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A Day Without Waste – Lessons Learned

This year for Earth Month, we had our 3rd annual “Day Without Waste” contest. This year proved to be as educational as the last two and I think we are getting better at it!  We like to think of ourselves as a very waste conscious group, but there is always something new to learn.  Some of us planned well and thought we would make it through the day without any waste only to be surprised with something that we had not considered.

It is a very thought provoking exercise no matter how good you think you are at reducing your waste production. When you think about the waste you produce, it is often the small things – the ones you don’t really think about – that catch you off guard.  From the cotton ball that comes out of your medicine bottle to the pet hair that you brush off of your beloved pets – where do these things go? Are they recyclable or compostable?  Can you use them for a new purpose?  Will they end up in the landfill with the average five pounds of trash that every American generates each and every day?

A Day Without Waste forces you to take a second look at what you are consuming and try to make a better choice.  It may take better planning for us to change the “grab and go” mentality that seems to be where we all stumble a little. Personally, it has made me think about what I am consuming every day since the “Day Without Waste” and I am trying to be more conscious about what I am buying and consuming… with that awful landfill in mind!

We have each written down our thoughts about Sustrana’s Day Without Waste and we are sharing them here.  Take a look and try it out yourself. You may come up with a great new idea.  If so, please share it with us!

Check out our resources for planning your own event.

Sustrana 2016 ADWW stories:


I’ll admit to a certain level of smugness this year. I thought I was so smart; Thursday night I consolidated my large yogurt containers, cleaned my cat’s litter box, and forced myself to drink a second glass of kefir to finish that bottle so that my Friday morning smoothie wouldn’t use it up. My large tub of spinach (also for the smoothies) was only half-used, so I figured I could go at least a couple of days without waste if need be.

The tips and tricks from the past 2 years certainly helped. My q-tips and banana peel went into the compost bin, while my coffee grounds went into a special container of grounds only that I use to scour pots (and sometimes give to my father for his flower planting). I almost reached for a Clif bar for lunch, but stopped myself in time to make a sandwich, which I then wrapped in aluminum foil (both reusable and recyclable).

After lunch I normally chew gum, but I realized that it probably wasn’t compostable. Perhaps I’d be wiser to invest in mints in the future, but I simply went without anything (how unlucky for everyone else).

I left the office to go do my Earth Day volunteering with my head held high, thinking of my leftovers waiting for me in a Tupperware container for dinner. There was nothing that could go wrong, right?

And then, after about 5-10 minutes of driving, I realized something: I had a flat tire. I pulled over at a gas station and called Triple A (yes, I have a spare, a jack, and an engineering degree, but unless it’s an emergency why test that?). I received a tow to the Tires Plus near my house. Everything was going smoothly (I even managed to get some work done there) until the time came to checkout. I was handed a receipt.

It’s a funny thing, how much dread 8 inches of paper coated in bisphenol A managed to induce. I could have taken the easy way out and covered this up. I could have put it in my wallet and told everyone that I was planning on keeping it “for my files.” The truth is, I don’t have any paper files. Even if I did, the last thing I’d put in there would be a receipt for $35 for a tire puncture repair. And this kind of receipt is simply not recyclable.

The poor man behind the counter must have seen me looking at it as if it were the One Ring, because he offered to throw it out for me. “Fine,” I replied glumly, realizing all my waste-free efforts of the day were for naught.

The rest of the day and night went smoothly though, without any additional waste generated. The next day was another story, as that’s when I got around to taking care of some spring-cleaning. I figured I had already blown it the day before. Still, my stream consisting of one receipt to the landfill is probably not too awful, all things considered.

Oh, and I made sure to make up for my Earth Day volunteerism as well, spending over eight hours on Sunday cleaning at a local church where my friend works.


I really love our ADWW!  Every year, I get to spend at least one day focusing intently on the choices I’m making, seeing how some may not be so great, and finding better ones. How often do we toss something thinking, “There must be a better way”? But because doing something different involves adjusting some old habits, and that takes a bit of effort, we just don’t have the time.  And with no time, we just shrug our shoulders and toss. And on this one day, there’s no option but to finally find that better way!

For me, while I’ve done a (pretty) decent job reducing my “landfill” waste (where I live, we pay by the bag for rubbish and that alone has done wonders providing much-needed motivation for my less-than-environmentally-sensitive significant other, who can’t stand to waste money). But even for those items that end up in my compost or recycling bin, I often feel that there is life yet to be discovered. So this year, I decided to focus my efforts on finding new uses, new purposes for my about-to-be-recycled stuff.

I started with my morning water-with-lemon. Yes, I put the used lemon into the compost bin, but I always feel like there are still some great opportunities left in that old lemon.

The Perfect Cutting Board Problem Solution

I knew that lemon is a great addition to my arsenal of cleaning supplies, but I didn’t realize just how useful it is for cleaning my gritty old cutting board.  It also sanitizes the board with its antibacterial properties. So I took my squeezed lemon, and rubbed my cutting board with it (after sprinkling it with coarse salt). After rinsing and drying, my board was clean, sanitized, and smelling great (take that, garlic and onion smells!). And only then did the lemon go into the bin!

Inspired, I looked around for other uses for my squeezed lemon and found some great tips:

  • Cut the lemon rind into strips and dry on parchment paper, in the sun. When completely dry, store the dried strips in glass jars and use them to add some great lemon flavor to baked goods, tea, or other recipes.
  • I like to use lemon-pepper seasoning in cooking, but didn’t realize just how easy it is to make my own. Just take those dried lemon peels, chop them into smaller pieces and then put them into grinder with whole peppercorns and coarse sea salt. Voila! Perfect seasoning!

Chicken Fat to Bird Suet!

My other area of inspiration came up when I was cleaning up from my roasted chicken dinner. When I went to pour the pan grease into my “Grease Can” in the freezer (everyone has one of those, right?  Stuck into the back of the freezer?), I found it was already full. I HATE tossing that full can, worrying endlessly about what happens when all that grease melts.

But, like other areas of waste we prefer not to think about too much, I have been guilty of tossing it. But not this year! While I was thinking of what to do, I happened to notice my suet feeder was empty – again. Inspiration struck. I scraped the grease out of my can, rendered it on a low stove heat, then poured the liquid into a bowl. I added peanut butter, ground nuts, corn meal and seeds, and then poured it into two forms. When it hardened, I was able to pull it out, and put it into the suet feeder. How cool is that?

The coffee can went back into service in the freezer for more chicken fat!


My AWDD started with a no-waste breakfast.  No finishing off of yogurt or berry containers, therefore no waste.  My tea is always loose green tea, which ends up going down the drain in the disposal.  All organic.

I did, by accident, finish off a container of catnip when my cat knocked it off the table, forcing me to put it in the recycling.

I took my lunch to work in my friend’s sewing studio, which was all packed in my own Rubbermaid containers.  I ate everything and took my containers home to wash.

This experiment was interesting since my friend owns Sardine Clothingwhere everything is made from recycled clothing.  The problem we are always discussing is the fabric scraps that inevitably end up on the floor and in containers while we try to come up with something to do with them.  I am trying to come up with a product idea that would use them, but for now, they remain in trashcans.

My dinner was cooked for me and one paper towel (uncontaminated) was thrown in the recycle bin and one wine bottle… also in the bin.

I do think that I should gain points for one thing.  When I went to the yoga studio on Friday morning to sign into a class, someone had put a used toner cartridge in the trashcan.  I proceeded to take it out of the trash and put it in the box with the label for return and took it to the post office.  That should make up for my measly few items of waste for the day, right?

My takeaway is that the biggest issue I have, and I think most people do, is food packaging.  Although I didn’t have and food packaging to get rid of on Friday, I am constantly wondering what to do with some things that do not go in recycling.   FOOD for thought…


 I must admit, this being our third year, I was a bit smug about getting through a day without waste. I write humbled. I started out with my knee-jerk-running-late reach for a Kind bar breakfast, but quickly opted to be 5 minutes late for my morning workout to avoid the wrapper issue and eat an egg sandwich (shell composted along with my morning Q-Tip).

My lunch was an easy protein shake, using large enough containers of ingredients to succeed in avoiding plastic recycling on that account – at least for the time being. I had already decided that the banana price sticker would become a seal for an envelope and get recycled with that, but my composted peel was sticker free.

I was a little concerned about having dinner out. I stuck with water to avoid any straws in drinks. A trip to the ladies’ room sent me into a tailspin when I realized there was no electric hand drier.  I did some deep breathing and decided to take my paper towels home to compost (it’s all my germs anyway).  Into my tiny purse they were stuffed.  The rest of the evening was delightful.

As I put my head down to sleep and reflected on the day I got my serving of humble pie.  I realized that I had not finished everything on my plate at dinner.  My eyes were too big for my stomach, and I neglected the better diet and no waste mantra of start small; go back for more if you’re still hungry.  Ugh! A smidgeon of salmon, chicken, and salad waste went to the landfill I’m sure.

Every time we hyper-focus on waste reduction it seems to highlight just how much waste we create with wrappers and plastic and our fast-paced, convenience and technology driven life styles.  I’m not saying we give up convenience and technology (as if). There’s a lot of progress wrapped up in those circumstances. Just saying we should look for more ways to substitute less wasteful and more circular cradle-to-cradle alternatives.


I am both proud and embarrassed to admit, my fellow recycling heroes/colleagues put me to shame on Earth Day.  While my day started off with a meal of yogurt, fruit and granola (that resulted in no waste), I couldn’t let my 1.5 year old run around in the buff all day for fear of neighbors calling CPS and my house reeking, so I diapered him.  I can hear Nancy now 🙂 Yes, I will look into G-Diapers, I promise 🙂

From there the family, hopped in the car and drove to our sailboat. I was feeling pretty good about making up for my diaper habit because we operate pretty sustainably on the boat (due to size and resources), but I was once again thwarted by the kiddos.  They quickly managed to eat through all the snacks I had packed in reusable Tupperware forcing us to stop for more.  A plastic tub of hummus and crackers from Wawa later and I felt like a failure.

It was only 2 PM and I was in the hole by 3 diapers and 2 pieces of plastic. Thank goodness the rest of the day went pretty well.  Dinner was food we had prepared and brought with us in reusable containers and was consumed with enough gusto to leave little to dispose of.  However, kiddo bedtime brought another host of child related challenges resulting in….. one empty bottle of wine, recycled of course. Kids!


6 diapers

2 pieces of plastic

1 wine bottle

Increased awareness of how much I can improve upon my personal waste output!

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