PLANning for the Future

The first environmental conference I ever attended was the inaugural Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN) Students for Zero Waste conference in October of 2014. I was a student in college, took the train from school to Durham, New Hampshire, and was able to identify other conference attendees by their overnight packs and sleeping bags; part of the budget-friendly nature of the conference included a sleepover at a local church. 

I learned a lot, met hundreds of amazing people, practiced networking with industry professionals, and experienced that positive and energizing feeling of wanting to change the world while leaping over tall buildings. The organizers—college students themselves—did an outstanding job of balancing many different types of speakers, including scientists, activists, corporations, non-profit organizations, authors, student groups, and thought leaders. 

This October, I again attended the PLAN Students for Zero Waste Conference—this time at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. This time, I attended not as a student (even though I am currently in graduate school), but as an industry professional with four years of work experience in the environmental field. Perhaps I had changed, perhaps PLAN had changed (probably both), but somehow I did not leave this conference with the same energized aura that I associate with environmental conferences. Instead, I took away an updated understanding of the Zero Waste movement, especially among the youth and student sector. 

The balance of speakers at this conference swayed much more towards the community activists and eco-justice thought leaders. I attended a talk entitled “Zero Waste and Capitalism” under the misunderstanding that the panelists would discuss how capitalist systems can adapt to include Zero Waste. I was able to find more perspectives at an afternoon session, “Closed Loop Systems”, where I had the incredible opportunity to discuss corporate social responsibility, triple bottom line, and emerging technologies. 

While I enjoy and learn a lot from eco-justice and activism, I practically gain the most from solutions-oriented presentations, discussions, and panels. Now that I’ve been out in the government and business space, I see how Zero Waste can be put into practice, where some of the common roadblocks are, and which methods are tried and true. Learning new methods for implementing zero waste allows me to bring those new methods to my workspaces. 

From a mental health perspective, I’m also trying to avoid some of the doom and gloom that comes from the environmental movement. We all know how much work needs to be done in such a short amount of time to avoid the very worst outcomes of climate change. There’s even a term for it—“eco-anxiety”—as well as support groups and online tips for how to manage it. I think about my environmental footprint and read the newspaper every day, and the nonstop barrage of bad news regarding oil spills, air quality regulation rollbacks, and shrinking habitats is enough to sometimes drag me down into inaction.  

This is why I seek out solutions and action-oriented talks, and this is why I felt drained rather than energized after PLAN SZW 2019. The amazing speakers had so much well-researched information and experience to share with us, but the fire hose of content nearly swept me away. 

Speaking to one of the PLAN organizers at the end of the day, I asked, “Am I doing the right thing with my academic and career choices to pursue an MBA? Is supporting corporate missions to reduce their environmental impact as aligned with zero waste as I thought it was?” They glanced around and replied, “Don’t tell anybody, but I’m not an anti-capitalist. I think some of us need to work from within the systems while they exist in order to implement change.” 

And I started to feel the energized glow again. Maybe I’m now the wrong audience for this conference, but even still I’m glad that I attended PLAN SZW 2019. This incredible organization reaches hundreds if not thousands of students and young professionals, promotes environmental action and youth organization, and puts on consistently great events. The entire planning staff should be congratulated on their outstanding multi-day event, breadth of speakers, and inclusive practices. 

When it comes to planning for the future of Zero Waste, I’m excited that PLAN is a part of the conversation.

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Zero Waste in the Beauty Industry

A few weeks ago I got into a conversation with a friend about plastics in the beauty industry.  “There are just plastic containers everywhere, and there are no good alternatives. There are shampoo bars, which are more expensive and you can only get in a few places. Also do tooth tabs even work? Plus they come in plastic containers!” Her closing comment, “Internet, I’m not washing my hair and teeth with baking soda.”

Based on this Refinery 29 article, my friend isn’t alone in her search for environmentally friendly and package free alternatives. I thought I had the solution: do with fewer products, use that extra money to splurge on boutique package free products (looking at you, Lush), or spend $75 on a “small” beauty products and packaging shipping box from Terracycle. If people want to use 20 products in their beauty routine, then they should be able to do so with zero waste options.

If you think that 20 products is a lot…

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Plastic Free July Challenge

As much as I’ve resisted this, I’m a jar person now. Like Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer before me, I’m now one of those people who keeps their trash in a jar. This jar.

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Plastic Free July is a great reason to try tacking my garbage for the first time, and here are the rules.

Rule 1: Priorities

I’m going to prioritize reduction, refusing, and reusing this month. Recyclable and compostable items are nice, but single-use is not going to fly. It’s about more than just reducing plastic, it’s about reducing everything.

Rule 2: Plastics

Some of my reusable items are made of plastic. My cold drinks tumbler and my to-go containers for example. Since those items are reusable I’m not going to count them as trash. Now, if I bought bottled water I’d have to put that plastic item in the trash jar. Even though it’s recyclable? Yes, even though it’s recyclable the point of Plastic Free July is to avoid single-use plastic items and a plastic water is absolutely a single-use plastic item.

Rule 3: The Jar

Here’s what goes in the jar: single-use plastic items, plastic film, plastic bags, small plastics like bottle caps and twist ties, multi material items like shelf stable packaging and tea bag wrappers, other trash items. I have access to compost where I live so no compostable items or food items will go in the jar.

Ok! Here I go! A whole month! I can’t wait to see what the challenges are, what small and big actions I’ll be taking to avoid trash and single-use items outside of my normal behavior, and if this is viable for longer than a month.

I’ve got an empty jar and a lot of enthusiasm. Happy Plastic Free July everyone!

GogoBags: Review

Reducing waste can be as easy as replacing single-use items in your life with reusable ones. The ubiquitous plastic bag can be hard to avoid but their negative impact on the environment cannot be ignored. Bringing a cloth tote the grocery store is a good way to replace shopping bags, but what about snack sized baggies or produce bags? Problem, meet solution.

Photo courtesy of GogoBags

GogoBags makes several different styles of zero waste reusable bags, perfect for storing snacks, going on a hike, travel, and grocery shopping. They’re also handmade in Canada! One of their founders, Anahita, was kind enough to send me two types of their bags and they 100% exceeded expectations.

Reusable Snack and Sandwich Bags

I went on a lunch & hike to Bravo Lake near Sequoia National park to test how well the bags stayed closed in my backpack. The snack sized bag held onto my roasted almonds without leaking at all. I was convinced that I would open my backpack to find it full of loose almonds, but the fold-over snack bag held its own and worked perfectly.

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I didn’t have a sandwich to put into the sandwich sized bag, but I did have half of a burrito. I carried this veggie burrito in my backpack for at least another three hours before making it back to civilization, and my burrito stayed delicious. I don’t recommend putting anything too wet or soggy into these bags (they’re lined with cotton, so they’re not waterproof), but if your food is between slices of bread or wrapped in a tortilla you’ll be fine.

 

Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

Don’t tell my mom, but she is getting these for Christmas this year. The mesh bags are plenty big enough to carry loose produce and come in BRIGHT pink and white. These bags are laundry friendly and durable. My chef friend cautioned me against using them to carry meat products because of possible cross-contamination with your fruits and vegetables, but luckily I’m a vegetarian.

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Oh, and they come with a drawstring prevent your food from spilling all over the place. I use so many produce bags at the grocery store because I eat a plant-based diet, so these will definitely come in handy. As you can see, I loaded these up with heavy items (oranges, potatoes), and they did great with all that weight- I definitely got a workout taking this photo.

These are on Sale RIGHT NOW!

GogoBags is having a 12 Days of Christmas sale starting TODAY, December 1st through December 12th. Each day, one of their products is on sale. Did I mention that they also sell cloth toothbrush cases, bread bags, and fridge friendly bags among others? Get some for yourself, get some for your friends, and enjoy a Zero Waste holiday 🙂

GogoBags Website: https://www.gogobags.ca/shop/

Amazon Links to products that I reviewed:

Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
Reusable Sandwich and Snack Bags

Grapefruit Candy: A Zero Waste Recipe

How much do you like grapefruit? Picture taking a bite of perfectly sweet and
delicious grapefruit, maybe with a little sugar sprinkled on top. Ok, now imagine a
grapefruit gummy worm. Still interested? Then let’s make Grapefruit Candy.

This zero-waste recipe comes from my wonderful grandmother who used to make
this special treat as a way to turn food waste into dessert. I like to think of it as
turning straw into gold (or day old bagels into vodka).

You will need
3-4 grapefruits (as many as you want)
~2 Cups of Cane Sugar (or other sweetener, but come on we’re making candy use
sugar)

Step 1
Cut the grapefruits in half and eat out the middle edible part. It does not matter how
much pith is left over. This can be done days in advance, just keep the empty
grapefruit halves stored in the fridge for up to one week.

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Zero Waste Spirits Company Uses Food Waste to make Vodka

A California distillery is using food waste to make vodka.

These people might be geniuses.

Meet Misadventure Vodka. The sugary source material for their alcoholic product comes from discarded sugary baked goods including cake. CAKE! They’re making vodka from cake! They’re reducing food waste and creating a product at the same time. Somebody get them a medal. As their website says, “Finally you can have your cake and drink it too.”

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Photo from Misadventure Co

Hedonistic Sustainability

“Precious resources are used to grow, package, transport, and sell food, but a large portion of it never reaches human mouths and is, instead, thrown away. At your local store unsold baked goods are often donated to food banks by mindful shop owners. This normally would be the food’s last stop before it was taken to the landfill.

Misadventure Vodka extends the useful life of these foods. Right now, we specifically save all manner of baked goods. This is possible because they can still contain usable starches that can be converted to sugars that are then eaten by microscopic yeast and turned into marvelous alcohol.”-Misadventure Vodka

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Photo from Misadventure Co

The amount of food waste at all stages of production is staggering. From food left unpicked due to labor shortages, food not sent to market because it doesn’t meet aesthetic standards, food unsold and rotting which goes un-donated, to food expiring in our refrigerators. Misadventure Co steps in to save food from going to the landfill. While reducing food waste is better, finding a way to re-purpose food waste is pretty cool too.

For more reporting, check out this article on NPR.

Interested in giving distilling your own try? How about a Gin Kit! Too much work? Then Spirit Infusing might be more up your alley. Whatever you do, enjoy responsibly.

Meet Murf.

I want to introduce you to one of my best friends: Murf. He isn’t very popular, he doesn’t get out much, and he smells pretty bad sometimes (but that’s not his fault), so I don’t blame you for not having met yet.

So here’s Murf:

 

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See? How friendly!

*MRFs are challenging to photograph because they’re so big.

This is a Material Recovery Facility. A MRF. Pronounced “Murf”. These facilities are instrumental to the successful sorting, processing, and shipping of recyclable materials. When you throw something in the recycling, it comes here, to Murf.

Think of Murf like a big metal dragon that chews up mixed recycling and poops out perfectly square cubes of compacted metal, paper, cardboard, and plastic.

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