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Escaping the Dependence on Trash With Zero-Waste Living

Producing no trash? It seems inconceivable. For most people, in fact, it is. In an economy like the one present in modern-day America, producing little to no trash takes a concerted and almost Herculean effort. The American economy is a system that relies heavily on consistent and repeated consumption of material goods that are inevitably discarded once they has served their purpose.

Think about some of the trash you produce in just one day: a coffee cup and to-go container from the Rat at breakfast, cellophane wrapping and plastic shipping materials from all those books you ordered from Amazon and some 3-4 plastic forks from Lower when they inevitably run out of clean silverware. How can it be possible to participate in a zero-waste lifestyle, one that strives to have as little impact on the growth of landfills as possible, when we use these non-recyclable items daily?

For Amy Korst, author of The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, the drive to produce less trash came when she realized how frequently she came in contact with trashcans. She began to count the number of trashcans she encountered in an average day. At least 30 bins. “I started seeing trash everywhere, especially in places it doesn’t belong, like littering the sides of the road,” Korst says in her book.

It’s easy to see how Korst became so aware of the trash-oriented economy that we live in. Just a quick glance around campus reveals armies of trashcans parked stoically in bathrooms, classrooms, dorm common spaces and outside academic buildings. Korst’s estimation of 30 trashcans seems conservative on Boston College’s grounds.

With no end in sight to this intense consumer-and-trash-based economy, a zero-waste lifestyle becomes an enviable goal. It may seem impossible, but the numerous accounts all across the world grow each day from individuals, couples and even large families that live without producing any trash. For some, this may mean simply striving to produce less waste for landfills; for others, the implications of a zero-waste lifestyle are much more grand, as they attempt to produce absolutely no trash whatsoever.

Photo courtesy of Flickr / William Murphy

Photo courtesy of Flickr / William Murphy

Why would anyone choose to do this? The reasons are endless. Perhaps for the environmentally conscious, living a trash-free life is one tangible way to contribute to the betterment of our planet.

For others, the reasons may be less altruistic. Living trash-free requires local purchases, which not only helps local businesses but also inspires a healthier lifestyle through consumption of local, nutritious foods that lack the chemicals of those that may be mass-produced. The obvious benefits of reduced waste to the local environment are lower levels of pollution and a less-contaminated community.

Striving to reduce trash production invites people to examine what they buy and to ask, “do I really need this?” The answer Korst found, when she first undertook the challenge to live trash-free, was almost always “no.” As a result, people buy less—saving money!—and may even be happier with both their purchases and themselves.

One of the first steps in creating less waste is recognizing what products you can make at home. Easy homemade substitutes for things like toothpaste, deodorant and other bath items can cut down drastically on trash. Another easy way to implement this lifestyle is to purchase in stores items that are only packaged in recyclable materials, especially food and produce that are frequently needed.

It may seem like a difficult, cumbersome way to live, but Korst sees the benefits. Striving to create a system for living trash-free can be fun and creative while also offering numerous positive effects to local economies and environments. Korst says that this lifestyle truly can be for everyone, and with a little effort, “you can lead a happy, full life and produce little to no waste.”

As college students, this way of life may seem difficult at this point in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to reevaluate our waste output. The success stories from people who live the zero-waste lifestyle can inspire students to reuse rather than refuse.

Read an excerpt from Korst’s book, The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, here.

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