. Don’t stress about the small stuff and just have fun with it.
What’s one thing you did not enjoy about the zero waste transition? I didn’t enjoy seeing all of my food waste and giving up some of my favorite snacks & foods. There were some snacks and foods I intentionally didn’t buy because of their excessive and unnecessary packaging. I knew I would feel really guilty if I bought them. However, with the new mindset, it led me to make my own food and to find other options. It’s not the end of the world and I was able to compromise and try new things. I’m still human and there are some snacks I’ll never give up like my Asian snacks and Lays Ketchup chips (best chips ever).
What ended up in my plastic container?
Some of my waste included food packaging I bought before I started the zero waste transition.
What’s one change you’ve enjoyed during your transition to zero waste? I’m very grateful to be able to compost (yes! It’s the little things). This is my life now and this is what gets me excited. I am a lot more conscious of the food waste I produce and I love finding other alternatives that are better for the Earth. This includes freezing food I can’t finish before the expiration date, turning over ripen produce into green juices (great way to get those servings in), and then as a last resort, only composting leftovers and the peels from fruits & veggies. It truly feels great being able to limit my waste just by living within the means of a mindful lifestyle. One more thing I’d like to add is my love for my stainless steel lunchbox from ECOlunchbox. It’s lightweight and I can carry it anywhere. They’re great for packing up leftovers when I eat out –– no wasted food and no wasted take-out containers.
What’s one tip you would give to someone who wants to compost at home? Food waste is the number one waste for most people and I feel very lucky to live in a city that offers composting. I also know this might not be available to everyone, which is quite unfortunate. My advice is to seek out a compost facility or garden in your community (if available) and utilize what they offer. You can also make DIY compost bins at home whether you live in a house with a backyard, an apartment with a small patio, or limited space. Recology also offers free compost bins in selected cities. Contact your local Recology for more info!
I’ve also tried to limit my food waste by planning what I want to eat for the week, then, only buying that amount (something I learned to do recently). Cooking at home has proven to be healthier, waste-friendly, and money saving in my opinion.
Week 3: I decided to make tuna sandwiches for lunch so for week 3, I only stocked up on fruits and veggies. Other ingredients like bread, mayo, salt, pepper, green onions, sesame oil, and sriracha, I already had at home. I also ate out often this week for work and dinners with friends so this was enough to last me. I also had leftover pasta from a previous week and made that for dinner.
What’s one thing you did not enjoy about the zero waste transition? I can’t say with confidence that there was one thing I did not enjoy. Overall, the catch 22 was, being more aware of the amount of waste I produced and finding plastic waste in the little things: stickers from fruits & veggies, tape from packages, and plastic from jar containers. I’ve been able to cut back on plastic packaging from snacks by eating alternative snacks (that I do enjoy) in fruits –– which is a lot healthier anyway. I do feel guilty inside when I make a purchase that cannot be recycled or composted, but the number of times I said “yes” compared to “no” is significantly lower. I do put my happiness first sometimes and I tell myself, “Jenn if you want that chocolate bar, just GET IT.” And I think that’s totally okay. I want to stress over and over again, it will never be perfect, and I’m not striving for that. But I have noticed my waste has been significantly less during this transition (thank goodness for deciding to take photos in the beginning). Overall, it has been quite a happy transition for me. I’m excited to do more.
This is week two of my zero waste transition. You can read about my Zero Waste: Week 1Week 1 too. This week, I’ll be talking about my essentials, changes I’ve made, and my thoughts on what it means to live with zero waste.
What are your daily zero waste essentials? My To-Go Ware utensil kit, a stainless steel straw, cloth napkin, and my 32-oz Nalgene bottle are with me at all times (when I have my purse). I leave my glass jars, reusable containers, and reusable bags/produce bags in my car for when I go grocery shopping or any last minute, out-of-the-blue moments.
What changes have you incorporated since starting to live more mindfully? Everything I do now revolve around trying to avoid single-use plastic and packaging. From what I eat to what I buy to what I do, I keep the plastic-free idea in mind. When I buy groceries at Sprouts, the first thing I do is head to the bulk section to see if I can buy anything I need in bulk. I never understood why stores sold food in bulk, but now I’m so thankful Sprouts has over 300 items in bulk. I try to opt for paper or glass packaging when I think about making purchases.
I also keep in mind to first reduce what I purchase, then reuse what I already own. This week, I had to buy face wash and toothpaste. Instead of going to Target and restocking like I normally would, I found an old glass bottle, went to The Refill Shoppe, and filled it up with face wash. As for my toothpaste, I decided to switch it up and order toothpowder in bulk from The Refill Revolution. They ship their products in paper packaging and the toothpowder I ordered came in compostable packaging. I had a couple of the small 4-oz mason jars at home and used that to put my toothpowder in. I also made hummus for the first time and that turned out better than I expected!
But I’m not perfect. Sometimes I just can’t avoid plastic entirely. When I want something important like Asian snacks and cheese, I’ll get them. No need to beat yourself over it; we all need to live a little.
Have you noticed a significant reduction in the waste you’ve produced? Not so much my food waste, but in other aspects of my life, yes! It can be hard at time to stay disciplined and avoid food packaged in plastic, but I’m trying! Thankfully, I have The Refill Shoppe and other “zero waste” websites to turn to for household, bath, and beauty products. I wish there were more brick-and-mortar stores that focus on zero waste or a grocery store that is package free. One day!
How has this transition help shaped your idea of what it means to live with zero waste? It’s all about balance and rejecting the ‘throwaway’ mindset. It’s creating a circular cycle (think the chasing arrows symbol) instead of a linear system where, after disposal, things just end up in the landfill. It’s taking the next step after the disposal process and bringing it back into the cycle (e.g. recycling, composting, repurposing). Living with zero waste is also not about perfection and creating absolutely zero trash. For many of us, that’s unattainable. As long as you’re trying your best and constantly learning and looking for ways to reduce your waste, that’s already making a big impact. Living with zero waste doesn’t mean giving up things you love; it’s looking for better alternatives.
This is week two of my transition to a zero waste lifestyle. You can read more about Zero Waste Month: Week 1 too. This week, I’ll talk about my essentials, what I learned, and what I can’t give up.
What are your daily zero waste essentials? My stainless steel water bottles (one for water – one for coffee, tea, or boba), reusable utensils, stainless steel straw, and glass straw carried in my Ambatalia utensil roll, and a cloth napkin (somehow I’ll forget to bring this 50% of the time). If I know for sure I will be eating out that day, I’ll bring along my stainless steel box from Three-in-One ECOlunchbox.
What changes have you incorporated since starting to live more mindfully? I’m a lot more aware of my plastic waste now. When shopping for food, health or beauty products, and little knick-knacks, I will look for an alternative that is either packaged in glass or plastic-free materials –– even if it means I have to pay a little more. The other day I was at Aesop looking to buy hand lotions and body scrubs. When I noticed everything was packaged in plastic and not glass, I decided to not buy anything. As I’m typing this I am on the Meow Meow Tweet website looking for the same thing, but packaged in sustainable materials.
In regards to food, some examples include: opting for honey in glass jars (so I can reuse them later in life), making my own almond milk (except sometimes when I know I won’t have time to blend them, I’ll buy a milk carton of almond milk. This has happened twice since I started making almond milk 4 months ago… I know, I’m sorry. Also, I want to try to make another milk alternative because almond production uses a lot of water. Eek.).
My mindset has also changed from, “It’s okay to buy this. I can compost or recycle the packaging when I’m done, to “If I can’t reuse it, I probably won’t buy it.”
Have you noticed a significant reduction in the waste you’ve produced? Definitely. Besides food waste from produce peels, a lot of my waste is produced from items I bought in the past without a thought about zero waste in mind. This includes face masks, snacks (many many snacks), and even little things like floss containers. Once I use these items up, I’m excited to replace them with more eco-friendly items like plastic-free floss in glass containers.
Additionally, I am very well aware of food waste now. I do cook at home a lot, but sometimes I am tired of my own cooking and want to eat out. But now, I’ll eat everything to clean out my fridge. This week, I found tomatoes and cucumbers that were on the verge of going bad and I blended them in a “green juice” with tangerines. It was quite good… and healthy too!
How has this transition help shaped your idea of what it means to live with zero waste? It does feel like everything goes back in full circle. To have a happy and healthy transition, I think it’s okay to say “yes” to things that aren’t completely waste-free if I really truly want it. I know I can’t be completely zero waste, but I will continue to limit my waste in areas that are possible for my current lifestyle. There are a few things I don’t think I will be able to give up, like roasted seaweed, plastic Philips brush heads, or my vitamins. I also feel extremely fortunate to live within the means that I do and have the resources that are provided for me. I don’t want to take that for granted.
Pablo is a 25-year- old first generation Mexican-American pursuing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the University of California, Riverside (go Highlanders!). His research is focused on plant cell biology, using corn as a system for experiments. In Pablo’s words, “My family came to America so that I can be a corn farmer, haha.” Actually, with his degree, Pablo plans to become a professor at a Junior or Community College because he loves the hands-on educational system and wants to be a mentor for his students.
What does sustainability mean to you? It’s the balance of how I live my life in the context of the world around me. My path to becoming a scientist might have influenced my thoughts on sustainability, but I view the definition from an energy standpoint. As humans, we must eat, breathe, and be physical. It’s difficult to know the amount of energy we need to balance our lives –– and the truth is, we can’t balance our energy completely or we would die. However, we can minimize our impact on the decisions we make.
Your lifestyle is heavily influenced by your family’s values. Did you grow up in an environmentally aware household? Thinking back, my family wasn’t consciously aware but we practiced a lot of habits that ended up minimizing our impact on the environment. Reducing and reusing has always been a common theme in my childhood. It’s mostly due to how my parents grew up and because we didn’t have a lot of money. For example, we never wasted food, clothes, or “things,” nor did we throw away items that could be reused. My clothes always got passed down to my younger cousins and brother. When my parents went to the market, they’d buy meat from the clearance section. It was cheaper and it minimized food waste. My grandma would save her empty tuna cans to use as decor or as a jewelry box.
“Reducing and reusing has always been a common theme in my childhood. It’s mostly due to how my parents grew up and because we didn’t have a lot of money.”
That’s awesome! We think a lot of families can relate too. Did your family do anything you felt was different from your friends? When I was younger, my siblings and I wanted a pet. Instead of getting a dog, my dad thought it was a better idea to get us chickens. We still have chickens as pets today. I’m not sure if they were a “greener” pet than a dog, but there were a lot of things I loved about my chickens. They laid eggs so we didn’t have to buy them from the supermarket (extremely farm-to-table). We would give our chickens leftover food scraps (we didn’t compost so this saved on food waste). And my dad and I would collect eggshells and chicken poo to sprinkle in our yard as a food source for the garden.
Have these decisions influenced your lifestyle as you’ve gotten older? In most cases, I think it’s best to buy used items –– it’s economically and environmentally friendly. Over the years, I have convinced my family to buy used hybrid cars… so that’s cool. Good quality, used cars save on gas, are cheaper, and help the environment because you’re using something that may have potentially been thrown in a landfill.
Cycling is a big part of your lifestyle. Can you tell us more about that? In the beginning, I didn’t cycle as a means of alternative transportation. I just really enjoyed cycling. There’s a trail in Riverside called Sycamore Canyon that I used to go for hikes. One day, I saw a group of mountain bikers riding and I thought they were so cool. So I saved up my money and bought a used bike. It started as a hobby, but after a while I began to bike everywhere –– to school, to work, and to the grocery store. Cycling became easier and is much faster than walking. It saves gas and buying my bikes used to reduce my impact on waste. Fixing up older bikes and giving them new life has proven to also be extremely rewarding.
Do you still bike a lot today? Today I bike about 30 miles a week which has significantly reduced my carbon footprint on the environment. Once I graduate, one large factor I will consider when I move to a new city is to live in a metropolitan area that provides biking lanes for cyclists and is within biking distance to my workplace, and other necessities such as the grocery store.
You’re very passionate about science. How has working in this field affected your views on sustainability? The knowledge I’ve gained has given me a real sense of what I can and cannot do. For example, with the California drought, my research has really deepened my interest in plants. Recently, I talked with my parents and we decided to introduce drought-tolerant plants into our yard in an attempt to reduce our water usage. My mom wanted to include wildflowers and I really wanted to plant milkweeds, an important food source that is available to monarch caterpillars. With their population declining, I wanted to add a plant that could potentially help them –– even if it’s just a small population.
“My sister would help me track them [butterflies] and she’d get really excited because she gets to “take care” of them. A large part of sustainability is educating the next generation and I love sharing this with her.”
Since you’ve planted milkweeds, have you noticed any changes in your yard? It’s really cool because since we’ve planted the milkweeds we’ve had about 30 caterpillars make our yard their home. Among those 30, about half of them have survived and become butterflies. My sister would help me track them and she’d get really excited because she gets to “take care” of them. This activity has also influenced her to leave the computer and go outside. A large part of sustainability is educating the next generation and I love sharing this with her. She’s also taken interest in bees and other insects too. It’s awesome.
Has the science field made you more aware of your impact? Sadly, I’ve realized how wasteful lab work and science experiments are. But that’s just the nature of the work. We have to limit contamination, so this means plastic pipettes and gloves can only be used once before they are thrown away. It’s extremely wasteful and the trash builds up very quickly. Luckily, the lab I work in is aware of our impact and has implemented small changes such as using recyclable gloves and recycling the pipettes and cardboard boxes. We’ve also switched over to energy efficient fridges to store our materials. Working at a university, they also are conscious of how waste is managed across the campus to help minimize the impact of the waste generated.
What are your thoughts on the future of the environment? I’m hopeful. A lot of people continue to be educated about the environment and want to learn about our human impact on the planet. Awareness is brought up in elementary schools too –– the other day my sister’s kindergarten class taught her about water conservation and she came home saying, “Brown is the new green!” It’s awesome. As a society, we’re embracing hybrid and electric cars. It’s the new “cool” thing to have, which isn’t a bad trend because it’s helping limit our carbon footprint. They’re more accessible now too and I hope everyone can buy one someday. California has also banned plastic bags and many countries are contributing to limit their waste. Still, if that’s not enough, I try to tell myself, “Even if humans destroy the environment and everyone dies. Earth will replenish itself with new life anyway, so it’s ok.”
Any last words? Go ride a bike. It’s really fun and is one of the most efficient means of transportation. If you can, consider living in a city that is bike friendly. Oh yeah, and biking is healthy for you. You can eat more when you bike because you’ll burn a lot of calories.
The Zero Waste Movement is a lifestyle that focuses on the conscious & unconscious effort to lower the impact of harm done to animals, humans, and the environment. It’s not about attaining perfection but making an effort to do more and do better for the planet. The transition has been a great learning process and we’re excited to share our experiences with you.
This month we will be showing you our waste, documenting our progress, and providing weekly updates on the transition. Dismissing the idea of “out of sight, out of mind,” anything that cannot be reused, repurposed, composted, or recycled will be put into mason jars that we will share in each post. We intend on taking what we learn from this experience and incorporating that in our zero waste journey (and we hope you will too).
Note: Although we don’t normally keep our trash in a mason jar, we’re doing it this month so that we (and you) can visually see how much trash we produce each week.
Where are you currently living? San Francisco, California
Why do you want to live a zero waste lifestyle & what do you hope to gain? I try to limit my impact with what I eat and where I shop, but I want to start doing more and make a bigger effort to live more mindfully. Being able to visually see how I’m contributing to the plastic waste stream will hopefully push me to be more intentional and conscious in my choices. Most of all, I want to show our community that it’s possible to live with less waste and to do less harm –– everyone will have a different journey, but it all starts with one small change.
Where do most of your waste come from? Food packaging from potato chips, chocolate bars, oatmeal packages, boxes of cookies, sweet & sour gummies, and other snacks.
What have you found to be the most challenging or frustrating? I recently went to a Trader Joe’s to buy my groceries for the week. It didn’t bother me as much before, but that time I noticed everything was packaged in plastic. Lemons, cucumbers, lettuce – even garlic! In addition, every individual fruit had annoying stickers that could not be recycled. Plastic is everywhere and it’s frustrating because we can’t escape it. There’s also the constant struggle of trying not to buy snacks all the time (I love snacks) since chip bags and the wax paper from chocolate bars will go straight into the landfill. I try not to feel discouraged, but I think about how much waste I produce, multiplied by all the people in the world who produce more or less, and it’s hard not to feel hopeless at times.
What have you found to be the easiest transition? Definitely composting. A lot of my waste comes from food –– such as fruit peels –– and I am guilty of forgetting leftovers in the back of the fridge. Luckily, the Bay Area has a great composting system and I’m able to put my fruit peels, odds & ends, and items like compostable boxes back into the Earth. Still, I feel guilty when I throw an old cucumber in the compost bin because I don’t like to waste food. This experience has definitely made me more conscious about shopping for groceries. I’ll only buy what I need when I need it even if it means making more trips to a local market.
What surprised you the most in the waste you produced? How can you try and reduce that waste? One thing I almost never think about are receipt papers and paper napkins. I usually keep receipts in my wallet until it’s time to throw away and there is always a large wad of it. Although some can be recycled, most receipt papers are coated with BPA, a substance that can contaminate a recycling cycle and even cause harmful health effects (yikes) so most must go in the trash. I always say “no” when asked if I want my receipts, but there are occasions where that isn’t an option; the grocery store, dine-in restaurants, some coffee shops.
To reduce waste is to go full circle –– shop at local farmers markets (most receipts I’ve found to be BPA-free), dine out less (save money & eat the food I have at home. This means, less food waste? eh?), and make note of coffee shops that give out receipts so I can start going there less (luckily, my new favorite coffee shop – shoutout to illycaffè – have the option to say “no”). Paper napkins will be an easier transition because I have a cloth alternative (that I washed and never used again. Ugh, my laziness is just so…). Usually, if restaurants give them out I’ll take them home to use and compost. Let’s see how the rest of the transition goes!
What ended up in my 32oz. jar?
Plastic baggies from salty chips and sweet chocolate, waxed lined oatmeal, plastic wraps from jars, tops of a yogurt cup & a San Pellegrino soda. Dismiss the paper napkin, that’s going into the compost bin (yay).
If you have any tips to reduce waste, I’d love to hear it!