The Zero Waste Challenge

A personal journey

Cynthia Albers • 29 May 2019

It's Only One StrawI have long been inΙtrigued by the challenges of zero-waste living, and it was inevitable that I would someday commit to a trial run. My decision was moved by images of plastic being pulled from the bellies of unsuspecting sea creatures, and the news that much of our plastic recycling could no longer be sold, and was therefore destined for the landfill, or limbo.

Still believing in the power of daily acts, I stepped onto the zero-waste path in February 2018, and vowed to refuse plastic consumerism.

“Just say no,” I told myself. How hard could it be?

Embarking on this new practice required some premeditation, and it was not without its humorous outcomes. The initial goal was to avoid bringing new plastic and unnecessary packaging into my home. Groceries were the primary target. I consulted the work of local waste-free pioneers, and was emboldened by a video from “Zero Waste Home” author Bea Johnson, of Mill Valley.

Following Bea’s example, I surveyed the reusable containers in my kitchen, from glass mason jars to plastic clip-lock containers, and located my set of reusable produce bags that had been forgotten in a kitchen drawer. I brought my containers to be weighed at the grocery store at a non-peak business hour, and then shopped the perimeter of the store, where whole and bulk foods can be found.IMG_4486When my grocery bags were unpacked, the items that could not be consumed, reused, or composted, amounted to a bottle cap and a few produce stickers. With few exceptions, this has been my routine for over one year. There is deep satisfaction in simplifying what is brought into my home, and an equal level of surprise at what I am no longer throwing away.

In Sonoma County, where we boast of conscious consumerism, it is not difficult to find waste-free options. That said, ask your grocer if home-brought containers are permitted at the fish and meat counter, and expect very different rules when approaching the deli and salad bar. Some stores offer bulk shampoos and soaps, and most stores offer some paper-wrapped paper products. The Sebastopol Farmers’ Market is a prime destination for unpackaged foods, including cheese that is sliced to order.

The size and age-group of your household may determine the speed and quality of a zero-waste transition. Consider it an education, and a work-in-progress. Bea Johnson’s family agreed to these principles:

• Refuse what we do not need.

• Reduce what we do need.

• Reuse what we have or buy second-hand.

• Recycle only what we cannot reuse.

• Rot (compost) the rest.

Anne Marie, “The Zero Waste Chef,” blogs about her family experiences in Silicon Valley, and says, “At its core, the grassroots, zero-waste movement rejects unbridled consumerism. To live a zero- or low-waste lifestyle, first and foremost, you buy less stuff. You use what you have. Living this way means relying on ourselves more to fulfill our needs, and relying less on corporations for the conveniences they will happily sell to us.”

Assorted bags and bins now live in my car. I’m finding the groceries I need, and wistfully letting go of over-packaged things I would like to have, but cannot justify. Some essentials can be made at home, and those who possess culinary skills will excel far beyond my attempt to make yogurt, which is another story altogether. This work-in-progress continues to grow in ways I never imagined.  ◊

A friend asked what I do when I crave French Fries.

© Cynthia Albers, 2019, All Rights Reserved

[This article was first published in the Sonoma West Times and News on May 29, 2019.]

One comment

  1. Wonderful to hear about your journey to zero waste! Got me thinking about my family’s need to cut back. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

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