Beginning the Zero Waste Journey: How and Why

Some of you may suspect that I am a raging hippy, what with my love for making things by hand, my gardening, and my rock climbing. By the end of this post, I imagine some of you will KNOW that I am a raging hippy, but I am not ashamed. I am not here to proselytize my hippyness, but rather to show you who I am, what I do, and why I do it. Take it as you will.

I recently came upon a blog called The Zero Waste Home via a pin on Pinterest showing storage jars. For a time, I have coveted such storage jars, wanting to use them for my oft-used baking ingredients —  flours, sugars, starches, etc. — as well as bulk items that I occasionally purchase — rice, split peas, etc. I was immediately drawn into the blog, run by a now-US-resident French woman who made the choice to thoroughly pare down her possessions and make an effort to produce progressively less and less waste — with a family of four and a dog. I was a goner.

Bulk coffee in the local natural foods store. Much of it is organic and roasted locally. The store also encourages you to use your own containers.

A year ago last Spring, I took an honors seminar in which I and the other seven students chose, read, and evaluated eight books with the ultimate goal of choosing one to be the class of  2016’s Honors Read. The Honors Read, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a book that all of the incoming honors college freshman at my university must read in the summer before they begin their coursework. At the end of the class, we were down to two books: Dave Eggers’ What is the What and Maude Barlow’s Blue CovenantWe chose the former, which I highly recommend for everybody, but after some post-class discussion, my roommate and I agreed that it should have been the latter. The book woke me to certain water-related evils that I believe everybody should be aware of. The most salient point I gathered from the book was this: do not, under any circumstances, purchase bottled water. It costs more than tap water, isn’t much cleaner, and is produced by corporations who tend to overlook the fact that their ownership of the water prevents people who actually need it from getting it (edit: my fellow civ e, Sara, notes that tap water is indeed more regulated than bottled, making it much cleaner). This is only a small section of the book, and I urge everybody to check their local library for a copy or request that they order it.

I have realized since then that the amount of waste and pollution and bad karma that comes from bottled water is not restricted to bottled water. We, as humans, produce an enormous amount of waste, and if you haven’t seen Wall-E, then watch it and realize just how possible that future is. Bea, over at The Zero Waste Home, has many other explanations as to why Zero Waste (or, as we should call it, Asymptotic Waste, since Zero Waste is extremely difficult to achieve, but much less difficult to approach…I cannot take credit for the comparison to an asymptote, but I think it is a very apt name) is good for the environment.

Homemade sandwich loaf wrapped in a bandanna (instead of a plastic sandwich bag) as part of a zero-waste lunch.

However, to avoid all the “TLDR”s I am going to get from this, let me go on to some list making to explain why I am all in a lather about Asymptotic Waste.

Why Try Zero Waste?

1. I love the wilderness, and I want it to stay wild. I live near miles upon miles of pristine wilderness. City dwellers and suburbanites might see my home as a vacation spot or, in some cases, a place to be feared (No Starbucks on every corner?! Bugs?! Nothing but trees?!). Others might see it as, unfortunately, a place to be developed or mined for resources — take a look at your toothpicks, your tongue depressors, your paper…chances are some of the timber used to create those items came from Maine — or used as a passage for Canadian truckers (don’t get me started on all that East-West highway business). I just see it as part of my soul.

2. I am moving…and I have too much stuff. It is so much easier to move all those clothes if you donate the ones you haven’t worn in years to Goodwill. I also have toiletries that haven’t been touched since I was a freshman and desk clutter that has probably been there since I moved my desk from Massachusetts. Yeah, that’s just sad.

3.  I am already part of the way there. I use reusable bags. I make my own bread. I bring my own lunch in tupperware containers and try to avoid sandwich baggies. I donate things to Goodwill and often shop there rather than purchasing new items.

4. French press coffee is tastier and fancier than drip-brewed coffee. And it produces nothing but compostable waste. Okay, this isn’t really a reason to start zero waste, but it’s true!

5. I feel like I live in too much clutter. I work. I have an active social life. I climb, I run, I play. During the school months, I have 8 hours of class and 3 hours of homework per day. I don’t have time for more than the essentials, but too often I find myself stressing because something must be cleaned, tidied, etc. Cutting down on the things I don’t use will, I hope, lead to a less cluttered lifestyle.

6. I want babies, and I care about the life they and their offspring will have. Maybe we are too busy to focus on cutting down our trash, or we think it isn’t an attainable goal, but I love my world, and I want there to be some left over for when my (very future, don’t worry mom) children grow up and have children of their own. I want them to have the outdoors, dirt-stained kneed childhood that I had.

7. I like to backpack. Lightweight backpacking is all about bringing items that have more than one use. I would love for most of my possessions to work in the same way.

Homemade sandwich loaf, homemade peanut butter from bulk peanuts (purchased using a reusable container), and home grown cucumbers.

I have many more thoughts that I continue to add to the list as I go about my day-to-day activities, so these are just a few. I know I have a long way to go, and I don’t profess to be perfect in any way. Sometimes I forget my reusable bags. Sometimes I shop for retail therapy. Sometimes I forget to bring my lunch or my Nalgene. More often than not, I choose the convenience of driving over the enjoyment of walking or biking.

The other day I went to Hannies (Hannaford) for my weekly grocery trip, and I was too shy to use my bulky glass jar to buy the wheat bran I needed to make my bread. As I was checking out, I asked the friendly cashier what the store policy was on using one’s own containers for purchasing bulk goods. She said people do it all the time, and that the store would be more than willing to work with me depending on what I want to use. I was astonished. Even here, in not-quite-middle-o-nowhere-Maine, approaching zero waste can be easy.

I know that I am late to this train — you can find a plethora of blog posts written by others who have been inspired by Bea, and even people who came before her — but better late than never, right?

Would you try zero waste? Do you have any questions/comments/suggestions/accusations of craziness? Let me know by commenting below : )

Potentially Helpful Resources:

The Zero Waste Home

Sunset Article on the Johnson Family (A good summary with lots of pictures)

Excellent homemade sandwich bread recipe


9 thoughts on “Beginning the Zero Waste Journey: How and Why

  1. Good luck with the zero-waste trip, I’ll be following to see how it goes! Also, bottled water is actually less regulated than tap water, so tap is definitely cleaner. Enjoy the wilderness (the photos of the blackberry sorbet looked amazing)

  2. I feel like I’m making steps towards this, but it’s like turning around a really big… yacht, with just my single paddle. I’m gonna get there, but it won’t be quick.

    • I love that analogy. It’s perfectly true, because it really is a large undertaking. Our society is geared towards waste production (single use hand towels, clorox wipes, tossable tupperware) because of germophobia, convenience, etc., and escaping that with your single paddle is daunting. Good luck continuing to make those steps, though! At least you’re trying to turn the yacht around instead of barging onto the reef.

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