Thrive Market staffers spent the month of April celebrating the earth in a very personal way: attempting to go zero-waste for seven days. Our headquarters is already making big strides in this area (we kicked off initiatives like composting in 2018), but this year, some employees wanted to take it one step further by aiming for zero waste in their homes. Turns out, it’s not exactly easy: What started as a group of 10 Thrivers quickly dwindled to one person. UI Engineer Kelly Allin stuck with her goal of trying to live zero-waste for a week—here’s what happened.
What was the longest stretch of time you were able to live waste-free?
Honestly, zero days! Everything we use comes from a bag or a box of some sort, so I almost always ended up needing to dispose of a package. Every day, at the very least, I’ve thrown away a fruit sticker, vegetable twist tie, tissue, or some other small item. The reality is, this is extremely difficult to do, and perfection can’t be achieved for the vast majority of us.
I’m lucky to have access to bulk grocery stores, as well as recycling and composting systems that help dispose of things properly, but many people don’t. Lots of products from Thrive Market come in recyclable packaging, which definitely helps, and we’re a zero-waste company, which makes it easier to waste less while I’m at work. At home, though, it becomes a lot more difficult.
What was the hardest part about trying to live zero-waste?
Snacking! At first, it was frustrating to find out most of my favorite snacks come in packaging that’s not recyclable or compostable, but this challenge made me realize that most of my favorite snacks aren’t exactly “healthy.” Chips, cookies, candy, and protein bars almost always come in packaging that’s destined for the landfill. I realized I should probably be snacking on natural, unprocessed, single-ingredient foods, like fruit and nuts. Luckily, my local grocery store offers a wide variety of fresh items and dried fruits, nuts, and candy in bulk. I was even able to find one of my favorite snacks in bulk: chili lime plantain chips.
What’s something you thought was compostable or recyclable but were surprised to discover isn’t?
I was surprised to find that most meat and dairy can be industrially composted (hard to do in a home composter), and some compostable plastic utensils exist, as well!
Looking back on your journey, what’s one tip you have for our readers who want to go zero-waste?
The best tip I can offer is to be easy on yourself! Start small—try to go one day without single-use plastic—and then build on it over time. Be mindful of things you’re using. Can you reduce it or eliminate it altogether? Is there an alternative that creates less or no waste? Thinking about these things can become almost second nature as you continue on your zero-waste journey.
“The best tip I can offer is to be easy on yourself! Start small—try to go one day without single-use plastic—and then build on it over time. Be mindful of things you’re using.”
Don’t commit to being 100 percent zero-waste on day one. We live in a world of disposable, single-use everything, and the systems in place make it absurdly difficult to be completely waste-free. It’s going to take all of us making an honest effort and succeeding half of the time to make a difference, not just a few people succeeding 100 percent of the time. Every little bit has an impact, for better or for worse!
What inspired you to start your zero-waste journey?
Over the last several years, I’ve thought a lot about my personal impact on the planet and what I can do to reduce it. In Los Angeles, I see a shocking amount of litter on the streets and especially on the beaches. Every time I walk on the beach, I pick up trash along the way, and the majority of what I find is plastic. Plastic takes almost 1,000 years to decompose, yet nearly every product we consume is wrapped in it. I’ll never forget when my ninth-grade biology teacher told our class, “There is no ‘away’ to throw to.” When things are put in the trash, they’re still going to exist on this planet well beyond our lifetime.
10 tips for going zero-waste
Tackle waste by following these helpful tips.
- Prep in advance. Invest in a few simple staples to make the process easier:
- Reusable water bottle
- Reusable coffee cup
- Cotton produce bags
- Stainless steel straws
- Reusable storage containers
- Reusable snack/sandwich bags
- Plan out your day the night before.
Pack your reusable water bottle and coffee cup. Keep an extra tote bag, reusable produce bags, and storage containers for meat/bulk items in the car for unplanned grocery trips.
- If you live in an area where you have access to a bulk store, use the bulk section!
You can find most pantry staples there. Employees at grocery stores with bulk bins know that customers will bring their own containers and are appropriately trained to serve them. Don’t worry—they won’t be confused or annoyed when you do it! (Yes, you can even hand your own container to the attendant at the meat counter).
- Take a look in your trash bin every once and a while. See if there’s anything in there you could find an alternative for or avoid completely.
- If there are certain items you enjoy that come with a lot of packaging, see if you can make it yourself! This is a fun opportunity to try new recipes and make some of your own personal care products! Most soaps, lotions, and even shampoo and conditioner can be made at home.
- Help each other out. If you see anyone toss something in a bin where it doesn’t belong, speak up! If you’re not sure if something can be recycled, look it up online or ask a friend. Take a moment to learn if something can be recycled instead of sending recyclable plastic to sit in a landfill for the rest of time. This is a situation where just a little bit of effort goes a really long way.
- Search for ways to compost in your neighborhood. If you don’t have access to a composting program, consider composting at home.
- Talk about it! Tell other people what you’re doing and encourage them to join (without shaming them for making less of an effort, of course). If you know someone who is also trying to go zero-waste, give them words of encouragement. Gently educate others when the situation presents itself. This is a journey, after all!
- Educate yourself. Read blogs or participate in online communities to get more info and connect with others who are trying to live a zero-waste life.
- In the end, just do what you can. Don’t be discouraged by what you can’t do. Composting and bulk grocery shopping isn’t available to most—yet! Take action to make this a reality for your community, if possible.