Slash the Trash: A Zero Waste Lifestyle

Jessie Stokes, 29, has lived in Athens for two and a half years after deciding to relocate from Houston, Texas. While in Houston, Stokes lived in a tiny yellow bungalow with a small yard where grew a garden of onions, peppers, and tomatoes.

Throughout her gardening experience, Stokes chronicled her sustainable ventures through a blog and was soon contacted by a representative from the Zero Waste Bloggers Network who asked if she was a zero waste blogger. A bit confused, Stokes researched what “zero waste” was and realized that yes, she was adopting a zero waste lifestyle.

As a result, Stokes founded Tiny Yellow Bungalow, an online store based in Athens, that sells eco-friendly and sustainable products including bamboo toothbrushes, canvas bags, ceramics, soaps and more.

So…what is a zero waste lifestyle?

“Not a lot of people know about it, but are interested in it [zero waste living],” says Stokes.

In a nutshell, zero waste living translates into reducing personal waste as much as possible in as many ways as possible.

A zero waste bloggers trash after one year (photo Courtesy of AccuWeather).

There are varying degrees of how extreme people decide to reduce their amount of trash. Some argue that a person’s yearly waste should not exceed more than the size of an average mason jar, others like Stokes, advocate for more gradual and practical modifications. These small changes can take form in using cloth (reusable) bags instead of plastic bags at the grocery store or carrying around a reusable water bottle instead of plastic bottles.

Waste Management

The average person will throw away approximately 4.40 pounds per day,  according to the EPA. This trash includes everyday items like food scraps, clothing, bottles, newspapers, Starbucks coffee cups, etc. Joe Dunlop, the waste reduction administrator for the solid waste department in Athens-Clarke county, mentioned that his goal is to keep as much out of the landfills as possible through waste reduction and minimization.

Graphic courtesy of EPA.

“Our goal is to reach a 75 percent diversion.”

Diversion meaning that out of all the trash being dumped into the landfills, Dunlop hopes to relocate 75 percent of it to recycling facilities.

Currently, Dunlop and his team are diverting approximately 60 percent. Of the 60 percent of trash being diverted from landfills, 40 percent could have been recycled and 20 percent could have composted. Overall, this amount is close to reaching the 75 percent goal set by Dunlop.

Athens-Clarke county also has an agreement in place with Oglethorpe county for access to the Athens landfills. Combined, this averages about 300 tons of garbage per day or 108,000 tons per year from both counties.

According to a study conducted by Taylor & Francis Ltd. in May 2001, one-third of consumers who buy plastic water bottles believe that bottled water comes from a cleaner source, a claim that has never been proven.

Dunlop says that education among Athens residents is a key component to reducing waste in the future. Misconceptions among consumers about what is and is not recyclable and reusable are a common problem. However, through initiatives such as the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHARM), a facility that takes non-recyclable items like batteries, pesticides, paint, and more.

Dunlop’s future goal for Athens-Clarke county is to expand the composting department to further reduce waste.

To reduce personal waste, there are various sustainable products (photo gallery) that can replace commonly used disposable products.

Sustainable Living

To “kick start” any zero waste lifestyle practices, big or small, there is some lingo involved, but nothing too complicated. Jessie Stokes, the founder and CEO of Tiny Yellow Bungalow, says that living a zero waste lifestyle is not that difficult.

“You don’t have to buy a lot of stuff to do zero waste…you don’t have to be rich to have zero waste stuff.”

For Stokes, she carries around a kit that includes reusable shopping bags, coffee containers, water bottles, and to-go containers for leftovers. These items are relatively affordable and would decrease the waste produced by plastics, paper, glass, etc. For people that want to embrace other sustainable practices, composting has become an increasingly popular trend that has also been adopted by UGA.


Graphic courtesy of EPA.

Zero Waste UGA  is a campus composting project that turns food scraps into fertilizer for campus plants, trees and flowerbeds. Composting takes trash that would normally be dumped in the landfill and lets it naturally decompose for soil use. The program organizers say that this initiative has successfully diverted approximately 10,000 cubic yards of organic material from the landfill each year. Approximately 30 buildings throughout campus participate and the bins are picked up by students interning at the sustainability office. This program hopes to send 65 percent less waste to the landfill in 2020 than the campus did in 2010.

By gradually incorporating sustainable practices into everyday life, like buying a reusable water bottle or composting, living a zero waste lifestyle will become easier and a habit. Minimizing waste in any way is always ideal, but “zero waste” will benefit communities and the planet for centuries to come.

*Bonus Content: Slash the Trash Podcast*

To learn more about how to live a zero waste lifestyle, sign up at Eco-Cycle Solution’s listserv.

-Shannon Hochschild

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