Alana Bloomfield shares with us her story, why she decided to switch to a zero waste lifestyle. She shares two secrets on how to start and also what “zero waste” actually means

As the plastic containers that once contained microwaveable taquitos continued to pile up into the bottomless void of the wastebasket, the more repulsed I became. I sat back and took a good long look at the trash can, I got up close and personal with it. I recoiled in horror with everything it represented.

The trash can is our trash’s one-way ticket straight to the dump.

It does not stop at the recycling center or rests at the compost pile, it goes directly to where all single-use items end up, the nauseating and vile mountain of TRASH.

College students are known for eating ramen noodles, microwaveable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and unlimited bags of chips, all of which are wrapped in plastic. Myself, my roommates, and just about every college student ever is no exception to this stereotype.

But after I threw a plastic trash bag after plastic trash bag containing nothing but single-use plastic down the daunting trash shoot of my dorm building, I was fed up. I could not bear to be a part of the national statistic that the average American throws away 2,072 pounds of trash per year. After I came to this conclusion that I wouldn’t throw anything into the dumpster ever again, I cringed and winced at every lift and shut of the trashcan lid.

This is how I started my journey to zero waste.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I have a small 8oz mason jar halfway filled with trash that I have been collecting for the past year because I don’t have one of those.

The world that we live in today is not designed to adhere to people that produce little waste, and honestly, I can’t believe that people have a mason jar filled with eight years of trash. However, despite the majority of the world living in a linear economy, take-make-waste, there are ways for people (students, parents, kids, teachers, whomever) to transform that linear cycle into a circular one, make-use-recycle.

Changing one’s life from a linear economy to a circular economy, while in its glory is a massive achievement, is no doubt a considerable challenge.

We are so accustomed to using something and then immediately throwing it away that leaping from that right into completely cutting out our waste does not happen overnight.

Here is the secret.

Secret 1

The key to becoming zero waste is to NOT buy anything new, DUH, at least not initially.

Use up what you have BEFORE you purchase anything else. Example: those bamboo toothbrushes and glass-silk floss bottles are the ultimate zero waste aesthetic, right? But utilize all the old plastic toothbrushes and floss containers that you already had before plunging into buying any of that overpriced bamboo stuff! You do not want to throw away a perfectly functional toothbrush; that contradicts everything zero waste and sustainable living advocates for. This also goes for clothes. The Fashion Industry is the second most polluting industry in the world right after oil. We buy and throw away an alarming amount of clothes every year and the industry itself, globally, produces 13 million tons of textile waste each year and 95% of that waste could be reused or recycled.

So why would you want to support an industry that is doing nothing but harming our environment? This is why if you buy new clothes, buy used, buy all-natural, or simply don’t buy anything at all and mend your clothes! Especially don’t support fast fashion, but that is a given. 

Those zero waste stores are pleasing to look at, but steer clear of them because they will suck you into convincing yourself that you absolutely need a bamboo holder for your facial cotton rounds, we’ve all been there.

I’m going to say it again, use something else that you have laying around, like a bowl for the cotton round container, before buying unnecessary things off zero waste websites.

Secret 2

Another secret to becoming zero waste is planning and time management.

You have to commit to putting time towards this lifestyle and counting every step you will make, what and where you will eat that day, how many containers you must bring with you, or if there will be a water refill station where ever you are going. You must plan ahead because you don’t want to get stuck at a restaurant because they only have plastic to-go containers or have to buy a plastic water bottle because there was no water refill station.

People might get irritated when you ask them to put everything in your personal bowls and cups, but you have to recognize that your way of life is unconventional to them, and you will most likely never see them again, so just go for it! That was the biggest challenge for me, becoming assertive.

I once went to a Mexican restaurant with my friends, and the restaurant ran out of clean glass bowls, so they asked me if it was okay that they were putting my food in a single-use plastic to-go container. I hesitantly said, “no,” and they looked at me like “Hm, what else are we supposed to do crazy lady?” I proudly pulled out my Tupperware container from home, and they reluctantly took it and asked the manager if it was okay. He said yes, and I learned that all you should do is simply ask, the worst thing someone will say is no. And if they say no, you can either walk away and starve or just say that not everyone is perfect, and it is okay to slip up sometimes.

You are not going to be 100% no trash zero waste God because that is impossible, I tried it for a day but ended up with six free Valentines Day cards that couldn’t be recycled. I just couldn’t say no to someone trying to hand me Valentine’s day cards!

Like I said before, the world in which we live does not adhere to zero waste because they believe that this way of life is unsanitary and goes against their health codes, which is entirely false. The people that participate and practice a zero-waste lifestyle are undoubtedly benefitting the planet and most importantly benefit the human race. And even though not everyone is perfect, especially not me, at being zero waste, contributing even a little bit, whether that be bringing your own bags to the grocery store or carrying your personal water bottle can impact a lot of change to the world we live in. 

Alana Bloomfield is a 19-year-old fashion student at Columbia College Chicago, from Kentucky, who partakes in the Zero Waste lifestyle. After being fed up with the mountain of plastic piling up in her dorm room, she decided to do a 180 on her life and change it and the planet for the better by cutting out (almost) all single-use plastic and waste. She also loves all things from living an active life to knitting, playing piano, and sitting down to read a good mid- 19th-century novel.

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