Sustainable Living

Tracking My Trash Taught Me That ‘It’s Part of My Job’ Isn’t an Excuse To Be Wasteful

Photo: W+G Creative
This Earth Month, join us as we explore the personal steps and global movements that will work in tandem to keep our planet healthy. Because, as we know, the Earth’s well-being directly impacts our own. Read more

In my brief time as a Commerce Writer for Well+Good, I've learned that living sustainably is easier said than done. My job as a professional product tester results in a considerable amount of waste from, well, receiving and testing products. That's why I pledged to take the Waste Not editor challenge earlier this Earth month, where I tracked my trash for two weeks, then chatted with a sustainability coach to nix my trashy habits.

Now comes the last part of my challenge: putting these sustainable tips to the test. After meeting with Megean Weldon, a sustainable lifestyle blogger and author of An Almost Zero Waste Life ($10), I had two weeks to clean up my act and figure out what the heck I was going to do with all my waste.

While I couldn't stop producing waste completely, I did learn a valuable lesson in sustainability. I realized that considering my lifestyle, I have to be extra vigilant if I want to decrease my carbon footprint.

1. Product testing is a privilege—not an excuse to be wasteful

I'm probably one of the most wasteful people on the Well+Good editorial team due to the nature of my job. But this isn't an excuse to throw waste away willy-nilly. If this exercise has taught me anything, it's that my job is a privilege, and I need to go above and beyond to mitigate my waste.

This is double-headed: On one hand, I need to be super mindful about what products I decide to test. Moving forward, if I know someone on the team has already received a sample of something, I'd rather go to them for their thoughts than request another sample for myself that I might only use once. As Weldon told me, cutting back on consumption is truly the only way to stop producing waste—this is my little workaround.

On the other hand, it is my job to test and write about products, which means I'm inevitably going to collect large amounts of cardboard, bubble wrap, and more. Rather than "wishcycling" my garbage into the recycling plant, this challenge forced me to learn what I can and cannot recycle—an invaluable lesson that was way overdue. It also made me realize I need to go the extra mile to manage my waste. For example, rather than relying on recycling, I can upcycle packaging and compost cardboard, which I've already started doing. I bought a Bamboozle Countertop Composting Bin ($50), which is perfect for tossing food scraps and small pieces of cardboard. The larger boxes are being flattened and transformed into garden beds this summer.

2. Being a wanderluster isn't an excuse, either

I travel a lot, but just because I'm "out of my element" doesn't mean I should be wasteful. Being away from home during this challenge taught me I can—and should—take my sustainable habits on the road.

A reminder: I've been temporarily living in Salt Lake City for the winter, which has wholly uprooted my normal lifestyle. Before I met with Weldon, I was resorting back to habits I usually wouldn't do at home in Lake Placid, New York. But the last part of this challenge taught me that, with a bit of homework, I can be eco-friendly away from home.

For example, instead of using single-use plastic water bottles, investing in a portable filtration system can give you pure water anywhere. Whether you're overseas on vacation or out in the backcountry on a camping expedition, bottles like the Larq Bottle Filtered ($40) instantly clean water with every gulp.

I also learned to do my due diligence ahead of time. From here on out, I intend to scout out what I need to maintain an Earth-friendly lifestyle before I hit the road. That way, I can learn local waste management regulations and pack accordingly.

3. Small changes are better than no changes at all

I'm an "all or nothing" kind of gal, but that mindset won't cut it when it comes to sustainability. Producing waste is unavoidable, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to do better.

This challenge taught me to get comfortable with small changes instead of large overhauls. When we chatted, Weldon suggested I look for simple, attainable swaps around my house rather than trying to go "zero waste,"  which is overwhelming and impossible. Think: shampoo bars instead of bottles, reusable cotton pads over cotton balls, metal straws over plastic.

The first thing that came to mind was my paper towel problem. I was going through paper towels like underwear, which was utterly unsustainable. So, I took Weldon's advice and cut up some old T-shirts I hadn't worn in decades to create my own "paper towels" that I could use to absorb spills and rewash as needed.

This definitely worked—any time I dribbled coffee on the couch or needed to dab up water around the sink, the cotton T-shirt came in handy. (They aren't that far off from a reusable dish rag, after all.) However, I missed my paper towels and napkins, especially when eating. That's why I also kept a roll of Cloud Paper handy. These paper towels are made from 100 percent bamboo, a way more sustainable alternative to traditional paper (they also come in toilet paper form). They're strong, absorbent, and, most importantly, tree-free. So if you (like me) don't want to use a cotton T-shirt or cloth rag for everything, check these out.

Another easy swap I made? Hand soap. Though bar soap is more sustainable than the liquid kind that comes in a plastic bottle, I live with boys, and truth be told, sharing a single bar with the whole group kind of skeeved me out. Luckily, there are plenty of refillable liquid options to shop for these days. My recent favorite is the Blueland Botanical Hand Soap Duo ($30), which includes two beautiful glass bottles and six foaming tablets that will make plastic bottles a thing of the past. *Add to cart*.

My most important takeaway: Small changes are better than no changes at all. I know I can't completely eliminate my garbage, but I can tweak some habits and control some aspects of my waste-producing life. And hopefully, that's just the start of my more sustainable lifestyle.

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