I Tried 30 Days Of Zero Waste Living (Bye Packaged Foods!). Why I'm Keeping On

September 4, 2017

Something that I’ve discovered in doing a different ‘wellness’ challenge each month is that doing something for 30 days is a great way to make a permanent change. See, when you put a 30 day cap on it, all you have to do to pass the challenge is keep yourself going for 30 days. No matter how hard it is, you can simply remind yourself that it’s only 30 days. After that, you can resume old ways, should you wish. The result is that you power on through. Only, it gets to day 31 and you have a new thought: ‘What if I just keep going for today as well? It’s only an extra day. I can resume normal life tomorrow.’ And then the same thought creeps in the next day and the next and then before you know it you’ve made a lifestyle change. This appears to be how it’s going with the zero waste thing for me.

zero waste

Zero waste living always felt so overwhelming. It always felt like my lifestyle just wasn’t set up for it. But the truth is that that thinking was only a mirage and actually, I’ve been able to achieve it just fine. Don’t get me wrong – there are major hurdles that I encounter regularly and I’m still navigating my way through, but making progress feels unbelievably liberating.

Instead of setting an unobtainable goal of ‘as of tomorrow I’m going to live zero waste,’ which felt to me like an unbelievable amount of pressure, I thought ‘for the month of August I’m going to do my best to live zero waste. I am bound to fall down throughout this month, but I’ll use it as a learning curve.’ And guess what? I did exactly that.

I’m a conscious consumer in all avenues and have been for 10 years or more, but like most people I let laziness get in the way. It’s easier to purchase my nice vegan convenience foods in plastic packaging from time to time. What’s inside is still doing me good and sometimes health takes priority. But no, I was determined that I could do both: look after my health and our planet. I’d try my hardest for 30 days. There was no choice but to do this. Time is running out for the Earth and I had to show people that I could do this. I work full-time, live in a city and am not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. I’m an average girl and if I can do it, so can you.

I started the month with the information I’d absorbed over the past few years: cotton produce bags, preparing for every eventuality and carrying a zero-waste kit with me. Daily life was fine. Daily life was familiar and I knew what to expect. But there were some occurrences during the month that weren’t part of the daily routine and some of these were a challenge.

Firstly, a spontaneous BBQ. I spent the day out with friends and rushed over to a garden barbeque crowded with carnivorous men. There was no question about stopping en route to pick up something vegan-friendly. In retrospect, I should have prepared my food ahead of time and taken it over in containers that I could wash out and bring home again, but lack of planning meant that I had to pick up packaged options from a small grocery store. I chose things with mostly recyclable packaging. Yes, I kicked myself for this ‘blip,’ but it taught me a lesson and I was more prepared the next time it happened.

Secondly, a camping trip. My boyfriend and I live for nights snuggled in the tent with nothing but mountain sounds around us. We’ve accumulated a nice little stash of camping gear over the years and fortunately borrow the extras we don’t have from family. For a trip this past month, we opted to cook our own hearty meals. We took all our resources from home in the back of the van and didn’t throw away anything other than compostable food waste. Any recyclables we brought home with us. A lot of camping meals involve things that need minimal cooking and thus tend to lean on the side of heavily-processed and packaged. Instead, we took vegetables that didn’t need refrigerating in the mild English summer temperature (things like squash, zucchini, onions, sweet potatoes) and cooked up a throw-it-all-together chickpea hash. Take protein sources like beans and chickpeas in cans as a great non-perishable meal component.

Third: gift wrap. The aforementioned camping trip was for the boyfriend’s birthday. Naturally, I had a few things to gift him with. We tend to give each other ‘experience’ gifts. Things like concert tickets or trips out of town. Non-material gifts are always the most memorable IMO. But for when you see something you know the other would appreciate, it can call for gift-wrap. A couple great, zero-waste ideas are wrapping in a cloth or scarf tied up with reusable ribbon or string, or newspaper and brown parcel paper which are fully recyclable. For the card, I opted for something hand-made from a local artist that I adore. The more small and local businesses you can support through your consumption, the better.

Finally, being hungry on the go without my resources. Another instance that could have been avoided was getting caught out and hungry without my zero-waste essentials on me. I needed food on the go and opted for a falafel wrap packaged in paper. I don’t have a problem with biodegradable options like paper packaging, though obviously in an ideal world I wouldn’t have needed anything. The place took scouting out and wasn’t the easiest option, but I was glad I made the extra few paces to invest my custom in a company using environmentally-friendly materials.

It’s now September and I’m taking it day by day, as I do with my veganism. I don’t beat myself up if I fail. I simply remind myself that happiness comes from making choices that align with my values. My internal guidance system keeps pushing me on and every day it sparks joy at the direction I’m going in.

Are you living zero waste? What obstacles have you had to overcome?

Related: I Tried A Life Without Plastic For A Week & It Was Eye-Opening

6 Ways To Make Zero Waste Work For Your Lifestyle

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Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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