One Family's Journey Toward Zero Waste
A few months ago, a Mother Jones article about health hazards of plastics in food packaging, cookware, and serving items motivated me to learn more about the downsides of plastics in general. I learned about synthetic hormones leaching into my family’s food, and about the five gyres (floating garbage islands) contaminating our planet’s marine ecosystems.
I felt sadness and despair as I read about toxic dumps in developing countries, and contemplated my children growing up on a planet where wild spaces were disappearing at an alarming pace, species were dropping like flies, and very few people seemed to care. It can be difficult to remain hopeful when the outlook seems so bleak. It takes a conscious effort to focus on the positive changes I can make in my own life, a concentration on, and appreciation of, the efforts of like-minded individuals and groups who are working hard to effect positive change.
Books like Zero Waste Home, by Bea Johnson and Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry were helpful practical guides as I began what will surely be a lifelong process of learning new habits, one at a time, to reduce our family’s negative impact on the environment. Our vegan lifestyle, commitment to recycling, and recently installed solar panels gave me an initial sense of virtue, but while these are huge steps in the right direction, the realization of how much trash we generate was sobering. I became aware of the pitfalls and limitations of recycling programs, and have slowly come to realize that there are more effective approaches to consider before automatic reliance on curbside mixed recycling—namely, refusing unnecessary items, reducing consumption and packaging wherever possible, and reusing discarded materials as much as we can.
Some of the changes I’ve made so far include purchasing grocery items in bulk with reusable mason jars, carrying a few stainless steel straws, spoons, and forks in my purse, making my own snacks, bread, and vegan butter from scratch to eliminate plastic packaging, locating resources for recycling items that can’t be recycled locally (including aseptic cartons, flexible plastic vegan cheese packaging, plastic lids, credit cards, Tyvek, energy bar wrappers, Scotch tape dispensers, deodorant containers, toothbrushes, and more) and exploring in-person and online resources for good quality second hand clothing. I’ve encountered several pitfalls and frustrations along the way, including higher prices on some bulk items (such as fair trade chocolate chips, maple syrup, and canola oil) and my kids’ rejection of my homemade soy and almond milk recipes in favor of store bought varieties. I’ve fallen short in some areas, but made progress overall, and I remain committed to continuing the positive momentum.
I would love to meet other Redwood Coast residents who want to make these kinds of positive changes. If you’d like to connect, or if you’d like to find links to any of the books, recipes, or direct-to-manufacturer recycling resources that I’ve discovered, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. I will also be posting more resources over time to www.zerowastehumboldt.org.
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