Seniors Lauren Barlass and Randi Block are garbage queens.
The housemates opted to start a zero-waste lifestyle in October, switching out plastic and disposables for glass and reusable bags, after Block saw a video promoting it.
“Living zero-waste means that, to the best of our ability, we don’t buy anything that can’t be recycled indefinitely,” Barlass said.
The average American produces just under four and a half pounds of garbage every day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And while glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely, Block said, plastic must be “downcycled” to a lower quality, meaning it ends up in a landfill eventually, too.
“Plastic is the end product,” Block said. “There’s nowhere to go from there. All the plastic you use in this lifetime is going to outlive you.”
President of the Conservation Club Andrea Wallace said that many people don’t consider the energy it takes to make a product.
“They often don’t consider the energy and resources required to make the item they are throwing away,” Wallace said. “Especially in the case of plastic, production contributes to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are warming our climate, whether you like it or not.”
Block and Barlass have transitioned to shopping with reusable glass jars and produce bags. They also began eating vegan, since most meat and dairy products only come in plastic packaging.
Although most vegetables come plastic-free, Block and Barlass have struggled to find zero-waste cauliflower because it usually comes wrapped in plastic.
Block said that in addition to helping the environment, the lifestyle has taught her to ask questions and stand up for herself. She said that some stores or restaurants will put food, such as cheese from the deli counter or a take-out ice cream, into reusable containers if asked.
“It takes a lot of confidence to do that,” Block said.
The housemates buy from Hillsdale Natural Grocery, since it sells bulk food that buyers can load into their own containers. Barlass also suggested buying from local sources, since farmer’s markets or smaller businesses tend to be flexible.
Block said that buying zero-waste has impacted the way she thinks about food, since she is buying more raw ingredients than pre-made food.
“It’s been really rewarding,” Block said. “Food is much more flavorful. It’s caused me to expand my horizons in cooking.”
But, she added, if they forget to prepare it can be easy to slip into old habits.
“When you’re on top of it, it’s really easy,” Block said. “When you’re not, it’s really not.”
Wallace said it’s possible to cut back on waste, even in college.
“Be diligent about recycling your packaging from Kendall’s grab-and-go, don’t use lids and straws when you go out to eat, don’t use cheap plastic water bottles,” she said. “The first step in going zero-waste is refusing items you don’t need to use, especially single-use plastics, so there are plenty of ways to start that in a college environment.”
Both Block and Barlass said they plan on continuing living zero-waste. They said some easy ways to cut back on waste is to use reusable produce bags and to buy toothbrushes with a bamboo handle.
“You’ll never be able to look at grocery shopping the same way,” Block said.