I believe that growing up in Finland I was raised to be pretty eco-conscious from young age by separating my recyclables and bio-waste, using public transportation and not buying more than I needed. I’d never take my coffee/tea to go, but rather sit down and drink it at the cafe from a real cup. After moving to the US well over a decade ago I was surrounded by this single-use consumer culture, shopped almost daily for new things (mostly clothes) and was just trying to fit in the best I could, very distant from from the zero-waste lifestyle.
I’ve come a long way from that and have become really conscious how we’re destroying this planet. My decision to stop eating animals was based on animal welfare and spiritual beliefs, but it has been really eye-opening to learn what a terrible effect animal agriculture has on this planet as well. And therefore I’ve become not only animal advocate but also an environmental defender. I was even more inspired when I learned that the world’s first ocean cleanup system is launching from our little island of Alameda last Saturday hoping to clean up a lot of the plastics our of our oceans.
Check out this older post How I’m doing my part to help Mother Earth.
A couple of weeks ago I attended my second Compassion in Action conference in Oakland hosted by the wonderful, joyful vegan Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (check out all her cookbooks and Food for Thought podcast!). Besides learning how to be effective advocate for the animals we also had the pleasure hearing from Kathryn Kellogg who’s the mastermind behind Going Zero-Waste website and 30-day Zero-Waste Challenge. She, together with Colleen who’s also gone zero-waste this year, inspired me to do way more to reduce my waste. It is not about perfection.
You can easily get overwhelmed trying to change everything overnight, so just do it one step at a time. That’s how I’m doing this. Like Colleen says:
Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.
What is zero-waste
The goals is to send nothing to landfill and write waste out of existence. Composting should be the first solution. Look up Earth Overshoot Day and be awakened, and hopefully motivated to do more at the same time (FYI: first ever Earth Overshoot Day happened in 1970). There are steps you can take to move the date. Check it out here.
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. In 2018, it fell on August 1.
We all feel good separating our recyclables and buying things in recyclable containers, but unfortunately it is very flawed system. 26% of recyclables are not going to get recycled due to contamination (this figure is from one of the BEST recycling centers in the US, so in other centers the numbers are worse than this).
Only 9% of plastic is recyclable (#1,#3,#5 can typically be recycled, but check with your town’s recycling program). Plastics are a huge issue and 94% of US drinking water has plastic particles in it, and numbers are not much better anywhere else in the world either.
I love that many of the restaurants I frequent are now offering compostable containers made from plants for take-out. For example my go-to cafe Heyday has nothing going to landfill, all their stuff is either compostable or recyclable. They don’t even have a trash bin for landfill. I think San Francisco is way ahead with this than other cities.
At home you can either have a little compost pail with carbon filter to reduce the smell, or keep a container in the freezer where you store your food scraps between emptying it.
Learn to love what you already have. Value bettering yourself rather than your belongings. Buy less and mindfully: local, sustainable; ask yourself who made it, can it be repaired, what happens when you’re done with it. Ask a friend, buy second hand, and don’t settle. Only buy things you really need/love!
THE BIG FOUR
Things you can do starting NOW:
- Stainless steel/bamboo/glass straws. I carry one with me at all times (together with my bamboo utensil pack) so I can say no to straws at cafes/restaurants.
- Canvas bags to grocery stores/shopping (also reusable mesh/canvas produce bags). We probably have too many now after collecting them for over a decade. Bring extras with you to the stores so you can donate to someone who forgot to bring theirs!
- Reusable coffee cup. Coffee cups from most places cannot be recycled because they’re lined with plastic or wax. Cup tops are usually made from plastic #6 which is a known carcinogen so probably not a good idea to drink hot liquids through it. Just saying.
- Carry your own water bottle with you. I love my colorful Swell bottle that keeps my water cool for 24 hrs! Perfect for hot yoga classes and beach/hiking on a hot day!