30 days waste free: Will I make it?

The author doing her weekly grocery shopping trip to Trader Joes

On a recent morning, after laying in bed for far too long, letting myself get sucked down the rabbit hole of Youtube videos, I stumbled across a whole genre of waste-free living videos and a trend known as the 30 Day Waste Free Challenge and thought “Huh, that seems cool. Maybe I should try!”

But later that evening as I grabbed my face wash from beneath the sink I wondered: how could I ever live a waste free lifestyle? All of my toiletries come in plastic tubes and bottles. Is it really possible to live zero (or low) waste, to avoid buying or accepting anything that comes in packaging (whether that be plastic, paper or metal) and to stop throwing away all my food scraps, for which I am unfortunately notorious.


The author making her morning omelette and two new vegetarian recipes: (top left) egg and veggie stuffed pepper, (bottom middle) 3-ingredient pancakes

On Saturday, January 26 I put my fears aside, took a leap of faith (an educated one) and dove head first into the 30 Day Waste Free Challenge. I want to see if this lifestyle that is promoted by affluent bloggers and activists, who have the luxury of living in warm climates where farmers markets boom year round, is possible. Can I as an average 20 something year old living in a sub-zero winter climate practice a “zero” waste lifestyle? We shall see as I share my experiences on this adventure!

After two and half weeks of attempting to live waste free I have already built up an unfortunately long list of fails but with all of my mistakes I learned, which is what this whole experience is all about. All of my missteps have been due to a lack of planning, and as I’ve discovered that’s what makes all the difference. Because twice now I’ve used plastic containers, once as a result of an impromptu grocery stop and another because I desperately wanted to take home my oh-so yummy home fries from Athens Diner (do you blame me?).

I may only be half way through this challenge, but it does actually seem like an almost achievable lifestyle! I say “almost” because I do not believe that living zero waste is possible unless you are living a hunter-gatherer life and just say no thanks to 21st century norms. My main concern going into this was if it would be affordable, and if I would be able to find plenty of food to eat, and I can easily answer yes to both! I have spent less than $20 on groceries because I am no longer buying random foods that I simply want (and will probably sit in my cupboard mostly uneaten). I am still able to actually make really yummy and satisfying meals by mainly shopping in the produce section, and it’s so much healthier!


Photos by Caitlin Holmquist

For the sake of this challenge I have been a waste free extremist of sorts in regards to what I buy, and while it does seem a sustainable lifestyle, I could really go for a jar of pickles and some tortilla chips right about now (weird combo I know, but we all have our guilty pleasures). So I have to admit that moving forward I will definitely buy the occasional bag of chips that come in such lovely plastic packaging (gasp). But ultimately my awareness of my own habits has changed drastically as I have realized that for someone who thinks rather highly of their environmental consciousness I buy so many unnecessary items (think of all those Amazon orders and the excessive packing they come in YIKES) and many of these products can be purchased in a far more environmentally friendly way if you simply put the energy into doing so.

Lessons I have learned:
Keep spare reusable bags in my car and always carry a container for any food I may want to take home. Keeping a bag or two in your car for those impromptu grocery trips is easy, but I will admit it is somewhat more inconvenient to always keep a container on me. I prefer glass which is rather heavy and I had to switch from my usual little purse to a slightly larger (but still cute) backpack. But hey our Earth is worth it, right?

See Defender.smcvt.edu for the next chapter of my journey.