Being My Best Self: Going “Zero Waste” for One Month

Summer is starting to fade, and as the seasons transition into one another I find myself wondering whether I am being my best self: whether I am working “smart” enough, whether I am doing enough to pursue my creative goals, whether I am being a good friend/daughter/partner/sister/person. (Yeah, I get really reflective during these moments of in-between weather. . . .) And I’ve always felt that my best self would do more to care for the environment than just composting and buying from sustainable brands. Ever since I learned about Lauren Singer’s blog Trash Is for Tossers and the zero-waste movement, I’ve been itching to go zero waste myself. But I kept making excuses not to try: I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m too dependent on plastic-wrapped X item. . . .

All of these excuses were tiring me out, because at the end of the day I was still wracked with guilt over how many pieces of nonrecyclable plastic I had contributed to the landfill. The disconnect between my morals, my knowledge about excessive consumption and climate change, and my actions wouldn’t stop nagging at me. And with recent events like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, which were both exacerbated by the recent, manmade rise in ocean temperatures, I’ve felt increasingly anxious about my carbon footprint, not to mention the ridiculous carbon footprint of this gas-guzzling, war-mongering country that I am a citizen of.

So this month, I’m being my best self. And M. is joining me by being his best self. We have made a pact with each other to, for the entirety of this month, behave as if we are the ideal versions of ourselves. We will be the kindest that we can be to ourselves, to others, and to the environment, as the best versions of ourselves would be. We will be proactive in trying to reduce our carbon footprint and trying to join larger organizations that are working to change the narrative of this country we call home.

M. and I have had this idea for a while, and September seemed to work out well with our respective schedules. We each have our separate goals for this month, in accordance with what our individual ideas of “best self” are, but they work well in unison. My overarching personal goal is to go as close to zero waste as possible, and M.’s overarching personal goal is to have a healthier diet and exercise more. So part of our pact involves taking a jog to the farmer’s market each Sunday and buying our vegetables and groceries using reusable mesh produce bags and mason jars. We’ll cook at home, which is healthier and less wasteful because we won’t use any single-use items and we will compost any trimmings from the vegetables we use. In addition, the majority of our meals will be vegetarian. Several birds, one stone.

I like lists, so M. and I made a comprehensive list of the specific actions we aim to take. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve agreed to do:

  • Refuse single-use plastic bags.
    • We will bring our own mesh produce bags and our own reusable shopping bags to the store.
  • Refuse single-use plastic straws.
    • We will bring our own reusable straws.
  • Refuse disposable plastic utensils and nonrecyclable takeout containers.
    • We will bring our own reusable containers and reusable utensils.
  • Refuse single-use coffee cups.
    • We will bring our own reusable coffee cups when we want a caffeine fix.
  • Buy in bulk and cook at home.
    • We will buy groceries from the farmer’s market.
    • We will buy organic, free-range eggs.
    • We will use reusable mesh bags for produce.
    • We will trade off cooking duties.
    • We will prepare vegetarian meals.
  • Bring and use reusable napkins.
  • Compost consistently.
  • Exercise 2 – 3 times a week.
    • We will take at least one jog a week.
  • Buy ethically.
    • We will boycott Amazon.
    • We will buy from sustainable brands or buy vintage/preowned items.
  • Become more politically involved.
    • We will attend meetings held by local activist organizations.
    • We will volunteer for events or for political organizing.

There are a few exceptions to the above list of rules. We’ll be going on a short vacation to Denver this weekend, so we’ve agreed that we won’t be as stringent about refusing single-use plastic during our getaway (although I still plan to hold myself to these standards, M. will not do the same). Additionally, while the meals that we prepare at home will be vegetarian, we are not sticking to a strictly vegetarian diet; I’m still allotting myself about 3 meat-inclusive meals a week. Additionally, the above rules will not apply to medical issues, such as when we experience allergies or use contraception. Although I’m open to finding non-plastic wrapped versions of allergy pills, for instance, if I have to decide between forsaking over-the-counter medicine for the sake of going zero waste or living a sniffle- and itch-free life, I’m choosing the latter.

Because a lot of these behaviors are new to us, we’ve set up a “punishment” system for when we make mistakes along the way. We’ve dubbed this system the “Jar of Atonement,” although our nickname for it has become the “Shame Jar.” 😂 For every unskilled decision that one of us makes, whether it is forgetting to refuse a single-use straw or slacking on our exercise goals for the week, that person will put a dollar in the jar. At the end of the month, we’ll choose one social justice organization and one environmental justice organization, and donate half of the total dollar amount in the jar to each.

We actually started following these rules on September 1, so it’s been two weeks now since we started attempting a healthier, zero-waste lifestyle. At the end of the month, I’ll write a detailed post about the entire experience and some lessons I’ve learned, so I won’t spill the beans yet on how it’s going. You’ll have to wait a couple more weeks! Okay, well, maybe I’ll spill one bean: so far, I really like doing this. 😊

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

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