Last year we observed a Day Without Waste on April 9th, promoted by non-profit Global Citizen. It was a lot of fun – and thought provoking. We plan to do it again, but when we searched for news of this year’s event, we came up empty. What happened? Undeterred, we will be tweeting and raising the flag for a #DayWithoutWaste again this year. We figured we don’t need a movement to be a movement! So we invite you to start planning for a day without waste, and offer some practical (and obscure) recycling tips and highlights of our experience last year as inspiration.

There’s really not much to a Day Without Waste. You just photograph or otherwise catalogue your waste (we used group emails) and publicize the day and your results. We decided to have each person in our company record their waste for the whole day. The idea came out of a question about whether you could take trash home to make our office trash less! (Seriously, we have some competitive spirits.) We catalogued everything, but really focused on how much was going to the landfill versus composting and recycling.

The purpose of the day is to think about waste in a more focused way. Some of us last year put off purchases because of the packaging waste. Others consciously used less. Most looked at the day’s waste and tried to figure out how things could have gone better!

Here’s Lisa’s list for the whole day last year. She noted, “Luckily I made a big pot of soup last night, so we had leftovers for dinner!”

  • 3 toothpicks
  • 1 color catcher sheet
  • 3 dryer sheets
  • dryer lint
  • 2 egg shells
  • 2 q-tips
  • 2 tissues
  • 4 napkins (at gym)
  • 3 teabags
  • 2 clementine peels (at gym)
  • 2 sanitizing wipes (at gym)

Congrats, Lisa! Pretty much everything but the color catcher sheet (what’s that?) and the sanitizing wipes is compostable! Yup, even the q-tips and dryer lint.

You might think that it’s pointless to reduce your waste for just one day, or even for just one month. Are we really changing any behaviors? Will the exercise move the needle toward solving a problem? Maybe not, but it will get people thinking, and that’s definitely the first step.

We learned a lot and started a dialogue. Marissa wrote:

My Wednesday started with trash and recycling day on my curb (hopefully that doesn't count).

My breakfast at home was yogurt with fruit/nuts in a reusable bowl - so while that created no waste (I use large tubs of yogurt) - it did lower the contents of the plastic tub which will need to be recycled next Wednesday.

Lunch was leftovers from the previous night, which I carried in a reusable Tupperware and had along with water from a mug. No waste.

I had dinner at a restaurant on Wednesday night, so I don't know how to quantify the waste from their kitchen. My largest - if unavoidable - failure of the day was that I had leftovers, which I wanted to bring home. Of course, the restaurant boxed them up in a Styrofoam container, which is now in my trash.

David responded:

I struggled with this issue of take away containers for a while ... In the end I decided that if I am going out to dinner I take my stainless steel container(s) with me ... inevitably restaurants serve too much food, so I cut the portion in half when it arrives, pop half into my containers, and take it home with me ... better for my diet and the environment ... I bought mine from www.lifewithoutplastic.com ...

Our colleague Janet came up with some other new insights worth sharing:

My Day Without Waste...

Began badly. Like, right away, as soon as I poured my cup of coffee, finishing the pot, rinsing it and then looking at . . . the spent grounds. Oh no! Now I can hear you all saying, "perfect for the compost bin," but here in NYC, the mayor recently announced a pilot organics-compost pickup program (and yes, for apartment dwellers too!!), but it can't begin soon enough for me. Like on my day without waste. [Editor’s Note: this is now the NYC Compost Project] But, fear not, the Internet, as usual, provided the solution. Until building pickup starts, I've discovered several great alternatives to chucking the grounds into the trash:

Scouring pots! Feeding my hydrangea! Who knew? So now, my potted plant has been fed, a container sits in the back of my fridge absorbing the stink from the chopped onions and another sits by my sink for scrubbing pans. If I can keep this up until the program starts, I'll be thrilled (and more suggestions are welcome)! 10 Uses for Coffee Grounds

After that, my day progressed very well. I happily went about my business (changing 186 passwords into unique, impossible to guess versions that I know I'll never remembers...) generating NO WASTE. Nada. Zilch. By the end of the day, just as I was congratulating myself, and considering that generating no waste really isn't so hard, the little bookcase I'd ordered from Amazon arrived. Wrapped in, you guess it, stiff Styrofoam. Well, after I finally quieted down (am sure neighbors were wondering what the shrieks were) I headed back to the Internet for more help. And sure enough, found some solutions:

So now, my coffee-ground potted plant sits on top of a piece of polystyrene (still not convinced about its water-absorbing properties, but we'll see), a square piece has been put away for carving (really?) and the rest packed into a bag to be delivered to my local UPS store. I checked and they take donations! How to Reuse Styrofoam

So with a bit of effort, I made it! But the experience made me aware of a couple of things:

  • much of the effort is simple awareness. Once we focus on what we're doing, we see that so many things are mindless automatic responses. Applying just a bit of mindfulness to our daily actions can make large differences.
  • solutions, as always, can often be found with some creative thinking!
  • and when will Amazon stop using so much Styrofoam in its packaging? And until they do, should I re-think using them so often to purchase stuff?
  • and, really, do any of us need so much stuff in the first place?

All in all, a fascinating, educational day!

I couldn’t agree more with Janet’s conclusions.  So whether or not a #DayWithoutWaste takes off again this April 9th, we’ll be celebrating and trying to get our landfill waste to zero that day. How about you? Give it a try! Let us know how you fare and what you learn.

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