How People Make Only a Jar of Trash a Year
Imagine 15 grocery bags filled with plastic trash piled up on every single yard of shoreline in the world. That’s how much land-based plastic trash ended up in the world’s oceans in just one year. The world generates at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other solid waste a day, 10 times the amount a century ago, according to World Bank researchers. The U.S. is the king of trash, producing a world-leading 250 million tons a year—roughly 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.
And yet there are a growing number of people—often young millennial women—who are part of a zero-waste movement. Their yearly trash output can be small enough to fit inside an eight-ounce mason jar. These are not wannabe hippies, but people embracing a modern minimalist lifestyle. They say it saves them money and time and enriches their lives.
Kathryn Kellogg is one of those young millennials who has downsized her trash pile—anything that hasn’t been composted or recycled—so two years' worth literally fits inside one 16-ounce jar. Meanwhile, the average American produces 1,500 pounds of trash a year. (Learn more about Kellogg in the recent plastic issue of National Geographic magazine.)
“We also saved about $5,000 a year by purchasing fresh food instead of packaged, buying in bulk, and making our own products like cleaners and deodorant,” says Kellogg, who lives with her husband in a small house in Vallejo, California.
Kellogg is one of several zero-waste bloggers who share online the details of their efforts, along with practical tips and encouragement, for others looking to embrace a zero-waste lifestyle. In three years, she has gained 300,000 monthly readers on her blog goingzerowaste.com and on Instagram.
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“I think many people are ready to cut their waste,” says Kellogg. However, she doesn’t want people to fixate on trying to stuff all their trash into a jar. Zero-waste is really about trying to minimize your trash and making better choices in your life, she says. “Just do the best you can and buy less.”
A Thriving Community
A breast cancer scare in college led Kellogg to start reading labels on personal-care products and finding ways to limit her exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. She found alternatives and started making her own products. Like her own readers, Kellogg learned from others, including New York City’s Lauren Singer, who has the very popular Trash is for Tossers blog. Singer started reducing her waste footprint as an environmental studies student in 2012 and has turned zero-waste into a career as a speaker, consultant, and retailer. She has two stores dedicated to making trash-free living easier for everyone.