If you’re anything like me, you might determine how ideal your living situation is by considering the proximity of your apartment, house or dorm room to conveniences like the laundry room, parking lot or dumpsters.
That’s right. I consider proximity to smelly heaps of yesterday’s dinner mixed with unused pieces of foamcore an asset. Who likes carrying a week’s worth of trash down three flights of stairs?
But until this week, I never really considered the other alternative to begrudgingly taking out the trash: create less of it.
I guess at this point it’s worth mentioning that I’m hardly the poster girl for sustainable living. After winter quarter finals, I remember collecting over 30 cans of Diet Dr. Pepper off the drafting table in my dorm room that had multiplied over the previous week.
But I’m just as bad with bottled water. In fact, last summer I roomed with a friend who completely scoffed at the idea of someone paying for bottled water and it became a point of contention between us: her wondering why someone would actually pay additional money to hurt the environment, and myself wondering how someone could get on such a high horse over a simple bottle of water.
And yet here I am a year later, on this crazy social experiment allowing myself only one small cotton bag for trash (the bag my sheet set came in). I initially figured I’d write this column simply listing ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, but I’ve realized there’s a bigger point to be made for the skeptics like me:
It’s really not that hard.
A lot of times when we think of sustainability we think about giant sacrifices, but for reducing trash there’s plenty we can do that isn’t even much more inconvenient then the environmentally toxic alternative—it’s just not part of the way we’re raised.
Take plastic bags from a day of grocery shopping, for example. When I realized a week of reducing trash would require an alternative to bags, I did the first logical thing anyone would do: I pulled out my backpack. Then I had a moment of deja vu. When I studied for a quarter in Lacoste, this is simply how shopping was done in Southern France: shoppers carried their items to the grocer’s counter and then after paying stuffed everything in their own bag. It’s just how it’s done. And it really doesn’t change the experience much at all.
And there’s another thing to learn from Europeans: what’s this American obsession with bottled beverages? In France, ordering a Coke with our meal was a real rarity because at six euros a bottle, the red wine sounds better than it already did. What’s the deal with the steep price of soda? In Europe, the bottles are primarily glass. And even if you did need that dose of caffeine, is it really that inconvenient?
We can carry our own reusable water bottles and thermoses instead of ordering combos that include drinks when we do get fast food. And on that note, we can use a small pencil box (or a similar sized bag) to tote around our own utensils. I love KFC’s spork as much as the next person, but is it needed? Not really.
My water-bottled feuding friend from California even made another suggestion to me. Knowing I was spoiled by purer water from the Rockies after growing up in Colorado, she suggested I try Bobble, an eco-friendly water bottle that has recyclable filters. Not only does it nix my principle complaint against tap water, but it has a really sleek, sophisticated design. The artist in me finds it exciting to see young people combining aesthetic with utility.
The only real dilemma I had during the week was when I spilt a bowl of soup over my futon. Eyeing my roll of paper towels which I really ought to have banished to the closet for the experiment, I found myself at a loss for what to do. Yes, a twenty-something year old stumped by how to clean a swamp of chicken and noodles. Then, I did what I’d assume anyone would do: walked over to my dresser and picked out the ugliest shirt ever: this bright orange baby doll T, my mom insisted I should bring to college “just in case.”
Astounded by my solution? No, of course not. It’s obvious. But that’s just my point. Everything I needed to do to survive a week without creating trash was almost as easy as what I would do anyway, I just have been conditioned to prefer the more toxic alternatives.
After a wholly therapeutic session of cutting up every shirt I would never wear in public, I had way more than a week’s supply of reusable, washable rags.
I don’t want to be the one preaching, especially when I’m only seven days into even thinking about this sort of thing, but my suggestion to my peers out there is just stop to think about it. Split your trash up for a day, into what you actually needed to use and what there was a perfectly easy alternative for and you, like me, might be surprised: this eco-challenge is definitely more than doable.Contact Susan Kemp.