I Tried to Live Trash Free for a Day on Campus and Here's What Happened

With Earth Day getting closer, I wanted to try the No Trash for a Day Challenge. While I usually try my best to reduce the amount of trash I accumulate and recycle often, I wanted to dedicate a day to do the absolute most for our planet with the hopes of finding new habits I can utilize on a regular basis. Little did I know how difficult this challenge would be due to being a college student living on campus.

The Game Plan

Before going into the challenge, I knew there would be exceptions. I was still going to be using things like toilet paper, opened packaged products I already own (shampoo, body wash, face cream, etc.) and tissues. I was also still going to eat meals from the dining hall that most definitely had packaging before being put out to serve. I knew that would be unavoidable for me.

With those exceptions, I made a list of the basics I would have to do to go trash-free for a day:

  • Avoid all packaged products.
  • Use reusable shopping bags.
  • Avoid disposable straws, paper napkins, receipts, etc.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Sounds easy, right?

The Challenges & Realizations

Everything comes in packaging. I didn't think about what I would do for an evening snack in my room and ended up not being able to eat anything I had.

It wasn't just food in my room that was packaged, everything in all of the convenience stores on campus is packaged. It is impossible to find food on campus without producing some kind of waste. 

I forgot to bring my reusable water bottle with me on the day I committed to this challenge. Usually, it wouldn't be a big deal and I'd buy a bottle of water. I had to commit to drinking from water fountains from 8 a.m. until about 5 p.m. It definitely was not an ideal situation, but I refused to give up, and I powered through.

While I can recycle paper in this challenge, I came to the realization of how much paper I'm required to waste for many of my classes. I didn't think too much about it before this challenge, but why are students required to print course readings when they are readily available online? Recycling is great, but I'd rather avoid using all the paper (pictured below) in the first place. 

What is the University of Iowa Doing?

According to the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and the Environment, by 2020 the University of Iowa wants to divert 60% of our waste from the landfill and by 2017 our campus diversion rate hit 38%. The university makes it easy to separate our recyclables, compost, and trash with separation bins, but why are these bins not in all campus buildings? In my short time here at the University of Iowa, I have also noticed certain places on campus swapping out plastic straws and cups to compostable alternatives. All of these things are great, but we could be doing more!

My Final Thoughts

Even though I hit a few bumps throughout the day, it felt rewarding going through my day without throwing out trash. It is ridiculous how impractical it is to go trash free. Even though the University of Iowa is continuing to make great progress towards reducing our waste, there should be easier ways to avoid using some waste altogether, especially on college campuses. We should all be doing more to save our planet. If anyone is thinking about participating in this challenge or even just reducing their waste the tiniest bit, do it!

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