We Don’t Need to Bring Ink & Paper Into This

receiptsReceipts. Let me tell you something about receipts. They are everywhere. They will find you. They will end your hopes of being zero waste.

The majority of what I could not eliminate during my forty days of trash was receipts. Even if the rest of my shopping trip was package free or completely recyclable, or if I brought my own to-go ware to the restaurant, those tiny jerks followed me around like a bad BPA-coated penny.

Of course, you can get away from the sly dogs at places like gas stations or coffee shops that use Square Readers. But what the heck am I supposed to do for the other 90 percent of my purchases?


Why it matters

Receipts are objectively the worst.

And I’m learning that there are two types of printed receipts – ones printed with ink and ones printed on thermal paper. Ink receipts use ink (duh) printed on paper. Thermal receipts use a combination of pressure, heat, and a special type of paper to etch the correct print on the receipt, no ink required. This system is often cheaper, which means that it’s everywhere.

The problem with thermal receipts is that they are often lined with BPA, which you might recall as “that chemical they don’t use in water bottles anymore because it is a known carcinogen.” Now chronic exposure to BPA will definitely cause problems to the human body, but the science is still out what the exact impact is for short encounters with the chemicals. However, this still seems like a big enough question mark that any rational person (especially people like cashiers) would not want to be touching this stuff regularly.

In addition to being a big health problem, thermal paper receipts should definitely not be recycled. As they are recycled with the rest of paper they could end up being turned into other paper or tissue which just keeps the BPA in circulation, negatively impacting even more people.(Also the thought of BPA ending up in my toilet paper makes me feel….bad. Everywhere.)

I think that we all need to take a leaf out of the late Mitch Hedberg’s book and forgo the majority of receipts altogether. #mitchaltogether


Difficulty Level: Moderate/High

So what is the solution? I’m still working on it. Receipts are THE WORST and I don’t care who knows it. Of course, the obvious solution is to plan ahead, not eat out, and only shop at places that have no-receipt options. Doable? Well, no.

What happens when you ask for no receipt? Most places just have it printed automatically, which means you have no control. Ask you local grocery store or other shops to offer email receipts. Several of my local grocers offer this option.

And we definitely need to move away from the use of dangerous thermal paper for the safety and health of our cashiers, our families, the planet…

That Sweet Sweet Low Hanging Fruit

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been thinking about trash for a long time. A year or so ago I read this story about Lauren Singer from Trash Is For Tossers. Long story short, she lives in NYC and has produced next to no trash over the past few years.

I thought this was the coolest idea I had ever heard. (And she wasn’t even the only one!) I decided immediately to take some small steps to reduce my waste and to pay attention to my trash to try to be as cool as these cats.

I started seeing trash everywhere, everything I was doing was producing waste. And it hadn’t even occurred to me that it was a problem. (I would NEVER use to a single use plastic water bottle, but purchasing a Gatorade in the same packaging somehow didn’t count?) I felt deeply ashamed that as a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I was feeding into this system, creating so much trash that would be around so long after I was gone. The shame doubled as I realized how much I had advised people on how to be environmentally friendly when I was living like I was.

Change time. One of the first things I realized was my insane paper towel use. Every day, I used at least 5 paper towels a day to dry my hands. Into the trash can they went.

Low hanging fruit is better than nothing – I started bringing a towel or a bandana with me to work to dry my hands with. (Or sometimes just dried my hands on my pants like a champ.) Honestly, this cut out an embarrassing amount of my waste. And the more that I looked around the more that it seemed that these simple swaps could radically cut most of my waste output.


Why Does It Matter?

I’ll say it once and I’ll say it a million times. The EPA estimates that the average American produce 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Which seems like a lot. How does it even happen?

A big part of this is our obsession with single use materials. Companies producing individually packaged peeled oranges in shrink wrap know and plan that the consumer is going to have to throw away the packaging. This is a version of planned obsolescence, which is “a business strategy in which the obsolescence is planned into it from conceptions. This is done so that in [the] future the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones.”

Waste is built into our system. It makes sense in the silly economic landscape that we live in. Sell us a roll of paper towels and we’ll need to buy paper towels forever. Sell us a towel, and that’s the end of it. I get it, it’s all about profit. But this system is not a sustainable way to treat our environment or our economy (or my tight budget).

I’m finding that single use is not the way to go, overall, and definitely not the way to go for #40DaysofTrash

I’m not saying we need to overhaul our entire economic system (or maybe I am), but I am saying maybe we just need to take a step back and take a look at all the trash that we use and produce in a day.


Difficulty Level: Low

Sometimes it’s all about the low hanging fruit. Going through my day and seeing what I throw out the most allowed me to take really simple steps to halve my waste output. #delicious

Rot the Things, Save the World

The thing that I was most worried about going into this challenge was, unsurprisingly, what was I going to have to carry around? Was it going to smell? Was I going to have a banana peel in my purse for 40 days?

The easiest and most straight-forward solution for these worries was composting. Though I had mostly composted my food scraps beforehand, this challenge made me more strict and attentive. I am incredibly lucky to have a communal compost pile at my office. Composting is a great way to use worms and microbes to break down organic materials like yard trimmings and fruit/vegetable scraps into a valuable soil additive.

Me and the bin that made it happen.

The compost pile became my truest waste reducing friend. Fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, brown napkins, and more could just go into the bin! Wonderfully enough, my coworker has a few vermicomposting bins at the office, so I got a chance to feed some red wigglers as well.

Compost bins do have restrictions. No dairy or meat products. No bread or grains (they attract mice and other critters). No grease.

I’m not going to lie. Before this challenge, I already mostly composted my produce scraps and other materials. But this challenge made me go further. I had to cut most dairy out of my diet and I had to be more strict about how to compost, I couldn’t get lazy and just toss it in the trash.

So every day I collected my compost in the freezer (to prevent stink) and would transport it to the bins at my office, where it would be turned into a beautiful and nutritious soil additive!


Why Does It Matter?

Composting is the original recycling. It’s a system that converts the leftover organic materials into valuable soils which grow more grass, flowers, and food.

Composting is critical in going zero waste and in fighting global climate change. Some studies have found that soil-compost mixtures are able to store more carbon than just soil. Additionally, plants grow better on compost-soil mixtures due to the nutrients, which also absorb carbon through their processes of photosynthesis and root growth and keep it out of our atmosphere. (And helped increase populations of native bird and plant species.)

And if you didn’t know, landfills are the third largest producers of carbon emissions (after agriculture and oil & gas). As organic materials break down and decompose in landfills, they do so anaerobically (without oxygen) as landfilled material is covered every day. By anaerobically digesting they produce methane, a greenhouse gas 4 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

In a well maintained compost pile, the organic materials undergo aerobic digestion instead, as they are exposed to oxygen through manual turning and mixing or by use of worms and other organisms. Aerobically digested organics produce carbon dioxide instead of methane, which is still a greenhouse gas, but one that can be absorbed for photosynthesis.


Difficulty Level

Composting was the easiest way for me to cut my waste in half. If you are able, take advantage of this easy way to fight climate change!

You handsome devils.

However, obviously, not everyone has easy access to composting. Not everyone has the ability or space for an outdoor composting bin. If you can, invest in a vermicomposting system aka a worm box. (I know a great groups that offers workshops…) Worms are the lowest maintenance pets you could ever hope for.

Some cities like NYC, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Austin, and San Francisco offer composting through a curbside pickup system or a community collection site system. If you don’t live in those cities you can definitely take advantage of local companies like this one that will pick up organics from your home!

#40DaysofTrash

As a semi-practicing Catholic, I was faced with my annual decision of what to give up for Lent. For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, the day after Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, many denominations of Christians observe Ash Wednesday. This is a day of fasting and marks the beginning of a period of fasting until Easter. I won’t get into the specific religious weeds, but typically folks give up something that they like in addition to overall consuming less for 40 days.

This year, I decided that I wanted to use my Lenten observance to do something to make the world a better place instead of just giving up cookies (again). I wanted to give up a modern convenience that would make me more appreciative and aware of my actions.

As a post from Trash is for Tossers came across my social media, I was inspired to give up trash cans. Everything that I couldn’t recycle, compost, or reuse had to stay with me. For forty days.

Obviously, I didn’t want to be carrying obscene amounts of garbage with me to work, to the gym, to restaurants, so I had to make some serious changes to keep embarrassment to a minimum. I needed to make tweaks to my lifestyle to go green and to document how much (or how little) trash I could produce.

Why does trash matter? Why do I think this challenge is important?

Trash is a central issue at the intersection of our personal lives and the environment. My reducing your trash you can make impacts on global climate change, deforestation, water quality, ocean pollution, worker’s rights, and so much more. As John Muir was fantastically misquoted “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”┬áThis project aims to tug on a string that leads us in a better direction, towards a better future.

I’m going to, and have already, hit a number of speed bumps as I work to follow this lifestyle and will be documenting how it’s going. Stay tuned!

Normal Girl Trying

Welcome Internet-friend! Welcome to Walk A Little Lighter, my addition to the online community about explorations and experimentations to have a smaller footprint on this earth. As a treehugger/dirty hippie I will largely be focusing on using personal choices to lessen my impact and walk a little lighter.

Why should you stick around? Well, largely because I’m just a normal person – I’m not the fastest, smartest, funniest, bravest, or naturally good at most things. However, one thing that I can offer is a┬áridiculous sense of guilt. As a liberal, middle class, Catholic, I spend most of my time feeling bad about everything.

After years of just feeling bad, I’m taking steps to turn that guilt into positive changes in my life, in my communities, and in my environment. Follow along as I figure out how to walk a little lighter, and use the information to find the right solutions for you.