Maris's Note: I recently published a post about my own attempts at transitioning into a more environmentally conscious lifestyle and talked about my fellow UC Santa Cruz students' blog The Small Green Home. The lovely Sarah Jo and Tony graciously reached out to collaborate, and I'm excited to share our first offering together today.
There is power in routine.
Like a current, it sweeps us along; it keeps us moving forward. In fact, we always wished to establish a solid routine. Waking each morning to make breakfast, packing a lunch, heading off to work… ebb and flow, ebb and flow. Even now, we still desire a strong routine.
But routine can also be negative. This is what we found when we started living on our own. Our routine was simple, but it involved a ton of waste. Our trash can was constantly full and we ended up resenting it. The lid broke, and the smell of old food wafted through the kitchen. It felt like it was constantly in the way and we were always bumping into it. It took time to take out the trash and we were even tormented by a raccoon that would hang out near our apartment dumpster.
Clearly, the trash can was causing some problems in our lives, but what we found was that these problems extended deeper than just simple annoyance.
The trash can was a symbol of clutter and neglect. If we had just taken the time to look into composting, it wouldn’t be so smelly. If we had even just fixed the lid things would have been better. In fact, by neglecting the trash can we were neglecting to acknowledge the impact our waste had. It was easy to throw things away and not think about where they were ending up.
Many people say they love the environment, and we are totally with them. We love hiking in the mountains and swimming in the ocean. We are very lucky to live in Santa Cruz, CA where we are able to do those things. Like most people too, we know about the major impact that waste has on our planet, and like others, we questioned, “how big of an impact can one person make?”. After almost half a year of living zero waste, we have found that the answer is more than you can imagine.
Zero waste was a clear choice for us. Trash was causing a lot of stress in our lives and our ties to the environment were too strong to ignore the negative impact we were causing. So in March of this year, we ditched the trash can and decided to try to live a more sustainable, zero waste lifestyle.
It was routine that made us change to zero waste, but it’s also routine that makes this change possible.
Zero waste can feel like an intimidating concept. What we’ve found is that with simple changes in routine, it can be super easy!
The most important part of zero waste is to not focus on “zero”. Humans inherently leave an impact on the Earth whether we choose to or not. And that’s more or less caused by the system and society which we were born into. No matter how eco-conscious you become, you will always leave some sort of unintended impact. Zero waste is about making that impact as little as you possibly can.
It also takes time. Changing things overnight can do more harm than good. Even after almost six months, we are still making changes to our routine to lessen our waste.
The biggest change we made was in our routine regarding food.
We built and started a home compost, which has seriously changed our lives. Our garden benefits from it greatly, and the little trash we do create now is all dry (aka not stinky!). If you don’t have the space or patience for home compost (which we totally get because turning the compost is exhausting and takes some time!), then you can look into composting programs your city operates. Santa Cruz has a weekly residential compost collection that you can sign up for here. Many towns have curbside compost collection for free as well!
We also changed the way we shop for food. By planning out our meals for the week, we ensure that we buy exactly what we need at the store. Planning ahead also makes it easier for us to minimize our plastic waste. When we know what we need we can bring jars and reusable bags for each item to avoid unnecessary packaging. We wrote a post here outlining exactly how we make grocery shopping zero waste!
The next biggest change we made was in the routine of what we carry with us. Carrying a reusable water bottle can save 217 plastic water bottles from going to the landfill each year. Bringing your own grocery bags can save 150 plastic bags from ending up in the ocean. Even carrying a reusable straw in your bag can reduce the 500 million plastic straws used daily. We have created this helpful page to guide you in making easy, environmentally-friendly changes you will use daily.
A lot of the waste we used to create should not have been in the trash can in the first place!
Switching to composting saved plenty of food from heading to the landfill and adding to immense amounts of methane gas emissions. This was a clear switch for us. We were surprised to realize that we had actually been throwing away items that could have been recycled instead! To help ensure that you are recycling the right things, we have created this simple print-out PDF. This PDF is based on the rules in Santa Cruz, so be sure to check your local regulations as well.
Making these changes to your routine is easy and empowering.
Going zero waste has brought more meaning to our lives. We hope that you will realize your potential to make a positive impact on our planet. We have had an amazing experience going zero waste, and we hope you do as well. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or need any help making changes in your routine.
Sarah Jo and Tony are young advocates of the zero waste lifestyle and are based in Santa Cruz, CA. They share their experiences with going zero waste on their blog, thesmallgreenhome.com. Their goal is to make living zero waste an accessible and un-intimidating option for everyone.
Photo credit: Jack Leonard (Instagram: @_jackleonard_)