Author: Kathryn Kellogg
Publisher: Countryman Press
Publishing Date: April 2, 2019
Pages: 256 (Paperback)
You are probably aware of the plastic “island” in the Pacific Ocean—it’s the rapidly growing vortex of our (mostly plastic) trash. Or maybe you saw the recent news story about the actual island in the South Pacific with the tons of garbage on the beach. These and other news stories remind me of something I’ve been aware of (and disturbed by) for a while now, but generally feel powerless to do something about: our garbage habit.
Empowering individuals to do something about their garbage habit is the goal of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg. The book provides numerous concrete ideas that readers can easily implement to reduce the amount of waste they generate. In the introduction, Kellogg focuses on the “three Rs” that I remember learning in grade school: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The author observes that our society has focused heavily on the last one—recycle—probably because it’s easily quantifiable. Recently, it has become increasingly obvious that the United States has ample room to improve our recycling practices (the end of section one provides a thorough guide to how to recycle effectively—by the way, did you know you can’t recycle receipts? They’re coated in BPA plastic) and doing this better certainly will help us reduce our waste. However, if we want to make the maximum impact both personally and societally, then we need pay significantly more attention to the first two: reduce (our consumption) and reuse (our own and other’s stuff—i.e. “up cycle”). Many of the tips for reducing waste involve one or both of these first two Rs.
The list of 101 tips are divided by categories (kitchen, personal care, cleaning, work/school/out-to-eat, etc.), but the first section is about the low hanging fruit—the easiest high-impact things to change. Unsurprisingly, the first tip is actually a major task: put a clipboard next to your rubbish bin and track what goes into it (i.e. do a waste audit). Once you know what you’re throwing away you can begin to look for alternatives that don’t require so much waste. For example, if you’re throwing away lots of packaging maybe you can buy products in recyclable packaging; if the biggest offender is food, you could start a compost bin (Tip #27); if the garbage is full of take-out containers, start taking your own containers and asking the restaurant to fill those when you get take-out (Tip #74). The other high-impact tips are some expected (e.g. reusable grocery bags) and some unexpected (did you know that coffee cup lids are #6 plastic, which means not only are they unrecyclable, but they’re also the worst type of plastic from which to eat food?)
The book is packed with tips that average people can execute easily if they are willing to invest a bit of forethought. The tips are doable, and the author isn’t preachy about her accomplishment of achieving approximately “zero waste,” although it does seem like a much more doable feat in a community like the San Francisco Bay Area (where the author is based) than in my mid-American small town. That said, perhaps my lawn-loving farming community might want to think about a town composting facility—the fertilizer would get used, and (as a bonus) we could actually compost the “compostable cups” from the local coffee shop.1 My one big concern about the book is that a few of her DIY recommendations call for known carcinogens (e.g. activated charcoal and bentonite clay)2 so as with anything, use good judgement about the safety of these ideas as you implement them in your own life.
You can find most, if not all, of these ideas by digging through a few different blogs. However, I find it easier to try a couple of changes from a book like this one, testing them out to see if they’re working smoothly. Once I’ve perfected that change, I can simply come back to the book for more ideas, rather than trying to dig through a blog history again. However, if you want to explore more zero waste ideas, there are many good ideas on blogs that are not included in this book.
If you want to make small steps to reduce your contribution to the Pacific Ocean Plastic Island, “101 Ways to go Zero Waste” is a book you should read. The first three changes I will be implementing for my family are food composting, finding a breadbox so that we can stop storing our homemade bread in single-use plastic bags, and making a choice to consciously choose glass or cardboard packaging wherever possible. This book gives me hope that together we can make a difference in global consumption.
Compostable coffee cups require an industrial composting facility to compost properly because they require higher temperatures than are produced in a backyard compost bin. ↩
Not a carcinogen itself but may contain crystalline silica (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-toothpaste-charcoal/charcoal-toothpaste-may-do-harm-and-not-much-good-idUSKCN1SM2M3 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27809675 Accessed 29 May 2019 ↩