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Senior Lauren Barlass uses glass con­tainers to cut out plastic wrap. Lauren Barlass | Courtesy

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.

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Jordyn Pair
Jordyn Pair is from Milford, Michigan and plans to study Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. She has previously written for Spinal Column and The Madonna Herald, Madonna University's school newspaper. She enjoys writing, photography, and videography, as well as choir, martial arts, and blogging. She plans to pursue a career in journalism. email: jpair@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @jordynpair