Last month, our company celebrated A Day Without Waste. This event, now in its 4th year, encourages us to be more aware of our daily habits, and to apply some mindfulness and creativity to the choices we make each day. By now, many of us here at Sustrana are experienced in the art of a day-long zero waste challenge. We push the boundaries of our already impressive reduce-reuse-recycle game, which includes composting our Q-tips, packing snacks in reusable containers, cooking for our company potluck from scratch, and much more. We’ve even indoctrinated our newest team members to embrace the quest for zero waste.
But despite our best efforts, we all encountered barriers beyond our control – limited consumer options, antiquated recycling systems, pushback from our own families and yes, even mother nature. The day had its frustrations and left us wondering: How much impact can we have as individuals if the system itself perpetuates waste?
But we won’t give up hope and effort. We’ll strengthen our commitment to zero waste by promoting a circular economy, educating our children, and voting with our wallets for better packaging. And we’ll keep improving our online product with better ways to reduce or eliminate waste and other sustainability management best practices. In the words of Richard Buckminster Fuller, ”You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” That’s what we’re working on!
Here are some highlights from our 2017 A Day Without Waste (ADWW):
Plan, but be flexible
Sometimes, even the best-laid plans don’t work out — especially when it comes to a home garden. Associate Developer, Jenny, planted early this year, hoping to harvest some salad-ready lettuce, avoiding the wasteful packaging that comes with buying produce at the grocery store. Unfortunately, as Jenny discovered when she went to harvest her lettuce, mother nature had other ideas. Hopefully, she’ll have greens to eat in a few weeks as the weather warms! “The key to reducing waste?” says Jenny. “Lots of planning and sticking to your plan even when variables change.”
Finding the win/win
The most sustainable solutions are those that solve more than one problem at a time. Kim Quick, our Senior Associate for Product Development and Consulting, discovered that reducing waste had some unintended (but welcome) consequences. Preparing vegetarian meals and avoiding single serve snacks were key elements to the success of Kim’s ADWW. “It’s interesting to notice all the times I go to eat a little snack and don’t think about the waste that’s generated from it,” she states. “In the moment, it seems like a small impact, but it really adds up.”
Having impeccably planned her own zero-waste day, Sustrana Principal Janet Williams came home to find an empty Styrofoam coffee cup and plastic clamshell package discarded in the kitchen trashcan. The culprit? Her millennial son. Pulling the items out of the trash, Janet sat her son down for (“another”) conversation about trying to limit trash. The experience led her to reflect on the challenges of recycling the ubiquitous plastic clamshell. Although marked as recyclable #1, these packages cannot be recycled in all places – including Janet’s. “So these are constant challenges,” Janet laments. “Getting others to change the way they think and act is hard enough, but when obstacles are continuously placed in the way of changing for the better, it is incredibly frustrating.”
It starts at home
In anticipation of her first ADWW, Office Manager Linda Dowd instituted some new recycling strategies at home. She added a recycling container to the second floor, dusted off her kitchen composter, and started a bottle cap collection. Her biggest challenge? Getting the kids to cut down on paper towel use. Linda explains, “Although I always use washable hand towels in the kitchen, my kids seem to be obsessed with using paper towels.”
Teach your children well
Perhaps the secret to raising waste conscious children is starting them young. Melanie Schmidt, Senior Associate for Development and Customer Relations, recently started composting the family’s food scraps. “Seeing my 4-year old’s excitement over rounding up food scraps and dumping them into the bin and hearing her talk about how that might help to grow flowers and other veggies,” she says, “Well, that makes me smile.”
It begins with awareness
Many experts believe awareness is the first step in changing behavior. Scott Williams, Senior VP for Business Development, used his first ADWW to identify the areas of waste that he generates daily. “Before coming to Sustrana, I wasn’t thinking about this from a personal perspective,” he states. By examining his daily habits, Scott discovered he could eliminate 2 of 3 sources of waste (plastic bottles and paper napkins). While he’s still working on finding a sustainable solution for his protein bar wrappers, Scott is committed to keeping his new-found awareness front and center!
Leave no trace
Never one to shy from a challenge, CEO and Co-founder, Nancy Cleveland took her ADWW on the road to a conference in Washington, D.C. Through careful planning, Nancy kept her personal waste footprint to a minimum, but became frustrated by the lack of waste-free options during her travels. “I used the hiking mentality of pack in/pack out,” she explains, “but I still couldn’t avoid unnecessary waste others forced me to generate by setting the table for lunch.”
Interested in your own A Day Without Waste challenge? We’ve got everything you need to get started.