Weekly Waste Diary with Marisa
Weekly Waste Diaries is a blog series sponsored by Impact Earth that allows readers to follow a week in the life of bloggers as they track the waste that they are generating. Waste Diaries bloggers have a variety of experience with waste diversion and living a zero waste lifestyle. Let’s see how this week’s blogger will do!
This week's blogger is a recent Colgate graduate who studied Environmental Biology and Psychology. She is working as part of our zero-waste schools staff to educate the next generations about waste reduction and environmental issues. It is her hope that by sharing stories of her journey into a zero-waste lifestyle, she can bring some laughter and insight to others who wish to reduce their environmental impact as well.
8:30am - It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day so my family is still home, but I’m the first one awake—rare. Turns out, no one slept well last night and my parents were trying to trick themselves into falling back to sleep. I know this never works, so I head downstairs to make some hot chocolate since it’s still snowing and this seems like a great way to start yet another blustery day. I’ve been experimenting with hot chocolate recently, trying to find the best combination of ingredients. It’s been going quite well but I’ve yet to create the perfect cup. Today I grab 2% milk, almond milk, and creamer for my base and start heating that in a pot on the stove. I finish off the almond milk so I rinse the carton before recycling it.
So here’s the thing: I love milk and I know I can’t feasibly cut it from my life right now. But there’s also a hoard of negative environmental impacts that comes with buying milk. So for the last two years, I’ve switched to purchasing milk sold in returnable glass bottles. Here in Rochester, I now get my milk from Pittsford Farms Dairy—the milk is delicious, I’m supporting a local business, and I can return the glass bottle to be cleaned and reused. Obviously, I’m not solving any cows-burping-methane problems and I haven’t seen the local dairy farms PFD sources from to know if the cows are happy, but it is a step towards a zero-waste lifestyle. And creating meaningful change happens one step at a time.
Reuse: ice pack
Repurpose: cardboard wrapping paper rolls, old bath towels
Compost: egg shells, moldy cheese, potato and garlic skins, leek and parsley trimmings, muffin wrapper, tea bag
Recycle: almond milk carton
Landfill: tissues, tape, tea package
Now back to the kitchen: I add cocoa powder to the milks and add a splash of maple syrup, which was sourced from the Adirondacks. A quick taste test determines the batch is a success, so I turn to make a fast breakfast for my family who has now joined me. My sister came home from college to visit for the long weekend, and as she’s hurriedly packing up her things (we’re behind schedule, per usual), I crack four eggs into a pan. My family has an aluminum tray next to the kitchen sink where we put food scraps as we cook, before transporting them to the organics bucket in the garage, and I toss the egg shells in there as I go. I grab the turkey, rosemary cheese, and spinach from the refrigerator to wrap around the sunny-side up eggs to make the meal a bit heartier. I am quickly disappointed to find the last 2 slices of rosemary cheese have mold on them, so they get tossed into the compost tray as well and I grab the Swiss instead. Four pieces of fresh bread fly into the toaster, finishing perfectly in time with the egg wraps. My family brings the food to the table as I grab the neighbors’ orange juice from our fridge. They were going on vacation and couldn’t finish it all before the trip, so they gave it to us to avoid wasting it! If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, try reaching out to nearby family and friends—it reduces food waste and they’re likely to be super appreciative! Sharing is caring, folks.
11:30am - With my sister on the road and the dogs snuggled on the couch, I decide I need to get the soup started. I’ve been intending to make potato leek soup for the past two days, and gosh darn it it’s gonna happen today. Mostly because the dish was inspired by the potatoes that are going soft in the pantry, and the thought of them going completely bad was haunting me. Pro tip: by peeling soft potatoes and soaking them in ice water for a bit, they are rehydrated and good to go again. So that’s how I start, and while the potatoes take a nice little bath, I get out the rest of my ingredients and start chopping. I discard the potato and garlic skins, leek and parsley trimmings into the compost tray, but I hesitate to dump the green tops of the leeks. Instead, I place the greens back into my reusable mesh produce bag to see if I can find a recipe that uses them later. I get the soup underway (using the recipe found here https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/potato-leek-soup.html with a few modifications) and as it simmers I turn my attention to the dirty dishes. How do they multiply so quickly?? I feel that life is one long dishwashing session. But I love a clean kitchen and always do my best to clean as I go while cooking, so I dive right in, being mindful to limit my water usage to only what’s necessary.
3:00pm - The kitchen is clean, and I sit down with a bowl of soup for lunch. Not too bad! My parents say this should be my signature soup recipe, which is really nice to hear. The sun has decided to make an appearance (Rochester, are we sure it’s you?) and the dogs are enjoying the snow paths we made for them in the backyard. When they run back to the door they are covered in snow and I grab an old bath towel that we now use to dry them off. I snag a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin my mother made over the weekend, compost the wrapper, and head into the living room to help my parents take down our artificial tree. Little late to have it up still, I know, but we love the glow of the lights. And we once left it up until February, so really we’re ahead of schedule this year. My mother and I tag team the deconstruction process—we have it down to a science at this point. We use empty cardboard wrapping paper rolls to roll up the strands of lights so they won’t get tangled for next year. My family has always done little repurposing projects and life hacks like this and I love it.
5:00pm - I’ve been feeling the beginnings of a cold all day. Every time I throw away a tissue, I think handkerchiefs are probably a great idea, but I’m just not there yet.
7:00pm - I’m starting to not feel so great, so I skip dinner (leftovers from the weekend) and opt for tea instead. I add a drizzle of honey that I got from my visit to NYC in December, collected from Washington Square Park. It hits the spot, and after I use the teabag to make a second cup, I compost it. The package I tossed into the trash. I remember that I left an ice pack in my room from when I burnt my hand cooking last night, so I retrieve it and put it back in the freezer.
8:00am - Well, I feel certifiably awful. Officially self-diagnosing myself with a stomach bug, I have called in sick to work today. My mother is also down for the count due to a wave of vertigo that unfortunately hit her pretty hard, but it is nice to have someone else at home with me. I slowly eat my way through a bowl of plain Greek yogurt, I’ve added frozen blueberries and some honey to make it more palatable, and huddle under a pile of blankets on the couch with my tea.
1:00pm - I’ve decided that being sick is not great for a zero-waste blog. There are tissues galore, yet just the smell of food makes my stomach roll so I can’t even do any fun cooking or baking. I do have plenty of time to scroll through zero-waste tips and DIY products though, which I spend some time doing. I have an ongoing list of zero-waste substitutes and I’m slowing working to replace household products with more environmentally friendly items. I add a few more DIY ideas to my list (make my own reusable cloth Clorox wipes substitutes?? Yes, please!), and hope that someday I have the time and energy to actually try all of them.
Reuse: tissue paper
Compost: paper scraps
Landfill: tissues, tea wrapper
4:00pm - I’ve mostly been nibbling on crackers all day. I stand in the glow of the refrigerator light, looking for something substantial I can eat. We have so many leftovers: chili, soup, shrimp alfredo, tilapia, chicken marsala. I decide soup will be my best bet and heat myself a bowl for dinner. One of my favorite parts of cooking is having leftovers afterwards. Of course, as I stare at all the Tupperware in the fridge, I think maybe we should portion size each meal a little better. I’m not concerned about the food going to waste though. My family and I will eat the leftovers for days after the dish was originally served, so I know we’ll work our way through all of these meals.
7:30pm - A warm shower sounds like a nice idea. Last summer, I switched over to using bars of soap, in order to reduce my plastic and packaging consumption. I have to get a new bar tonight, and I grab soap made by local artists. The scent is ‘ocean rain’ and it smells amazing. I fold up the tissue paper it was wrapped in to store for later use, and compost the paper label. A few months ago I also switched my moisturizer in my search for eco-ethical skin care. I now use a product called Primal Derma, which is made from the tallow of cows, a product that is usually wasted. It even comes in a glass jar, which can be repurposed once you use the entire product. It’s nice knowing I’m supporting a small business that has the same values I do (check out more info here, https://primalderma.com).
9:00am - Another rough morning with an unhappy stomach, but I know I need to eat something. I make myself a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which thankfully tastes pretty good, and use yesterday’s tea bag to make a new cup, adding honey to soothe my throat. My mother isn’t fully functional yet either, but she does feel good enough to want some hot chocolate. From the refrigerator, I grab the jar in which I stored Monday’s extra hot chocolate (a glass peanut butter jar in its former life) and heat it up for her. I make her peanut butter and jelly toast as well, and we sit on the couch to watch some tv together.
Reuse: beeswax wrap
Repurpose: glass peanut butter jar
Compost: apple core, tea bag
Recycle: contact solution bottle
Landfill: chocolate wrappers (3), plastic wrapper around contact solution bottle
12:00pm - I’m not feeling a real lunch, so I go for a snack of apple and cheese. I cut a few slices of cheese (my cheese slicer is hands down my favorite kitchen item) and then wrap it back up in the beeswax wraps made by Weslee Rose that I purchased through Impact Earth. For years I’ve been using these plastic-wrap alternatives made by a variety of companies, and have found that Weslee Rose has mastered the formula. Cheese? Still fresh. Bowl of guac waiting to be served? Still a beautiful shade of green. It works just like plastic wrap or aluminum foil would—only better, because it creates a strong seal, they come in super cute patterns, and it’s reusable! Yay for zero waste!
5:30pm - Great sign: I’m hungry!! And I’m thankfully feeling much better. My family and I sit down in the living room to eat together, each with our leftovers of choice. I decided to go with the last of the chili, which I was carefully spooning into Tostitos scoops. However, I wasn’t being so careful about the cheese I was then sprinkling on top, but hey I’m not afraid of a little overflowing cheese (that actually sounds like a dream to me…*wistful sigh*).
8:00pm - I’m flashing back to college nights in the library. Similarities: papers strewn all around me, my laptop battery running low, chocolate wrappers reminding me that I already ate my late-night ‘de-stress snack.’ Differences: I have no friends with me, and don’t need to worry about being graded (huge plus). Still, I’m presenting about some topics in social psychology at our Impact Earth staff meeting tomorrow, and I want it to go well. I review and rehearse my presentation a few more times before calling it a night.
10:30pm - I run out of contact solution when getting ready for bed, so I recycle the old bottle and open a new one, tossing the plastic seal into the landfill. A few months ago I took my sister’s garbage can from her room since she’s away at school, and converted it to a recycling bin in my bathroom. Now I no longer have a random pile of cardboard and plastic strewn across my bathroom floor! It also makes it easier when there are guests staying over, so they aren’t tempted to sneak recyclables into the trash (yes, I have had battles with visiting family members over this. I would find a plastic bag in the trash, pull it out, only to find it back in the trash later. It went on like that for longer than I care to admit before I just took the bag to the garage so I could recycle it at a Wegmans station. The environment wins!).
9:00am - I’m all ready to go back to work and sitting down at the kitchen table with peanut butter and jelly toast. No waste there, in fact I get a feeling I’ll be hungry long before my next chance to eat. Two of my coworkers and I carpool to work everyday, and we have two staff meetings after our work in the school cafeterias today. Therefore, I need to pack a lunch. I slap together a turkey, cheese, and mayonnaise sandwich, which I wrap in a beeswax wrap for transport, and throw some baby carrots into a reusable Stasher bag. The first staff meeting is at Panera, so I plan on buying half of a salad to complete my meal and make sure I’m ready for our staff spin class later. Filling my reusable water bottle, I hop in the car to begin my day.
1:15pm - The lunch periods are ending and it’s been a great day. It was nice to see the students again and the lunch monitors even offered me a chocolate—chocolate gets us all through the lunch periods. The wrapper goes to the landfill. I wear gloves as part of my job sorting waste, and I’ve made it my daily goal to limit how many I use since they have to go to the landfill. Today, I manage to only use one glove for the entire day—success!2:00pm - We have arrived at Panera and I’m happily enjoying my half a salad and sandwich from home. I pull the onions off the salad because even I can’t eat that much onion, and set them aside along with a few large chunks of blue (bleu? Help, the internet says both!) cheese. The salad came with bread (I forgot to substitute chips) and I’m picking at that as well.
Reuse: beeswax wrap, Stasher bag, water bottle, drawstring bag, glass milk bottle
Repurpose: plastic milk lid
Landfill: chocolate wrapper, plastic gloves, salad remains, napkins (2), wipe, m&m package
I can’t finish my sandwich so I pack the rest away to take home, thinking I’ll finish it later. When the meeting is done, I put the dishware on the counter and unfortunately have to dump the napkins and salad remains into the landfill. Throwing away the rest of the bread felt too wrong to me though, so I wrapped it in one of the napkins and took it with me.
3:00pm - I am sitting on a spin bike for the second time in my life, thinking I have simply not consumed enough calories in the last few days for this to end well. But each pedal of the bike produces energy that goes towards the operation of the I-Square building where our staff meeting is taking place, and I want to do my part. Plus, the playlist is lit. Who isn’t ready to bike uphill to the song “I Want Candy,” am I right? Unfortunately, there is photo evidence of the rivers of sweat streaming down my face during this workout, but all in all it was great to get moving again and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I brought my own towel to wipe down the bike afterwards, but ended up using wipes supplied by the studio instead. (EDIT: Cassidy found this photo of the class >>>)
7:15pm - I arrive home after a successful meeting and presentation to wonderful home-cooked chicken cacciatore that my mother made. She informs me that the Impact Earth compost bucket is now full, and I’m again grateful that my parents jumped on board so easily when I introduced composting to them last year. I’m still proud of how smoothly and enthusiastically they transitioned to composting. My throat is feeling pretty raw after being back in the cafeterias today (it can be quite loud in there) and my voice isn’t quite at full strength so I decide to make another cup of tea. Most of the time I purchase bulk loose leaf tea, as it’s a great way to reduce packaging waste. This time I go with Lavender Crème from Teavana. If you’re thinking that sounds like a strange flavor, then you would be correct. I question what I was thinking during that initial purchase, and then see the ‘80% off’ sticker on the canister—apparently I was thinking ‘sale!!’ Thankfully, honey can make the worst of teas taste good, and with a little doctoring, I had created a great cup.
9:30pm - And I need a lil dessert. There’s a bag of mint m&m’s from the holidays that I finish off and toss the plastic bag into the landfill. I pour a glass of milk to go with it, and finish off that as well, so I rinse the glass bottle and put it by the door to return when I go to Wegmans next. I clean the plastic lid too, and set it aside to create pins that I use for my student helpers in the school cafeterias.
8:40am - There are four very cute eyes staring at me as I sit at the kitchen table with my cereal. The dogs were really good this morning (and by that I mean they weren’t terrible and actually came when called from the yard) so I’m dividing up an overly ripe banana for them to share. After composting the peel, the three of us eat our breakfast together before I head out into the whiteout conditions that suddenly appeared out of nowhere—that’s the Rochester we know and love.
1:15pm - The last few students are walking out of the lunch room and I’m standing there saying goodbye, content with my piece of cookie cake. It was a student’s birthday and they very kindly offered me a piece of the celebration. When I’m finished I toss the napkin into the organics toter and continue with cleanup.
Reuse: tea leaves, cloth napkin
Compost: banana peel, napkin, tea leaves, veggie scraps
Recycle: face wash bottle
Landfill: plastic gloves (2)
4:00pm - I rediscovered the bread I took from Panera yesterday in my car cup holder. As I walk into the house I take a bite, then immediately split it into two pieces to give to my dogs because they somehow don’t understand the concept of ‘stale.’ Napkin gets tossed into the compost bucket. I saved the tea leaves I used last night, which I use to make a second cup now, then compost the leaves. My mother met my sister for lunch today and brought home both of their leftovers from the restaurant. I love when my sister has leftovers because she somehow always orders the most amazing dishes. This time it’s a few curly fries and half of a specialty burger, both of which I enjoy quite a lot. Shoutout to my sister and her small appetite!
7:30pm - So my family and I made the mistake of leaving some fresh veggies outside in a reusable Wegmans bag. This has worked well for us so far this year, it’s like an extended refrigerator, however we miscalculated how cold the garage would get with the storms rolling through this past week. Now I’ve found myself with some vegetables that are in desperate need of cooking. My mother and I tag-team the process, peeling and slicing and trimming away. We’ve decided these vegetables will be perfect on top of pizza, so we sauté everything. It’s pretty late in the evening though, so we store everything in containers and promise we’ll make the pizza dough tomorrow.
9pm - And I’m finally eating dinner. Leftover chicken cacciatore and rice. I get a bowl of ice cream for dessert afterwards to finish the meal, and settle in for what I hope is a great weekend.