I Tried Going "Zero Waste" For a Week and This is What Happened

Several years ago, I remember seeing an image of a woman (Lauren Singer) holding a mason jar filled with trash. In this unbelievably small jar, she supposedly held all the waste she'd produced over the past FOUR years. A pioneer of the “zero waste movement,” figures like Singer began to swarm the media scene, advocating for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Impressed and astonished, I remember thinking I could never live a no waste lifestyle. While I care deeply about the planet, I was convinced that the feat was impossible, something reserved for the sustainable “elite, not an average college student like myself. 

But over the past few years, I've come a long way in becoming more mindful about the little ways I can reduce my waste. Instead of plastic bags and aluminum foil, I use reusable containers and mason jars. I've invested in reusable shopping bags for the grocery store and glass straws for my drinks. With the image of Lauren Singer still living in my brain, I decided I wanted to commit and try out the “zero waste” lifestyle for myself.

Day One

Nervous but excited for the week ahead, I started out day 1 a little less than prepared for my no waste journey. I decided to do a little research to make sure I would be as successful as possible. I quickly learned there were many items I currently owned that were not exactly good for the environment. My toilet paper, my plastic toothbrush, my plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles, my plastic laundry detergent bottle, and my plastic razor were already not making the cut.  Basically, plastic is everywhere. Though I was slightly discouraged, I realized the first step towards “zero waste” was becoming aware of my habits and committing to picking more sustainable options in the future. 

Day Two

Feeling more educated and confident, I was ready for the day ahead. Our community recently initiated a food scraps collection program where they give you a bucket for the week to compost excess produce and waste. My roommate and I decided to partake, making things like banana peels, coffee grounds, and other food scraps super easy to compost. I could already feel myself being a lot more mindful of my small choices. Instead of using paper towels to clean or wipe my hands with, I stuck with old rags and even an old t-shirt I had no use for.

Day Three

Pretty much out of food, I knew it was time for my weekly grocery shopping trip. To be honest, I was a little less than excited to battle the grocery store. While a large bulk of my shopping is usually fresh produce, it’s kind of mind blowing how much plastic is actually used to wrap things. I would recommend checking out your local farmers market for less plastic and an all-around more sustainable shopping experience. While I usually buy things like baby carrots, hummus, and pre-washed lettuce mix, I had to opt against some of my staples due to the excess packaging. Empty jars in hand, I stopped by my co-operative grocery store to hit up the bulk bins for dry goods like rice, oats, pasta, and nuts (bulk bins are your friend). Though my trip wasn’t an out and out fail, I did have to allow more time than usual to prepare meals and snacks like protein bars, nut-milks, and rice dishes I would normally buy already packaged. 

Image via FitMitten Kitchen  

Day Four

Driving home after a long day at my internship, I wanted to grab an iced coffee before heading to a late night class. I quickly realized I'd forgotten to bring a reusable cup and didn’t have time to make my own at home so I headed to class deflated, tired, and entirely un-caffeinated. I was already learning that being “zero waste" required preparation skills that I'd not yet fully developed. I decided to keep an empty jar in my car to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Day Five

I was feeling good about my challenge until I checked the mail and found a package I'd ordered a few weeks back. While the company had used minimal packaging, there was still a little plastic and I was disappointed in myself for not just buying the item in store or saving my money in the first place. Though this did feel like a bit of a “failure," I decided not to let the setback stop me from carrying out the week as low waste as possible.

Day Six & Seven

Nearing the end of the week, I was pretty proud of myself for how well I'd actually done. I'd already gotten better at remembering to pack my reusable straws and prepare lunch ahead of time in my own containers. On the last day, I decided to order an iced coffee for myself as a little weekend treat. The barista asked if I wanted it “for here” so I assumed that meant they had their own reusable glasses so I said yes! Ironically, my coffee came out in a plastic cup. Though it was mildly disappointing, I was still happy with accomplishing the week I had intended to have.

All in all, even though I had a few missteps along the way, I'm really proud of myself for committing to a more sustainable lifestyle. While I probably won’t be going completely “no waste” anytime soon, I'll definitely be making efforts to go low waste. I think the biggest lesson anyone should take away from these environmental bloggers is that your actions don't have to be all or nothing. Being mindful of how your choices impact the planet and making small changes on a day to day basis can really add up over time to make the biggest difference. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t fit all of your trash in a mason jar and commit to a lifestyle that is the most sustainable for you!