My trash jar. Three words I never thought I'd say, let alone have on display in my bedroom. It's a centerpiece of pride, of contempt, of confusion. I never thought my only garbage for a year would fit into a single mason jar, but I'm 8 months in and it's happening. And I put less and less in as I learn more and more and find new sources for my zero waste lifestyle, which makes it seem all the more possible.
When I first started my mason jar for real, back on January 1, 2016, I thought of it as something to hold myself accountable for how much trash I create. As it happens, that way of thinking is a bit frustrating and didn't help my mental state if I was accidentally given a straw in my water or had to buy a plastic water bottle because there were no fountains where I was. What I've come to realize about having this jar of trash is that adding to it is not a reflection on my practice, but a reflection on the state of consumerism in the United States today. It has shown me just how many unnecessary pieces of plastic and other non-recyclables are used by businesses in ways that most of us don't even notice. This realization has been the push I needed to reach the next step in my zero waste journey, that being recognizing the bigger picture and fighting for change in the way society operates. We, as consumers, must demand change by using our dollar as a stamp of approval...if the company has business practices we don't agree with, we shouldn't support them simply because we "need our cup of coffee in the morning". We, as consumers, must demand change by writing letters begging for it, by always spreading the zero waste word, by congratulating our peers for taking small steps in the right direction. We must demand change by always asking "why" if our attempts at zero waste are turned away by store managers. We must not only be the change, we must fight for the change (in peaceful, friendly, and non confrontational ways, of course).
I've been asked on a fairly regular basis what items fill up my trash jar, so I thought I'd fill you in.
1. Birth Control: I'd been taking BC for at least 8 years by the time I quit this past April. I quit because I wasn't putting chemicals into on onto my body EXCEPT for birth control, and I started learning the dangers of the pill far outweigh the good. These dangers include an increased risk of cervical and breast cancers, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, migraines, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, infertility, and increased risk of blood clotting (among many others). "You're basically creating an imbalanced inner ecosystem (with an overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast)" states bodyequality.com. I simply didn't feel like risking it any longer. I also quit because of the amount of waste it produced. Once I started my zero waste journey over a year ago I started asking the pharmacy to at least keep the packaging so all I was left with was what you see here... but it didn't seem like enough for me. I have four of those plastic pill cases, 4 of those plastic bags, and four of those plastic pill holders. And that's just from this year. So much waste.
2. Cat Medicine: So, owning a cat is so incredibly anti zero waste...especially a cat with high levels of anxiety and a history with crystals in his urethra. Winston, my beautiful black cat, suffers from wanting to be the only animal that has ever lived where he lives. And because we live with a roommate with an adorable pup, Winston feels the need to mark his territory directly outside of his litter box. So I've tried all natural remedies for this, and I've tried Petco bought remedies, pictured above. The box it came in was recyclable, but there were some non-recyclable components that you see above.
His history with crystals found us to the pet ER in the last month, and his anxiety has caused us to return home with 3 bottles of medication. Plastic on plastic on plastic. I don't have all of that pictured here, as I'm still trying to figure out what to do with all of it. His history with crystals in his urethra and oily skin (goodness, this cat is high maintenance) mean that he can't have any dry food (yay, his dry food came only in plastic non-recyclable bags!), but his very specific and expensive wet food comes in cans that can be recycled. As a person who tries not to put anything even in recycling, I'm trying to figure out a sustainable way to make his wet food. I think if I travel to a small farm, perhaps in New Jersey, I can purchase chicken and put it in my own container. I just have to stomach having meat in my home. But he's so cute it might be worth it...
3.Wristbands: I try not to be mad at these, as it means I've had a great time attending events and concerts. The one I was actually pretty upset about was when I went to the Green Festival at the Javits Center. I couldn't believe that an event that centered around being green made you wear disposable wristbands. Upon entering the event I realized that it was a pretty wasteful event in general, with garbage cans full of single use plastic tasting spoons, cups, plastic water bottles, etc. I found a community of people there who I connected with, so it was all in all a wonderful day, but I had to avoid a whole lot of waste to get there. See how cute the picture would've been without that disposable wristband??
4.Grocery Shopping: These tiny little twist tie labels irk me. Some of the labels are made of paper that can be recycled or even composted, but some are made of plastic! The twist ties on their own can be reused, but I truly have no use for them, nor have I found anyone to donate them to. So for now, they sit in my trash jar. But I'm here to fight the good fight for truly package free produce!! Since January I've only had to shop the bulk section of places like Fairway and Whole Foods once or twice, because unfortunately they make you print out a sticker with weight and price to put on your bag. I don't understand why Whole Foods makes you when they weigh it themselves at the end anyway. So I just avoid those places when I can and only get my dry bulk at my co-op and Integral, where they don't deal with those stickers!
5.Wine: Wine is a toughie for me. I live in NYC where you'd expect wine to be sold in bulk like crazy. But while finding a spot to fill your growler up with beer is easy here, finding a place to fill up an empty wine bottle is not so easy. So I try to buy wine with screw caps so I can reuse them. I have a ton of wine bottles that I can't re-use (my collection far outweighs my need for them), so I'm currently in search of an artist who works with glass who I can donate them to. That shouldn't be so hard in NYC, right?
So there you go folks, my trash jar. I wanted to mention that I have a small drawer of things that are floating in limbo, as I'm sure other zero wasters have as well. These are things like bubble wrap envelopes, pill bottles, etc, that found their way into my home. I'm in the process of figuring out what to do with them (I will find a way to extend their lives, I tell you!). I'd also like to add that I don't put condoms in my trash jar...some things just don't need to be saved (if you use them, head on over to sustain natural and get yourself some sustainable condoms!). It's a process, which I feel is the basic theme of zero waste living. So go get a cute mason jar and start the process!