By Kristin Maija Peterson
March 22, 2019
This blog was originally published on Grand Ciel Design
The Zero Waste Challenge was an ultra challenge for us because at the start of the challenge we did not have a working kitchen. That meant take-out for meals.
Long-story-short background: My significant other and I are currently renting a town home. Our neighbor in the adjoining unit left some time after the holidays. Originally from a southern state and not having a full understanding of a Minnesota winter, our neighbor had turned off the heat before leaving. The polar vortex happened, then it warmed up and that’s when our neighbor’s unit sprinkler system burst leaving 6 inches of water everywhere.
Over time, that water seeped under the foundation into our kitchen, seemingly coming from the refrigerator. The refrigerator wasn’t leaking, it was the unit next door that was. Living in a town home association with all its rules and compliancies, a contractor was hired (not by us). They moved out all our appliances into the living room, tore up the kitchen floor and subjected us to 7+ days and nights of loud running industrial heaters and dehumidifier. (We work where we live so moving to a hotel was not really an option).
We did the best we could and chose establishments that had recyclable or compostable containers for our take out meals. The thing that stands out for me from this experience (both by not having kitchen and the Zero Waste Challenge) is how much plastic surrounds us. It’s freaking ubiquitous. A grocery store alone is a gauntlet of plastic packaging and plastic stuff.
What I learned is there is so much I can’t reuse, recycle or compost. I still have questions on what I can and cannot recycle, like frozen food packaging and labels on top of the plastic that can be recycled. What about those organic cotton circles and all cotton-paper Q-tips? What about the packaging the cotton circles and Q-tips come in? Given that recycling is at the bottom of barrel of what we can do, I don’t even know if materials are actually getting recycled or getting burned instead.
Do I need to find an alternative to everything I use in everyday life?
I wasn’t prepared with reusable glass containers for take out during the kitchen debacle. It did make me think, I need a tool kit to help me get to zero waste, one made of physical alternatives and a mental mindset.
1. Glass containers for meat and fish. I’ll bet if I asked the meat counter guy to weigh my selection first and then plop it into my glass container and because he probably has to, he can place the price sticker on the bottom of the container. I chat these guys up all the time at the local grocery store. If I state that I’m trying to “go zero waste,” even if they don’t or can’t honor my request, it will at least start the conversation on what going zero waste means.
2. Make cloth a habit. I do use old cloth napkins instead of paper towels as much as possible when I’m cooking and cleaning produce. The trick is to move this habit into meal time. Still grabbing a couple of paper towels as we sit down to eat. I also have a number of lovely hankies to use instead of Kleenex. Again, it’s breaking the paper the habit.
3. Stop using plastic produce bags. I do need a few reusable produce bags and I always use reusable grocery sacks to bag my groceries.
4. Stainless steel water bottle. I am embarrassed to say I don’t have one (yet), but we both use a stainless steel tumbler for coffee. Thankfully, we have never been a fan of straws.
5. Bamboo toothbrushes. I am anxious for the day when I can just waltz into Walgreens and pick up a bamboo toothbrush. I’ll be really excited with we can have cake toothpaste like they have in France. I’m just not ready to go strictly baking soda for brushing. I’m also looking for alternatives to everything I use that traditionally comes in a tube – that will be a challenge!
6. Metal razor. I have a hunch I will get a better shave than with the disposable plastic razors.
7. Utensils packed and ready in my bag for when I’m on the go. I personally can’t stand using plastic forks and spoons and plastic knives are useless for cutting through food.
I know I will be adding to my Zero Waste Tool Kit over time. Plastic is everywhere and sadly way too convenient. It means taking small steps, changing habits and a little creativity to get to zero waste. It will take learning what I can do to avoid the plastic I cannot recycle and finding alternatives. Just talking with others who are on this quest to zero waste will be extremely helpful and hopeful.
We are both diligent about recycling thought I know recycling takes energy and resources. Between myself and my significant other, we produce, on average, about 3 gallons of organic waste in a 7 day period. I cook just enough for us both and any leftovers get polished off the following day. It’s the vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, the paper towels and tissue I’m working to give up, and dried leaves from any number of my 18 huge houseplants that make up the trash.
At the beginning of this post, I stated we are renting a town home. It’s our goal to purchase a home of our own before the summer is over. It’s our dream to have more control over own personal living environment and make it better for everyone. That means learning how to properly compost — maybe teach the neighbors in the process. (I would love to install a rain garden or two, plant native plants to filter water and maintain soil health, create raised beds for planting veggies and diversify the lawn for bees and wildlife.) You’d think I’d be more crazy about owning a house — place and space mean everything to me as an artist — yet it’s what I can I do outside that gets me super excited, knowing that owning a yard can help us get to zero waste and create an environmental example for others.