When Tara Smith-Arnsdorf’s family began eliminating their household waste, one of the biggest problems was giving and receiving presents. “Tara’s husband had a hard time with that,” says Katelin Leblond, Tara’s blogging partner on the Victoria, B.C.-based zero-waste website PAREdown. “Opening a gift, the crunching of the paper—that was really nostalgic for him. But when you break it down, its not nostalgic for our kids. They’re not going to miss something they’ve never had.”
Tara and Katelin started PAREdown in 2014, after about a year of living Zero waste. That means no trash. No single-use plastic. Nothing (or next-to-nothing) going to landfill. So instead of using wrapping paper for presents, which will inevitably end up in the garbage, a friend designed reversible gift sacks. “They’re reversible,” Katelin explains, “one side is Christmas, the other side is decorated for a birthday. If we give a gift, they go in that.”
It’s creative solutions like this—or using a bamboo straw, or bringing your own tupperware container to a restaurant for taking home leftovers—that shape the zero waste lifestyle. “People can take small steps,” says Tara, “as much as they’re comfortable with, to at least make some changes, to lesson their carbon footprint.”
The zero waste blogging trend has provided inspiration for anyone looking to extend life style of resources, and make an ethical and economical decision to reduce their carbon footprint. Lauren Singer, a millennial New Yorker, runs Trash Is For Tossers. It’s a site that illustrates how easy it is to reduce waste while living in bustling urban centres.
“When you have a big city, you have choices,” Lauren says. “You have abundant public transport infrastructure. You have plenty of different farmers’ markets. There’s lots of restaurants. There’s lots of vintage stores. It’s amazing to have all this stuff close by.”
Lauren became aware of zero waste living when she was studying environmental science at New York University. While she was passionate about environmentalism, and green issues, she didn’t necessarily see that passion playing out in her day-to-day life. As she puts it, “There was a disconnect between how I was living my life and what I believed in.” It’s something we think about a lot here at PRANA.
So Lauren started reducing her plastic waste. Then she moved towards reusing and recycling more. Now, she says, she has four years worth of waste in one small mason jar. All plastic not deemed recyclable by NYC: fruit stickers, band-ads, tags from clothes, and some plastic wrap.
PAREDown’s Katelin Lelond was similarly driven by a desire to connect her concern with the environment with her daily life. “A lot of us feel overwhelmed and daunted by the environmental issues and we think, ‘Well what can I do, as an individual?’” she says. “I was struggling with that. I was very discouraged by seeing how much single-use plastic was going out in my recycling bin. Then you look up the street and there are hundreds of recycling bins filled with big box store single-use plastic.”
Katelin was inspired by Bea Johnson, founder of Zero Waste Home and author or Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste. Bea Johnson is a central figure reducing household waste, and the “the leader of the zero-waste movement,” according to Katelin.
Blogs like PAREdown and Trash Is For Tossers aim to generously pass on this inspiration, and information. They offer solutions for zero waste alternatives—such as bulk soap instead of pre-packaged body wash, or using a French Press for your morning coffee instead of a Keurig—which make it easier for aspiring zero-wasters to start cutting down, and changing their lifestyle. “You have to pave the way, for everyone to be able to realize what they can do,” says Katelin.
Hardcore zero-wasters admit that they’re not necessarily looking for new recruits, and realize that totally reducing your waste can be difficult. But the aim of their websites is the same: to prove that it’s fairly easy to drastically reduce your household garbage output, and live closer to your values and passions. “The whole point of living more out loud—starting our website, and giving interviews, and doing talks—is showing people that it is possible,” says Tara. “People can take small steps, as much as they’re comfortable with, to at least make some changes, to lessen their carbon footprint.”
Before the bamboo toothbrushes and reusable grocery bags, Trash Is For Tosssers’ Lauren Singer says the first, and most fundamental change, is mental. “The first thing you need is the mindset, and the determination to want to make a change in yourself,” she says. “The best place to start is just by starting. The best place you can start is anywhere.”