4 zero waste challenges beyond the Mason jar

Too often I worry zero waste is framed as just the plastic around produce or an occasional non-sustainable purchase. Waste is more than just the tangible waste you create on a day-to-day basis (ie. why I think the whole “year of trash in a mason jar” is bullshit).

Waste is in the energy and resources needed to create a product. It’s the emissions around transporting items around the globe. It’s… more than a plastic bag.

None of this is said to scare you, or to say that making those small habit shifts aren’t important. It’s just key to know there’s more to zero waste than the trash you see on a day-to-day basis. So these four challenges are designed to A) reduce the waste you create on the daily and B) get you thinking of zero waste beyond just a plastic wrapper.

But don’t worry – if you still feel like you need some help with very basic actions to reduce your trash, check out this beginner zero waste challenge post.

For the next week, here’s your challenge

Cut one trip out of your week

Usually do your grocery shopping on Tuesdays but go to a weekly meetup on Thursdays? Switch it up and do your shopping after your meeting. Want to swing by your favorite thrift store to find a new shirt? Wait until you’re already going past it on your way home from work.

Why: reducing your travel (particularly if done in a car) is an excellent way to reduce carbon emissions. Because while we fret constantly about the excess packaging that comes to us from Amazon, it’s really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. An LA Times article cited the coauthor of that Carnegie Melon study as saying he was surprised by “how small an impact packaging really has, particularly with the growth of recycling channels for packaging.”

The article continues, saying “although packaging accounts for 22% of the carbon dioxide emissions of an item purchased online, customer transportation accounts for 65% of emissions when buying the equivalent item at a retail store, according to the study.”

Our driving habits are incredibly important so consciously reducing the trips for random errands we need to do is key. Planning ahead a bit more is an easy way to do it.

Track your water usage – and then reduce it

Waste doesn’t just come in the form of plastic bags – we can also (very easily) waste our resources. As the weather warms up, consider tracking your water usage. You can use this handy resource from the Three Actions Project to help. After that, think about ways to reduce water usage or to capture water to reuse.

Why: Water is an ever more scarce resource as our growing populations continue to demand more. As Cape Town has showed us, water scarcity in large cities is a real, imminent problem.

And it’s not just the water that you use in your household every day that you need to be conscious of. The water needed to produce meat and high-water plants like almonds is alarming. New clothing takes up an incredible amount of water – 1,800 gallons of water is used to produce enough cotton for one pair of jeans. (That’s not even considering the creation and dyeing process.)

Again, think beyond the immediate and consider which items in your house are using up the most water – either while in your house or before they got into your hands.

The most effective way to reduce your water footprint

Remove animal products from at least one meal a day

If you’re not yet vegan, give it a go at least once a day. Lunch or dinner likely has the most impact – as that’s where we usually consume most of our animal products – so choose one per day to enjoy a vegan alternative.

Why: Making a switch toward veganism but not going full vegan is my general takeaway because there’s a lot of talk about why veganism may not actually be the most environmentally-friendly option. Basically when you’re not eating local produce, you’re probably screwing the inhabitants of the country it came from. Scientists also worry that we may not have enough land to sustain a global vegan diet.

Still, it’s hard to overstate the devastating effects of the meat industry. (Not to mention the ethics behind veganism.) Livestock release massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas over 20x more powerful than CO2. 80% of the Amazon’s rain forest destruction is to make room for cattle. Livestock are taking up land and resources while people suffer.

At least making a start to give up animal products is a smart decision, ethically and environmentally-speaking.

Make a charitable donation (time or money) to an eco-organization

One way to influence well beyond just your own actions is to support an organization with systems already in place to effect ecological good. You can donate financially or by giving your time/expertise to an ongoing project. Bonus points if it’s local. Consider local land conservation groups, waterway protection groups, community gardens, etc.

Why: While individual action is important, there’s a much greater power in coming together. (Earlier this year I wrote about the importance of creating community!) Not to mention the fact that organizations have the infrastructure to have more impact much more easily than just a single person.

So choose an eco-driven organization – even if it’s not explicitly zero waste – and give them your resources and begin to spread the word of zero waste beyond yourself!