WHY I LIVE TRASH-LIGHT
WORDS: KATE WEINER
IMAGE: RICK HONG MANAYAN
Like most people I know, my journey toward living trash-light started small. Although I was conscious of the kinds of products I put on my face and the produce I stacked onto my plate, I rarely considered packaging as part of the picture.
I grew up in love with the outdoors—the gold dusk, the deciduous forests of my native New York, the rainstorms that infused the summer air. I schooled myself on backyard gardening and local food production in high school and served as Sustainability Intern during college. In spite of this, I rarely thought about what went into my trash. Part of this is because we so very rarely encounter the people and places who handle our waste. Few of us know the name of our residential garbage worker and even fewer could point toward the nearest landfill (check out the film Trash Dance to learn about how the rad crew at Forklift Danceworks is changing that). And part of this is because the linear economy we live in has fundamentally disconnected us from the intricacies of our shared landscapes.
It wasn't until my friend Alison took on the 48-hour Challenge that I turned toward my personal habits with a fine-tooth comb. I was surprised at just how much mindless waste I produced in the course of a day. From the raw food bars that I devoured before dance practice to the plastic bottles of organic green juice that I sipped on in between classes, my "conscious" eats really weren't all that conscious. I watched the wrappers fill up my trash bin and thought about the Burts Bees facial wipes I regularly used (and disposed of) each morning and night. I had actually never learned about this kind of unnecessary —and ridiculously fixable—source of waste in any of my Environmental Studies courses. I felt the same as when I saw "Cowspiracy" for the first time; shocked at the depth of what I didn't know and determined to do better.
As I explored ways to bring my values and actions into greater alignment, the term "zero-waste" was a little isolating (and a whole lot intimidating). In that sense, "trash-light" was an accessible entry point into living with less. Trash-light made space for the fact that I'm not 100% perfect (no one is). We still live in a linear economy and there are many things—contact lenses, effective sunscreen—that I haven't yet found sustainable alternatives for. Living trash-light both empowered me to push my boundaries and encouraged me to exercise compassion toward circumstances outside of my control.
My experiences learning to reduce waste in my own life inspired me to develop "trash-light toolkits" to help make it easier for others to mitigate their carbon footprint. I found myself moving houses without a trash bin and eating healthier (and cheaper!) because so much processed junk is off the table when you're working the grocery market with only a couple cloth bags and glass jars in tow. The heightened sense of attunement, attention, and ecological awareness living trash-light brings into my life has impacted my approach to everything from long-distance travel to purposeful play. As time passes, it's been profoundly rewarding to see the simple steps I am taking to live lighter come together to incite massive changes in the many worlds I walk through. Every micro movement really does have resonances we can't predict. That's the beauty of truly doing what it is we dream for ourselves and for our earth.
I am now "that girl" with the stainless steel straw and Le Parfait jar perusing the bulk aisle of the People's Co-Op (and I'm damn proud of it). I don't have it all right, but I think I'm getting closer to doing better by this world I so desperately love.
At Loam, we deeply believe in joy-driven activism, in creating opportunities to embody hope that bring juiciness into our lives. Living trash-light is a way to do just that. Each one of us already has all the resources we need to get started on projects that cultivate sustainable communities and support circular economies. There are so many incredible activists and organizations out there whose work inspires open-hearted collaboration and playful experimentation. Let's learn from each other. Let's love one another. And let's enjoy the delicious act of disrupting systems that no longer (and have never really) served our succulent selves and sweet environment.