In Depth: Living a life of zero waste

October 03, 2017 06:28 PM

Think about how much trash you produce over the course of a few months. Now, imagine cramming all of that waste into a single Mason jar. It sounds like an impossible feat, but it's real. Unlike other fads, environmentalists say the "zero waste lifestyle" is something more of us should consider.

I opened myself up to the "Zero Waste Challenge" to determine my level of "green." The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash daily. While not at Mason jar levels, I was confident I was doing better than that.

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A woman from Saratoga County has it all figured out -- and she showed me that I was wrong. Not all is lost. There are definitely changes I can make and changes we all can make.

Heather Oligny's claim to fame is garbage. Actually, it’s a lack of garbage. The Saratoga County mom strives for zero waste. While she's not there yet, she's pretty darn close. Oligny can fit three months of her family's trash into one 64-ounce Mason jar.

"You’re never going to be able to have no waste whatsoever, but you can do just little things," she pointed out.

I was green with envy over Oligny's green lifestyle. I'm a rampant recycler and packaging is paramount in my house. However, week after week, my family of four carries a lot to the curb. It all ends up at the Rapp Road landfill, which will be filled to capacity by 2023. So I invited Oligny into my home for a zero waste analysis.

We'll start with the good news first. I scored very high marks with Mother Earth when it comes to bags. Like Oligny, I'm never without my reusable tote.

The same is true for much of my produce. I try to buy it in bulk and pass up pre-packaged items and the plastic baggies at the grocery store. You'll rarely find a Ziploc in my kids' lunchboxes –– we use reusables.

"There are cloth ones that you can use and there are silicones," pointed out Oligny.

My family also tries to avoid plastic beverage bottles. There are 2.5 million thrown out every hour. We all have our own refillable ones and they range from stainless steel and glass to plastic. We use them at home, on the go.

Again, they get sent to school instead of a juice pouch or box, which would end up in the garbage.

"We only have one Earth right now. We need to take care of our home," noted Oligny.

Water may be essential to life, but we all know coffee is pretty crucial.  Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, but not me. I leave the house in the morning with my from-home coffee in an insulating mug.

For all the positive I am trying to do for the Earth, I am, however, responsible for a really huge negative –– plastic packaging.

Glass bottles and aluminum cans can be recycled into the same. In many municipalities, so can cardboard. However, plastic is "down-cycled." That means it never returns to its original use. It gets downgraded to something like Saran Wrap and doesn't completely go away. Even though I thought I was making a good choice by never buying Styrofoam and I do recycle my plastic, one way or another, it eventually ends up in the landfill.

If more people make small changes, it's actually like a macroscale effect," noted Oligny.

Those small changes really are quite simple. They include investing in reusable bags, eliminating single use coffee cups and beverage bottles and doing all you can to avoid plastic packaging. Those can all make an enormous impact.

If I can do it and Oligny can too, so of course, can you.

"I know that I am doing my part by trying to reduce my waste," acknowledged Oligny.

If you bring your own bag - even sometimes your own coffee cup, many stores will give you a credit. You can turn in bottles and cans for cash. Often, bulk foods are more affordable because you're not paying for packaging. So going green can actually save you green.

There are other ways to reduce waste -- in the bathroom and even the laundry room. For advice from Oligny in those departments, plus links to compost and diaper services locally, check out the links below.

WEB EXTRA: Laundry advice

WEB EXTRA: Advice for reducing beauty product waste

Zero Waste websites:

Compost Services

Empire Zero

Radix Ecological Sustainability Center


Milk Delivery

King Brothers

Battenkill Creamery

Meadowbrook Farms Dairy


Cloth Diaper Service

Casey’s Cloth Service


Bulk Foods

Honest Weight Food Co-op

Healthy Living Market – Saratoga


Web Sites Recommended by Heather Oligny

Troy Zero Waste

Life without Plastic


Abigail Bleck

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