Zero Waste Challenge, The Penultimate Day

We’ve reached the last full day of the Zero Waste Challenge. How’s everyone feeling?? Is your bag still empty, or have you had to snag a second Ziploc to handle all your coffee cups?

So I have a bit of a confession to make. I haven’t been totally honest about following the Challenge. I chose not to put in the moldy Gouda that I tossed this weekend – you can’t put dairy in the compost, unfortunately. I also told myself that if I knew that it could be composted if a compost were available, it didn’t count – like the apple I threw into the trash at my internship in Boston or the paper towels I tossed aside in Eaton. I also composted one of those food containers from Hodgdon even though I wasn’t totally sure whether it was compostable… It looked like it! And it was only the second day of the challenge, and I would have had that smelly thing in my bag all week…

I promise I really have been trying, though. I ate a pear between classes one day and carried it around in a bundle of paper towels for hours until I could get back to my dorm and put it in the compost.

Something we’ve discussed around the office was that “Zero Waste Challenge” is kind of a misnomer. We’re not actually asking you to go waste-free for the week: we hope that you’ll be more observant of your own habits and aware of how carrying around your waste – taking the “away” out of throwing trash away – changes how you feel about it. When your waste sticks around, you start thinking about how you can reduce it, right? How could we produce similar results on a large scale? Establish a cap-and-trade system for waste? Set a per capita limit for waste and charge heavy fees beyond that? Require individual landfills in every apartment or backyard so that we all share equally in waste disposal? That would never happen, but you get the idea.

Many of the realizations I’ve had so far have been about our system of consumption and disposal and how it can trap us in or free us from vicious cycles. Like that time I carried a pear around for hours: wouldn’t it have been nice if there were compost bins available on campus besides just in dorms and the dining hall? Same thing with those paper towels in Eaton. Tufts uses mostly unbleached napkins and paper towels, and they can be composted, which is awesome, except that we generally use paper towels in bathrooms where no compost bin is available. Sure, we could carry our used towels around with us – but I think we’d be more likely to see more positive change in individual habits if we were enabled by the system, e.g. if compost bins were available in academic buildings and bathrooms around campus. What’s more, in many dorm bathrooms there aren’t even paper towels but those little tissues that get all peely if you try to dry your hands with them. Why can’t we install some hand dryers, simultaneously saving trees and the hands of poor students in cold and windy winters?

But I realize I haven’t even given you the breakdown of what’s in my bag. Let’s take a look:

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