Read About One SGA Staff’s Approach to Zero Waste

Remember the last time you said you were going to start a new diet, go to the gym, or eat healthier? (To be honest, we make those pledges at least once a week too!) While the intentions are great, for many of us, taking those first steps is hard to do. But once we force ourselves to get over the initial hurdles, it is a little easier to adapt to the diet every day until eventually, they become routine. Well, the same can be said for adopting pro-environmental behaviors. The more you do it, the more it becomes ingrained.

To help people understand the process of becoming more environmentally friendly, one SGA staff member has documented her first steps in reducing her carbon footprint and embracing a zero-waste lifestyle.  As a vegetarian, Carolina Gonzalez (Project Manager) has always felt a kinship with nature and environmental issues. Adopting a zero-waste mentality was a natural progression. Zero-waste is about reducing what we need/consume and reusing as much as possible in an effort to reduce what we send to landfills.

“Having moved nine times in the last eight years, I’ve definitely seen the freedom that comes with owning fewer things. Now, I’m beginning the challenge of creating less waste in the world as well,” Carolina says.

One of the tenets of going zero-waste is to reduce the amount of waste entering the home in the first place. So how is Carolina accomplishing this? With a little planning, she has reduced the amount of waste she brings in every time she shops or goes out to eat. Instead of simply telling you how she has been doing this, we are going to go shopping with Carolina so she can show you how to practice zero-waste tactics in your own life.


PRE-SHOPPING: Choose a Grocery Store That Has a Bulk Item Section
Some chain grocery stores have them, but these will more often than not be small, private or local companies.

PRE-SHOPPING: Don’t Leave Home Without Reusable Bags and Storage Containers
Just before Carolina heads out to the grocery store, she does a quick check for: her shopping list, small reusable cloth bags and glass containers for food items, and larger grocery/ tote bags to transport everything.
“I prefer cloth bags, but you can use any reusable bag. Glass containers are good because store employees can tare the glass container easily before items are placed inside.”

Why use cloth bags? Because plastic and paper bags use a lot of energy to produce. Unfortunately, many paper bags are made from trees, not recycled paper, while plastic bags are made from byproducts of oil or natural gas. Not to mention, many cities these days have ordinances that make you pay for paper or plastic bags. Some people choose to reuse their paper or plastic bags, but these can only last for so long before they have to be thrown out, so your best option is to try to avoid them in the first place!

What about the glass containers? According to Carolina, glass containers are best used for items in the deli section like sandwich meat, olives or cheese as well as for bulk section items like peanut butter, honey, sugar or flour.

DURING SHOPPING: Shop for Loose Items That You Can Weigh and Measure on Your Own
Once at the store, Carolina buys almost everything in the bulk and fresh produce sections. She puts it all in the cloth bags she brings or leaves her fruits and vegetables loose.
“I used to be intimidated by the bulk section, but now it’s where I do most of my shopping. It’s amazing the variety you can find there (who knew there were so many types of sugar and salt?).”

DURING SHOPPING: Avoid Small Items of Trash That Can Accumulate While Shopping
Carolina avoids using ANY extra paper or plastic when shopping if she doesn’t have to. She keeps her shopping list on her phone and refuses a receipt whenever possible. She never uses zip ties provided by stores to tie up her bags of food and she avoids using price identification stickers.
“Just keep the bags in order so you know what’s what, and take pictures of the items code to tell the cashier (so you don’t have to use tags!).”

DURING SHOPPING: Prioritize Recyclable Containers
If Carolina can’t find something she needs in the bulk or fresh produce section, she tries to buy items in more environmentally friendly containers such glass (rather than plastic or cans) or cardboard (rather than Styrofoam). Glass is a better choice because you can re-purpose it for many other uses (i.e. holding other food items, hip drinking glasses, trendy home-made terrariums) AND it has the smallest carbon footprint compared to plastic and aluminum. That’s a big win!

POST SHOPPING: Make Sure That You Never Forget Your Reusable Bags or Glass Containers Again!
Admit it. We’ve all done it. Carolina’s done it. Gone into the grocery store only to realize that you’ve left your reusable bags at home. Hitting yourself in the head as you try to stuff as many items as you can into your pockets and hands before giving in and having to use the store bags. Or you bravely insist you can carry it all and walk out of the store with 10 items balanced in your arms.

How to avoid this? The solution is easy! 1) Include a reminder in your grocery list, 2) Keep these items by your door or in your car, 3) Embarrass yourself into remembering – if you forget once, don’t allow yourself to use the store bags, force yourself to carry all your groceries out by hand (multiple trips if necessary) and you will never forget again!
“Trial and error is a huge part of the process.”

POST SHOPPING: Be Prepared When You Go Out to Eat As Well
Grocery shopping makes Carolina hungry. Sometimes she can’t wait to get home to make something! If you also like to grab a bite to eat after you’ve hit the shops (or ever, really), make sure to be prepared. Take your own re-usable items and refuse unnecessary waste such as plastic straws and napkins.
“I carry bamboo utensils and a cloth napkin in my purse in case I’m going to a place that uses disposable utensils. I’ll also bring my own to-go container for food when I know there will be leftovers – like Chinese food.”

A few more helpful tips from Carolina:
“Reusing and conserving is not the social norm so I’ve found myself having to put myself out of my comfort zone to stick to my zero-waste goals.”
“Facebook groups can connect you with people and resources that are local to you. I’ve been able to connect with people with similar interests and it’s been amazing to see what others are doing, too.”
“What helps is to remember that even the small things I’m doing, if I do them for the next forty years, it’ll make a huge difference.”

SGA Stands Up for Zero Waste

The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council recently hosted their biggest and best Annual National Zero Waste Conference yet, and our very own Stephen Groner was the committee chair.

Stephen kicked off the conference by welcoming the attendees (over 300!) to the event and introducing the first day’s keynote speaker, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Influential proponents of the zero waste movement were in attendance at the Stars of Zero Waste conference, along with representatives from companies such as Walt Disney, Hewlett Packard and Sierra Nevada who shared their knowledge, passion and success for sustainable business practices.

The many strides that LA is taking towards greater sustainability were highlighted, including the Zero Waste LA program and The Sustainable City pLAn. We love knowing that this plan involves more than just the environment, pulling together “environment, economy and equity” for a truly sustainable future.

This year the conference didn’t just talk the talk, it walked the walk, educating the hotel staff on food waste, composting and recycling. It was wonderful to see the progress since the inaugural conference in 2012, and now we can look forward to seeing more zero waste advancements before next year’s conference.