This year for Earth Month, Sustrana celebrated a company wide Day Without Waste on April 9th and ran a no-landfill/no plastic Waste Contest from the Day Without Waste to yesterday, Earth Day. We had an awesome day on the 9th. We all thought we were pretty good about waste – after all, we compost at work (and many of us do at home, too), we recycle – even super recyclables like Styrofoam, batteries, and electronics, and we buy in bulk without plastic containers or reuse many of the containers other foods come in.

But dedicating a day to focusing on waste had a really big impact on us anyway. It makes you think about everything you do, from ordering online vs buying local, to how we dispose of scraps of weird waste like dryer lint; from eating out to caring for pets.

Many of us have written stories about our day and what we learned. There are some real gems in there for you waste mavens. You can see our individual stories below.

I’m a little disappointed that no one was able to go more than one day in our Waste Contest for the highest number of days between the 9th and Earth Day without any landfill or plastic recycling. Plastic seems to be the biggest culprit. Two people tied for our prize by going the entire Day Without Waste with no landfill or plastic recycling! Bravo! 

How about you? I encourage you and your organization to give it a try! Let us know how you fare and what you learn. If you need help getting started, please check out our downloadable project samples and other resources.

So now it’s game on for our team to find solutions to our no waste stumbling blocks, to advocate for more Earth-friendly products and packaging, and to keep working on how we can get every day closer to a no waste day.

Stories from a Day Without Waste (Quick Links):

>> Nancy                               >> Lisa
>> Marissa                             >> Rich
>> Kylie                                 >> Lauren
>> Janet                                >> May

Nancy --

I started my day with a change. I decided to start composting dryer lint and q-tips based on our blog information. My morning started with both (6am laundry; sometimes it’s what we have to do…). I used to remove eye makeup with q-tips, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to put mascara in the compost. A while back (when I had time, so before Sustrana) I converted an old sheet into hankies, but never used them. Presto! My new makeup removal system was born: the hanky wrapped on the end of a makeup brush is just as good if not better, and way more washable, than a q-tip!  Here are pictures of my innovation and my morning compost (can you see my worms headed for it?):

Next on my waste hit parade were compostables: tea bags, banana peels, and an apple core. I’m so glad we compose food waste at the office! Thankfully I found pieces of fruit without those nasty fruit stickers on them. The stickers are a composting no-no. I also used tea bags that are not wrapped in one of the landfill plastic or foil lined packets. My organic tea bags from Celestial Seasonings were packaged in bulk in a sealable paper wrapper, and the bags themselves were entirely compostable: bag paper (not those nylon ones that make you put the whole bag in the trash), with the string and paper tag sewn to the bag, not held with metal staples (also a composting no-no). That was it for my caffeine habit, traditional lunch smoothie and afternoon snack waste! Everything else I brought from home in a reusable container or was in a container that did not yet need disposal. Again, some good planning, though I admit I left an annoyingly small amount of Almond Milk in the container to avoid recycling (the plastic cap and the super-recycle carton).

So far, so good! Not a shred of landfill or plastic/other recyclables! Then disaster struck, twice! I went to the car and right there on the ground was a plastic lid and some foil. Ugh! To be a good Samaritan or keep my zero record? What a dilemma. Well, I couldn’t just walk on by. And, it was just as well, because when I got to my event, my only drink options were bottled water or water in a plastic cup. I was really thirsty so I gave in and enjoyed the water, but not the bottle. I did bring it home to recycle (not one recycling bin in sight at the otherwise fabulous host site Evolve IP, tsk, tsk) and I used my travel cloth napkin (seriously, I planned ahead for that one) instead of a paper plate for my sandwich.

Someone asked me what about the food waste that might have resulted from the catered sandwich I ate. I don’t know what that might have been or whether it went to the landfill or was composted, but I’m really heartened by stories about restaurant efforts to reduce waste and compost.

Last year the #DayWithoutWaste campaign was ridiculed by someone who said you can’t go a day without certain kinds of waste that no one really wants to talk about. I know Kylie and Kim T now know that there’s flushable kitty litter (love the Internet; here’s a flushable kitty litter guide with $$ comparisons, ladies)! In a similar vein, did you know that two B Corps - GDiapers and Lunapads have the answer to laments about all the landfill waste that will be created by my grandchild’s diapers and by feminine hygiene products? We also have great sewer treatment (and compostable toilets for the really committed), so I think we are getting closer to absorbing back into natural cycles even the most unspeakable of wastes!

Marissa --

I felt a bit helpless on the DWW front because I have to admit that I've made the switch away from cloth diapers to disposable diapers. Cloth diapers were just fine when Baby was exclusively breastfed, but now that he's eating real "adult food," it's a whole new story. I have weighed the environmental damage of using the extra water for pre-washes, along with the energy and hot water for washing (plus detergent), and the awful reality is that a little trash is a 50/50 tradeoff for the alternative water/energy waste.

[Since our #DayWithoutWaste, Marissa received a gift Starter Kit of GDiapers and is trying flushables. No extra hot water, and no landfill waste!]

Kylie --

I suppose it’s a testament to how dull my life is that I managed to produce no waste in a day without thinking and only remembering that it was the day’s goal at about 6pm.

I awoke at 5:30 and headed to my gym with a reusable water bottle in hand. Planet Fitness has a nasty habit of only offering paper towels and spray to wipe down machines, but I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing old hand-towels with me. I have a stock of 8 of them, so even if I put off laundry I’m sure to have something that will work.

Once home, I had my usual breakfast of granola, a banana, and milk. I should note that I make my own granola, meaning I’m able to cut down on the typical waste associated with it (a cardboard box and a interior bag). However, making this particular batch three days prior had used up my oats, and though the Quaker Oats container was mostly cardboard, there was a small plastic ring around its top. While this wasn’t waste that I generated on April 9th, some good lifecycle accounting is always fun to think about. Is “fun” the right word? 

I made myself coffee with a reusable pod in my Keurig machine. Once my cup was brewed, I dumped the coffee grounds into a mason jar where I collect them to either scour my pots or be given to my dad, who is hell-bent on turning his hydrangeas blue this year. I fixed myself lunch to take work: Greek yogurt in a reusable container (which lowered the contents of my larger yogurt tub, but didn’t empty it), an apple, and a handful of nuts from a larger, mostly full bag. I also fed my cat, which required the opening of a new can of wet food. The lid is aluminum and completely recyclable, so I managed to avoid landfill waste there.

I should probably explain my food waste though. I live in a small apartment with no on-site composting, so I freeze my organic waste, which on this day included a banana peel, 2 q-tips (which thanks to our blog post I just found out were compostable), and an apple core from lunch. The freezing prevents it from smelling until I find the time to take it to a composting facility.

The only real test came when I had to use the bathroom at work: my Thursdays take place on-site at a client’s facility, and their bathrooms only offer paper towels. I wish I could say I avoided this waste because I actively thought about it, but the fact is I’m the type of person who will happily dry her hands on her pants. It’s been a habit of mine for a while, since I never really understood the need for paper towels in the bathroom in the first place—it’s dry again in like, 2 minutes! So judge all you want, but you can’t argue with the zero-waste results.

And…that was that. I took the train home, ate my dinner of leftover asparagus and broccoli risotto that was waiting for me in a Tupperware container, and didn’t do any other sort of waste-generating activity. No packages were waiting for me and my cat’s litterbox had been done the night before. 

My streak was broken incredibly early the next day when my cat threw-up his breakfast on my carpet. I had to use my 100% recycled paper towels to clean up the mess. It was a stroke of bad luck, and something my cat feels quite bad about!

Janet --

A Conference Day Without Waste

My Day Without Waste found me traveling 150 miles to a sustainability-focused conference. I hoped that this might actually make things a bit easier for me, but wasn’t sure what challenges I might encounter. So after my no-waste breakfast (now that I finally have an active compost system, spent coffee grinds ate no longer an problem), I filled up my water bottle and hit the road.

The conference was happily totally "Paper Free" – no brochures, no notepads, no pens. This meant no issues of what to do with the various often useful, but ultimately difficult to dispose of items like maps, schedules, and meeting room locations. I simply downloaded the wonderful Guidebook app that the conference organizers used and everything I needed to find my way around the venue appeared on my phone. I took meeting notes on my iPad. In the workshop I led, I provided no easel-pads for writing. One participant from each table volunteered to take discussion notes on a laptop. So none of us generated any waste whatsoever!

I checked into my hotel room and was delighted to spot a notice in the bathroom proclaiming that “Each day you stay here the slightly used bar soap and shampoo from your room will be collected and recycled for us by people in impoverished countries.” This was thanks to the Global Soap Project developed by Clean the World, an organization dedicated to providing salvaged, reclaimed hand soap from US hotels. These new soaps are a weapon in the war against preventable disease in the developing world, particularly pneumonia and diarrheal disease. According to Clean the World, approximately 2 million bars of partially used hotel soap are thrown away every day in the US, ending up in landfills. Creating new bars in this way provides an invaluable double benefit!

I was less thrilled when I spotted the coffee maker in my room: a Keurig with no reusable K-cup. I normally need a cup of coffee before I can even manage to get out of my pj’s, so having coffee in my room is practically a necessity. But this was too great a quandary. Those standard, pre-filled K-cup containers are not recyclable in any way. There was no way to let them into my Day Without Waste. In the end, I opted to get myself dressed first, then headed down to the hotel lobby to bring coffee (in a real coffee cup) back to my room. No big deal – and kept me waste free!

Finally, the conference provided a lovely buffet dinner of locally produced, organic food. Dishes and flatware were provided, not disposables. I asked, and was told that they did indeed have a composting facility for all food scraps. Just to be completely safe, though, I chose to not overdo the plate-filling exercise on the buffet line, and to totally clean my plate, leaving no scrap to be disposed of (the diet resolution taking a back seat to my no-waste pledge for the day!). I confess I actually wiped the last bit of coconut curry sauce off my plate with a bit of bread. I left no trace behind to end my completely successful Day Without Waste!

Lisa --

So, as I was getting ready that morning, I noticed a ball of hair on my hairbrush.  Normally, I would gather this and throw it into the trash.  However, a quick Google search indicated that you can actually compost human and dog hair:  http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost-info/tutorial/can-i-compost-it.shtml.  Q-tips went into the compost as well.  

Next up, breakfast. Since I've started composting this year, it is a lot easier to create less waste.  First up hot tea with loose tea leaves (leaves go into the compost)(LOVE my new tea infuser:  http://www.teavana.com/tea-products/tea-makers-infusers/p/teavana-perfectea-maker). Yogurt from a large container (that will eventually be recycled) along with homemade applesauce and granola, both stored in reusable containers.    Breakfast for my son, homemade raisin bran muffin in a paper muffin cup.  Hmmm, what to do with the paper?  Another quick Google:  http://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/surprising-compost-items.htm and it goes into the compost pile.  A clementine on the side, peels go into the compost but that pesky little sticker they put on all of them goes into the trash.  A glass of milk from a container that will eventually be recycled.

Now on to lunch.  My son packs his lunch everyday, so we pack reusable containers for everything along with cloth napkins. We did finish off a large plastic container of strawberries, which went into the recycling.  However, when I went to pour some yogurt from a large container, I noticed it was new and covered by a thin sheet of plastic.  Hmmm, not sure what to do with that plastic.  Can it be put in with other plastic recycling?  Google was not much help with this specific question.  My lunch consisted of leftovers, so no waste there.

Snack at the gym was where I got foiled….  Packed a snack for both my son and I with reusable cloth napkins. However, after my son ate everything, he was still hungry! Which meant diving into my stash of granola bars and one wrapper went into the trash.

Dinner at home consisted of leftovers and no trash. Good thing about our schedule is that I have to plan ahead for dinners; so it was easy to have leftovers ready for that night.

Thought provoking day as I look at all that we eat and what containers it all comes in!

Rich --

My day started with the best intentions, and started off well, but then dropped off at the end.  As a novice and first-timer, I realized how hard it is to go a full day without producing waste.

I was good at breakfast. I emptied old coffee grinds into the garden. I filled up my reusable coffee mug and grabbed a banana (compostable). However, I did have a packaged breakfast bar. The wrapper hit our landfill trash bin.

Lunch went just as well. I packed my sandwich in a reusable container, put Greek yogurt from a large container (plastic recyclable) in a reusable, glass container and had an apple (compostable). All was placed in a reusable container. I purchased an iced-tea in a recyclable glass bottle and metal cap.  Score for a no landfill waste lunch. 

I reused my coffee cup as a water cup at work throughout the day.  No snacks.  I went paperless at the office.

However, I learned at home that evening how hard it is to go without throwing things away when you have a family. Much of the packaging for food (dinner and packing lunch boxes for the next day) includes individualized wrappers. We used washable plates and reusable cups/containers as much as possible.  We also recycled the packaging and all of the glass/paper/plastic we could.

I learned from this day that it is possible to make a big dent in the amount you throw away, but it requires a constant dedication and sometimes additional costs to your purchases.  It requires a will and vigilance, but can have great rewards.

Lauren --

Participating in a Day Without Waste really made me think about all the waste that is generated daily by individuals. I was really made aware of this waste situation just by being fully conscious of my efforts to reduce my personal waste. I found that eating snacks that were compostable (for example, a banana) was not only healthier than a personal bag of chips, but better for the environment. However, it was difficult when getting food for takeout or finishing a big bag of popcorn or a carton of strawberries to not have any waste. Luckily, some of these things are at least recyclable!

Unfortunately, I ended my day with waste as I used a makeup remover pad and had to throw it out because of the makeup on it. However, my day overall taught me that it is easier to be sustainable than people think and if everyone gives some energy to thinking about the waste they generate in a given day and change their ways, great strides can be made towards sustainability.

I, personally, used to be a plastic water bottle user. However, in the recent years I have been using a reusable bottle that is better for both the environment and me! I have encouraged my friends to make the switch, too. Changing little things in daily habits, like filling up a reusable water bottle in the morning instead of grabbing a plastic one, can make a significant impact.

May --

Despite studying sustainability and having purchased 2 reusable coffee containers (one from Starbucks and one from Dunkin Donuts), I often forget to bring my own reusable coffee container with me when I am on the go. The Day Without Waste challenge forced me to pledge to not use a disposable plastic coffee cup. The pledge helped me to remember to bring my own coffee container with me and by doing so I avoided using 2 plastic disposable coffee containers on April 9th.

A second lesson learned was that I never realized how many paper towels I used in 1 day. Unfortunately, I spilled tomato soup all over my kitchen floor on April 9th and only than realized that I did not have a cloth towel to clean up the mess. If this had occurred on a day that was not the Day Without Waste challenge I would have most likely used up to 10 paper towels. However, since I was thinking about the waste that I was creating, I used as little paper towels as possible to clean up the mess. I have since purchased a cloth towel to use in the kitchen and bathroom instead of paper towels. 

Here’s my final list of waste for April 9th:

3 Tissues, Compostable
4 Paper Towels, Compostable
1 Plastic Water Bottle, Recyclable
2 sanitizing wipes (Gym), Landfill
1 Metal Tomato Soup Can, Recyclable