Zero Waste

Waste-Less Wednesday

It has been one week since I started my waste-less journey and I will be adding an additional type of waste to the challenge on Wednesdays!  One week ago, I started my training to be a “zero-waste warrior” focusing on eliminating the use of plastic straws.  With my metal straw in tow, I set out to share the work of FRN and zero -waste food systems. Any time that I used a disposable straw, I had to pay $1.00 into my FRN jar.  As of yesterday, the jar has  $3.00 in it and I have some experience combatting disposable straws. Here are my lessons learned:  

On the road last week with my straw and even brought one for my friend

On the road last week with my straw and even brought one for my friend

Courtesy of facebook memories, here I am (on the left) enjoying a wine slushie with my best friend. The picture from 2 years ago made me smile this morning. Except… now I see the glaring yellow straws! Cringe!  My goal is that two years from now, you can’t spot a disposable item in my happy moments.

Courtesy of facebook memories, here I am (on the left) enjoying a wine slushie with my best friend. The picture from 2 years ago made me smile this morning. Except… now I see the glaring yellow straws! Cringe!  My goal is that two years from now, you can’t spot a disposable item in my happy moments.

1. People have not always used straws -- this I know-- but I like using a straw.  One friend asked me why I did not give up the habit all together but as I making less waste challenges that suit my lifestyle (and hope you will do the same), I am keeping the straw habit. I don’t like ice clinking onto my teeth nor do I want to risk a $8.00 organic green smoothie dumping all over me as I try to shake the slushy consistency out of the cup. I tend to use the straw with colder drinks so perhaps the winter will be a better time to re-evaluate the straw habit.  But it is hot here in DC and I want a cool drink.

2. Yes, yes---  I hear your thoughts.  But what about the disposable cup that you are using?  I am getting there but in order to make lasting change, habit gurus suggest small, consistent change. Trust me, the disposable cups/bowls/utensils are in their last days. You can donate  $15.00 to FRN now and I will add another type of waste to my challenge and you can see me address disposables faster.  

3. Like all warriors-- I must be prepared.  I think the biggest lesson learned this week is that I have to think about bringing the straw with me.  Two of the three dollars in the jar ended up there simply because I forgot to put the straws in my bag. And as you join me in your journey, a waste warrior also thinks about how to deal with the straw once it is used. Admittedly, I did not think it through and kind-hearted baristas rinsed the straw for me and lent me wax paper so I could put it in my purse as I didn’t want to put it wet in my bag. Obviously, drying the straw with a paper towel isn’t ideal.  I purchased bent metal straws but if you buy a straight one, it seems like it would fit into a travel toothbrush holder and solve this problem! I will let you know once I test it out.  

Next up:  This week I am going to say no to napkins and coasters  I noticed during the straw week that little cocktail napkins  or coaster usually accompany a drink and I started proactively saying no-thank you. I will add all other napkins to the challenge. Follow me on instagram at @zamaka7  and through the FRN facebook community.

A Not So ZERO Waste Challenge

31 days of striving for zero waste and not once did I go a day without creating a piece of trash, womp womp. In fact, in the last 10 days I lost count. And it was not for lack of trying, I kept steady track of each item of trash but I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s actually no such thing as “zero waste”.

The term zero waste is referring to an industrial model of design and manufacturing called a circular economy (zero waste). This is where we design products from the very beginning without waste as an end product. Currently, we live in a linear economy, where we design, manufacture and consume with waste as an end product.
— BeZero
  1. We live in a linear economy, where products are designed and consumed with waste as an end product. Unless I decided to go off the grid (which would never happen, I love pizza too much), I am participating in a world that is literally DESIGNED to create waste.

  2. We generate trash without even trying. Trash hides in the weirdest of places, here are some examples of places I created garbage without even realizing it…

    • Our clothes. On average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash but it’s not just limited to fleece, these microscopic plastic fibers can be found in most sweat wicking athletic ware and yoga pants.

    • All the disposables used to create a meal at a restaurant such as plastic gloves, plastic wrap, twist ties…even if I ordered my meal “for here” there are countless disposable products that go into the growing, transport, and production of food.

  3. The recyclability and compostability (I think I just made that word up?) of products are not fixed. They are dependent on a number of conditions such as whether the waste treatment facility in your region has the mechanisms to breakdown and repurpose the products, the condition they are recycled or composted in (i.e. if your recyclable clamshell is filled with food, it’s not likely to be recycled), and it’s dependent on others properly sorting their waste (i.e. if enough of the wrong type of product ends up in a recycling or composting load, it can result in the entire load being rejected and sent to a landfill).

Then why do a zero waste challenge? Because reducing my personal garbage footprint is still going to have a significant environmental impact, and if each of us took this kind of action we could create a monumental improvement for our communities and our planet. And it’s okay if life just sometimes gets in the way. When I started this journey I wasn’t planning to have surgery and while it definitely set me back that doesn’t negate the fact that I produced very little trash the first 21 days of the challenge. We can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And while my challenge is technically over, this is just the beginning to a lifelong journey of striving for less waste.

If you started a zero waste challenge of your own, where would you begin? Consider picking one item to start reducing today (disposable coffee cups, paper towels, straws) and see where it gets you. My fellow board member Jessica Felix-Romero has decided to do just that, she’s taking on the torch of the zero waste challenge and tackling a different disposable item each week to prevent and reduce. So stay tuned, follow along, and find inspiration to join us in the crusade against waste!

Zero Waste May, Week 2

The cocktail napkin has been the birthing place of some of the most successful businesses, beloved stories, and brilliant ideas but it’s about time we ditched it. When I walk into a restaurant and I order a glass of wine the cocktail napkin is the first thing I refuse. If I’m getting a drink then “no straw”, if I’m getting food then it better be on a plate with silverware and a cloth napkin or I’m refusing that too.

I’m the living, breathing embodiment of this emoji...  

And we all should be. Saying no isn’t easy but it’s an important first step towards a waste-free world. It can be intimidating to defy social norms and rock the boat by doing something different...but this boat really needs to be rocked and by boldly taking charge of the changes we can make in our own lives we pave the way for others to follow more freely in our footsteps and we let businesses know what matters to their customers, influencing change on a much broader scale.

Here are some tips on saying no and influencing change:

  • Break the cycle by sharing your intentions. When trying to dine out zero waste instead of asking to be served “for here” take the time to explain why and you won’t run the risk of accidentally being served disposables. I have found time and time again that if I say “I’m watching my waste and trying not to use any disposable products” the servers get it right every time. Have your elevator pitch ready to go!

  • Be intentional and thoughtful. There is a fine line between expressing a need and being rude and the last thing you want to do is alienate people from the zero waste movement by creating guilt or shame. Remember that a lot of trash is created from well-intentioned actions, many disposables exist purely for the sake of convenience or to make you feel taken care of. Share with friends and family what you’re trying to do, set clear boundaries for yourself, and be patient when people slip up or forget.


"Planes are a great place to refuse single-use disposables. Make sure to think ahead and bring your own snacks with your own utensils, I always have a handkerchief on hand so I don't need any napkins or tissues, and I carry on my own beverage in my own container."

"If the a business won't put your food to-go in your own container then order it for here and then put it in your own containers yourself. Easy way to work around it and while it's not ideal that those dishes have to be washed there is significantly more water wasted when you use a plastic container once and then throw it away than washing a couple extra plates in a dishwasher."

But you can’t just get comfortable with saying also need to accept people saying no to you. I’m constantly fending off single-use disposables but I’m also regularly making requests to use alternative reusable products and sometimes I get turned down. One week I went into my local grocery store and asked if they could sell me fish in my own pyrex and the fishmonger was more than happy to oblige. Later that week I walked into the same grocery store to get some ground turkey and made the same request and was given a firm no. Sometimes you lose the zero waste battle but it never hurts to ask.

I’m sure you’ve seen this video of the solo dancer at Sasquatch who started a movement (if not, go watch it now). I love this video because it reminds me that it only takes one person to start doing something differently to effect change. We can all be this guy dancing our way through life a little differently than the rest, defying norms and opting for zero waste. It won’t take long before others catch on that dancing is so much better than sitting

Pledge to waste less this the change in this world that we so desperately need...but most of all...will you dance with me ?


In the month of May I’m refusing coffee on the go, saying no to candy bars, passing up gum, avoiding Amazon, and striving for zero waste. No I’m not some masochist who wants to be under caffeinated with stinky breath and deprived of all the joys that come with online shopping...I’m doing this to waste less.

Striving for zero waste means I’m living my life in a way that generates as little waste to landfill as possible (and really as little waste to recycling and compost as possible for reasons I’ll explain in a later post). And I’ve upped the ante by doing it for a cause: raising money for Food Recovery Network.

Why zero waste?

  • Garbage is bad. Nothing EVER really goes away. When we put things in a bin to be hauled off our trash doesn’t actually disappear. At best it gets piled in a landfill where it never breaks down and while sitting there it emits greenhouse gasses. At worst it escapes and finds it’s way into our waterways and oceans poisoning our environment, destroying habitats, and polluting our beautiful world.

  • When we waste ANYTHING, we waste all the precious resources and energy that went into producing that product.

  • It’s actually not that hard to go zero waste. It’s something we can all do. It’s painful to hear about the effects of climate change every day and feel powerless. I will not stand by while our world is enveloped in trash, I can and will take action. This is empowering, I can make a difference.

Why for a cause?

  • Accountability. It’s motivating to do the right thing when it’s for something greater than me.

  • Community. It’s better when we’re all in this together. I can learn from you, you can learn from me, and we can be better and do better because of it.

  • Cause duh! Food Recovery Network is an extension of my zero waste values, they’re an organization empowering students to recover excess food that traditionally would go to waste, and redistribute it to people in need. My heart is 100% behind that mission.

Rules to live by

So the zero waste challenge works like this: for the month of May I’m going to try not to create any landfill waste. When I do, I have to put a $1 in a jar to donate to FRN (think of it like a swear jar, but my problem isn’t a dirty mouth, it’s a dirty garbage bin).

And to make things fun, if you donate $15 or more to FRN during this challenge, I will extend the challenge another day.

And to really increase the stakes, if you donate $15 or more to FRN and you pledge to strive for zero waste too, I will donate an additional $1 for each piece of landfill trash I generate during the challenge.

Throughout the month I’ll share tips on how to reduce waste in your own life through my successes and blunders. My goal is three-fold:

  1. Waste less in my own life

  2. Inspire you to waste less in your own life

  3. Raise over a $1,000 for FRN in the process

“The world doesn’t need saving. The world needs folks who are willing to save themselves and be humble enough to serve when and where they are needed.” - Chani Nicholas

I’m not going to save the world by going zero waste, but I’m asking you to join me in saving ourselves from trash with the hope that in changing our habits and empowering organizations like FRN who serve when and where they are needed, we can make this world a better place. Will you join me?