One of the wonderful perks of living in Indianapolis is the close community feeling it offers in an urban setting. Through word of mouth, I heard of a networking group for young professionals called Circle City Connect, which hosted a session called “Zero Waste Indy: Start a Movement” this week. They had me at zero waste, so I showed up, learning only after I got there that it was a “networking event.” (Cringe…) Despite my introverted tendencies, I enjoyed an evening of learning new tips for living waste-free, listened to stimulating questions and discussions from a community of people invested in reducing their environmental impact, and as a bonus, enjoyed a craft cider from the venue.
The best part of this event was learning that even though I’m surrounded by busy college students who don’t always have time to learn about the environment, there is still a dedicated community of folks wanting to do more to help the planet. One of those people is Polly, who taught the class and is the spirited author of Green Indy Blog. Her site is totally worth checking out and provides thorough discussions of challenges and resources for living a more sustainable lifestyle.
Polly provided our “class,” crowded into the back room of a bar, with some basic steps for living life with minimal waste. All of her tips from this summary can be found in detail on her blog, but this is a brief outline for some of her suggestions. For real, check Green Indy out! You can find Polly’s definition of what zero waste means here.
The Five R’s:
Polly began her talk with a breakdown of the five R’s in waste-free living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.
- Refuse means simply saying no to any waste you are offered throughout the day. Plastic straw at your favorite breakfast place? “No, thank you!” Plastic bags at the grocery store? “It’s ok, I brought my own!” Receipts are a no-no too, try to find stores that won’t print them or can send you electronic copies instead.
- Reduce involves finding ways to avoid producing waste in the first place. Polly gave the example of cutting out products that you don’t necessarily need, like soda, or cutting back on how much of that item you purchase if you really do need it.
- Reuse encompasses a variety of strategies, including keeping containers to reuse for storage or shopping for your clothing at thrift stores. Repurposing is another important aspect of reusing if you consider yourself crafty. Polly even turned lace, picked up from a Goodwill store, into a plastic-free produce bag for waste-free shopping!
- Recycle is a self-explanatory step. This might be a bigger commitment if you live in a dorm or apartment that does not offer recycling, but most cities will offer drop-off locations where you can take your recyclables when it is convenient for you.
- Rot is the least talked about “R,” especially for students living in a dorm or an apartment. It is possible to do mini compost projects (Polly uses worm compost in a paint bucket!) or to outsource the compost to a company that will pick up compost like trash or recycling. However, creating a campaign at your school to begin composting in dining halls and dorms is a great way to make a bigger impact, and universities love adding another bullet point to their sustainability initiatives.
The Biggest Culprits– Kitchen and Bathroom Waste:
Polly noticed that there are two rooms in the house where the most waste is produced: the kitchen and the bathroom. While we’re preparing our meals and preparing ourselves for the day, we create a lot of avoidable trash. Thankfully, Polly has answers for that.
- Managing dish disposables: Our society is filled with things that we can toss after one use. Straws, silverware, take-out containers–everything is designed to be used once, and thrown away after. I even know college students who keep a box of plastic silverware on hand just so they can avoid doing dishes. Surprise! Almost all of those products can be reused if you simply wash them off like you would a normal dish. Even better, you can build up your zero waste arsenal with a few basics in order to refuse single-use plastics in the first place. Polly suggests a bottle for cold drinks, one for hot drinks, metal straws, canvas bags, and portable, reusable silverware to get started.
- Do a trash audit: The best way to start reducing your environmental impact is learning just how much you put into the environment in the first place. Polly suggests a trash audit, which she explains in her blog, to learn what exactly it is that you get rid of every week. Not only does this help you see the quantity you are throwing away, but you can also look for patterns of where you can reduce waste. I had never hear of this idea before Polly’s talk, but it is definitely something worth trying!
- Shop in bulk: We have discussed the perks of buying in bulk before, but Polly is much more of an expert when it comes to zero waste shopping. She discusses what to bring on a waste free shopping trip in depth on her blog. She also has great ideas for bulk food recipes!
- Minimalism in the bathroom: Sustainability in hygiene and beauty is a combination of DIY and finding the right products. I DIY my deodorant with a great recipe from Trash is for Tossers, but Polly and several others in the audience favor Schmidt’s Naturals. What you decide to trade in is up to what you feel comfortable with, so don’t feel like you need to make your own everything instead of buying sustainably produced and packaged products! (Especially toothpaste–the dentist in the audience recommended that you don’t try to make your own.)
All in all, it was an extremely educational evening and good fun to see that a green community exists in my city. I will be continuing to learn from Polly and Green Indy, and I hope you all will too!
What’s your most creative zero waste tip? Comment below and share on social media with #SustainU!