Zero Waste Challenge

Raven Abridello and Madisun Tobisch

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In the Pacific ocean between Hawaii and California, there is an accumulation of plastic waste known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This plastic island is made up of water bottles, plastic bags, toothbrushes, fishing nets, and countless other varieties of plastic waste. Microplastics, however, provide an even bigger threat. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are more difficult to remove from ecosystems, and are also incredibly dangerous to marine life, who can mistake them for food, resulting in plastic build up in the stomachs of countless aquatic creatures. This 80,000 ton mass of plastic debris has been growing since 1988, and will continue to grow and harm marine life unless action is taken in attempt to save the Earth.

  We can reduce our impact on the environment by simply breaking our wasteful habits, and producing less trash. Some people are doing their part to help out the earth by following the zero waste movement, which aims towards producing no trash, or as little as possible. If zero waste sounds like a daunting idea, don’t worry, you can still do your part by using reusable water bottles and straws, composting, refusing single use plastics, and by spreading the word. One person can absolutely make a difference, but there is strength in numbers, and the more people that are aware of what is happening, and do their best to help, the better.

 

I have been familiar with the zero waste movement for almost two years, so I thought I was pretty well prepared for this week. I first learned about it at the end of my sophomore year, and I loved everything about it. I started composting, stopped eating meat, banished plastic water bottles from my life, and just generally tried to reduce the amount of trash I produce. Even though I had been aware of the movement, I had never tried to go a week without producing any trash, so I was really excited for this week. I wanted to keep realistic goals though, so I decided that all trash I produced for the week should fit into one sixteen ounce mason jar.

I started out my week with bringing my mason jars and reusable bags to a co-op, where I bought package-free food from bulk bins. I didn’t have much luck finding produce without any stickers or twist ties, so nine fruit stickers and two twist ties that held together lettuce bundles went into the jar. I made sure to not use the plastic produce bags that the store provided, because they honestly just aren’t necessary. The major source of trash for me this week was orthodontic rubber bands, but they were unavoidable, so 21 pairs of rubber bands went into the jar by the time the week had come to an end. I really love avocado toast, and I was able to buy a loaf of bread that came in a compostable paper bag, so I ended up eating a ton of avocado toast this week, because it was the easiest and most filling thing to make when I was in a rush, however there was one morning where I slept in too late, and didn’t have time to even eat breakfast at home, so a granola bar wrapper also ended up in the jar.

I also love coffee, and I have to have it everyday, so I usually make my coffee at home, but I also love caramel macchiatos from my favorite coffee stand, so whenever I got coffee out, I made sure to bring a thermos with me to avoid the trash. The only other pieces of trash I created this week were an empty pen, and an empty tube of toothpaste.The average person creates about four and a half pounds of trash per day, so for me to have only made a fraction of that for an entire week felt amazing.

I care about the environment a lot, and I feel like I work to reduce my impact a fair amount, but I think I could improve, and I think everyone else can too. I would really encourage everyone to read a bit more about zero waste, and try to reduce their trash production, because we only have one earth, and we need to make it last for as long as possible.

 

My experience with no waste week was nothing like I imagined. The goal I set for myself seemed pretty straightforward: don’t create any trash for seven days. The reality I discovered is that the amount of waste that the average u.s citizen creates is outrageous and attempting to completely stop any waste production is really hard.

  I started my no waste week off with a trip to the Mount Vernon co-op on Friday night to grocery shop for the week. I figured it would be no problem to find some snacks that didn’t come packaged in plastic, I was wrong. Even in what is possibly the most environmentally friendly store in Skagit Valley, the shelves are filled with plastic. I made my way to the bulk foods section only to find that you needed to put the food in plastic bags in order to buy it. I was determined not to fail before the week had even started so I wandered around the store until I came across some paper bags, which are compostable. I bought some dried fruit and banana chips and began my search for gum.

  I chew at least one piece of gum a day and each pack of Orbit gum comes wrapped in plastic, packaged in plastic reinforced paper, and then each individual piece is wrapped in paper. I finally found some gum that came unwrapped and packaged in a metal container; it cost more than $8.

  The first day of the challenge went by like a breeze and Sunday did as well until I accidentally made tea, which comes in a compostable bag other than the staple.

  Working in a restaurant is tough while trying to be conscience of waste. I found myself constantly throwing away to go containers, using saran-wrap, and tossing away dozens of plastic straws and their paper wrappers, while that trash wasn’t created by me, I still felt a tinge of guilt each time I threw something away.

   The week continued with minimal slip-ups on my part. I went to Fred Meyer with a co-worker one night and searched around for anything that didn’t come wrapped in plastic. It seems that everything was labeled, “sealed for your protection,” which is great and all but it begs the question, who is doing anything for the protection of the environment? I eventually bought a bottle of aloe vera drink from the asian food section, There was no plastic seal around the lid and I’ve been using it as a water bottle since.

  The last day or so of the week was the worst, I was fed up with having to decline my friends offers of Starbucks and Taco Bell, and the taste of banana chips had gotten old five days prior. Reflecting back now, I’m proud of how well I ended up doing, and I’m glad that I decided to participate. At the end of the seven days I created four pieces of trash that can be neither recycled or composted.

  I urge everyone to attempt this challenge as well, it’s a lot harder than it seems. I think that a no waste way of life is pretty undo-able for a lot of people and it may be too much to ask for everyone to just stop creating trash. A lot of the problem is that the things we need to survive (food, water, clothing) all come packaged in unnecessary plastic. This week made me realize how much trash I throw away on an average day without giving it a second thought. I sincerely urge everyone to try to limit the amount of waste we as a country create, for the sake of the environment and our own health.