Student’s Corner

Lately it seems like there has been a big increase in people trying the zero waste lifestyle. No longer does it seem it is only for those that devote themselves to living sustainably and nothing else. People who live zero waste actually make it seem easy for the most part. But how easy is living zero waste for a college student in America? That’s the question I hope to answer as I go zero waste for a week!

The rules:

With every challenge there must be rules and this is no different.

Rule #1: I cannot use anything that cannot be recycled, composted, or reused. An example of a product I cannot use is plastic utensils or straws.

Rule #2: I must also try to decrease the amount of waste overall.  Recycling is great and all but the most important thing is to reduce overall waste.

Rule #3: Anything that cannot be recycled, composted, or reused I have to track to see how much waste I produce in a week.

Going into the challenge:

I think that my biggest challenge is going to be food packaging. I’m obviously a person who focuses and thinks quite a lot about sustainability but zero waste has always seemed really extreme and frankly out of reach for me with the way I currently live. But you know what they say, if not now than when? I’m excited to see how well, or how poorly, I do this coming week and see if I pick up any tips along the way that I might be able to integrate into daily life.

How I did:

Day 1:

I sadly realized on day one that my usual breakfast of choice, a cliff bar, has packaging that I can’t recycle. Sigh. I decided not to eat the cliff bar because I wanted to really commit to this challenge. This left me very hungry until lunch. Do not recommend. Always plan ahead. I did, however, end up eating a small snack size bag of chips that night. In all honesty, I just forgot I was doing this little challenge until afterwards when I was left with a small bag of chips that I couldn’t recycle. Double sigh.

Day 2:

Wegman’s Garlic Tuscan Bread. It is amazing, I highly recommend it. It also comes in a plastic bag. Originally, I was going to count this towards my count of items that I wasted; however, Amy reminded me that Wegman’s will accept not only plastic bags to be recycled but their bread bags as well! So did I create waste? Yes. Was I able to recycle that waste though? Yes! I’m not counting it.

Day 3:

I went to Rochester Pride and it was amazing! Earlier that day we went to lunch at the Red Fern so I did not bring my usual silverware with me because I knew they’d have it there. I underestimated the time we would be out though leaving me hungry again. This time we ended up eating Le Petit Poutine’s vegan poutine. It was really good! Unfortunately, I had to use a plastic utensil though.

Day 4:

No waste! Success! Maybe I’m getting the hang of this now? Or maybe I just might have slept in that day.

Day 5:

I didn’t actually create any waste this day as well. I’m really proud of myself because I see that I’m improving and starting to get the hang of things.

Day 6:

I had Wegman’s Garlic Tuscan Bread again. As established it can be recycled but I’ve also realized I eat a lot of Wegman’s Garlic Tuscan Bread.

Day 7:

Once again I did not create any excess waste. Go me!

Total Waste for the Week:

  • 1 Snack size chip bag
  • 1 plastic utensil

All in all I feel like this wasn’t too bad. Was I 100% zero waste? No. Was the waste created fairly minimal? Yes! I definitely decreased my amount of waste in the past week which I think is a pretty great accomplishment. I googled the estimated weights of my waste and the small snack size chip bag came out to be about .5oz while the plastic utensil averaged about .15oz. That’s only a total of .65oz for the entire week! Did you know the average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day?! That’s 31.5 pounds a week and 1,642.5 pounds a year!

What I’ve learned:

Being zero waste isn’t necessarily hard, you just have to have the right tools to do it. For example, you might want to invest in some reusable things that you always carry around with you such as a reusable straw, reusable cutlery, a reusable water bottle, reusable bags, and reusable jars. I had the majority of this stuff before starting this experiment but I’ve mainly learned to try to always have them on me, especially if I’m going to some sort of outdoors event. Another tip that I use for reusable bags specifically is to have a backup bag in your car, that way you always have one with you if you decide to spontaneously go to the store to pick something up.

The biggest issue, as predicted, was food packaging. I hate that everything is packaged with plastic wrap now but there isn’t much I can do about that. Of course, an option is to go to bulk shops where you can buy things in your reusable jars. That isn’t a great option for me personally right now.

Although the bags that came with the Garlic Tuscan Bread are recyclable, it didn’t really sit right with me. A way to reduce this waste would be to possibly ask if something can go unpackaged. For example there’s this bee’s wrap packaging that you could possibly bring to Wegman’s and ask if they would wrap your bread in that. I’m not sure if they’ll say yes, I haven’t tried this personally because I don’t own the wraps yet, but it’s worth a shot to reduce your overall impact! They’re also a great option for packing lunch. Instead of using a plastic sandwich bag you could wrap your sandwich or sides in this.

Overall this experience has just made me a lot more conscious of the waste that my day to day activities produce.  Will I be completely zero waste going forward? I’m not sure if I want to put the label of zero waste on myself just yet. I think I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go before I’d feel comfortable being completely zero waste. I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way though and I think I can apply a lot of these practices in my daily life going forward. Would you ever try being zero waste? Take this challenge to see how you do and let me know!

Written by Patricia Van Valkenburgh, Class of 2019.

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