Kathryn Kellogg is a zero waste ambassador that writes about individual action at goingzerowaste.com. It encompasses real food, natural cleaning, DIY beauty, and waste reduction tips. We talked with her about living sustainably through the zero waste movement.
Could you tell us about yourself and your journey of transitioning into zero waste living?
When I was 20, I discovered 6 lumps in my breast. Thankfully, they were benign but the whole experience made me think about what I put in and on my body. I learned a lot of the products we use aren’t thoroughly tested. Beyond that, I learned that plastic has BPA and BPS which are easily transferred from the plastic to our products and food. They are endocrine disrupters that mimic oestrogen. Pretty much, the last thing I needed.
Beyond just the health implications of plastic, nature can’t digest it. Every piece of plastic ever created still exists. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it photodegrades. Which means it gets smaller and smaller, but never goes away. It poses a huge threat to nature, especially marine life. For every microplankton in the ocean, there are 46 mico-plastic pieces to match. It’s completely in our food chain and could wipe out an entire eco-system. It’s a big deal.
I quit using toxic products and phased out any plastic I used. After that, transitioning into a zero waste lifestyle was pretty seamless. I had moved out to California and consistently saw all of the trash and plastic littering the streets. I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. I wanted to be a part of the solution.
Do you recycle more since going zero waste?
No, I recycle less. Zero waste is about recycling less not more. Zero waste isn’t just about the landfill; it’s also about resource production. It goes so much deeper than just trash. Trash is planned obsolescence. It’s wasted resources.
For every pound of trash (4.4lbs for the average American) we throw away, 7lbs was created in the waste upstream. That’s essentially 31lbs of trash a day *PER* person. Think of all those resources being used. It’s completely unsustainable.
I think Earth Overshoot Day is a perfect example. Each year there’s a day that marks how many resources the earth can produce sustainably in one years time. Last year it came at the beginning of August. Just barely halfway through the year. We’re using two earths worth of resources to make products that are thrown into a giant hole in the ground where they will never decompose. Maybe we should start rethinking the way we do things
Changing the way we buy and consume food seems to be an important part of transitioning into a zero waste life. Is that an area in which we generate a lot of plastic waste?
Food packaging is one of the largest sources of packaging waste, and we buy groceries almost every week. It’s also some of the easiest changes you can make. Most food that comes in a package isn’t real food. By focusing on eating real food, you’re eating a lot more produce which typically comes without a package. Also, instead of using plastic produce bags you can bring your own cloth bags. When you buy grains, you can bring your own cloth bags for those as well.
How can we shop for clothes in a more conscious way? Has your closet evolved?
Shopping second hand is a great thing you can do for the environment. It prevents perfectly good items from going to a landfill, and it prevents new resources from being used in production.
I moved to California, and I was not prepared for the weather. It’s freezing in the morning and night but SO hot during the day. You have to dress in so many layers. I’ve slowly been changing my wardrobe to be layer friendly. I’ve bought so many things second hand.
I also just view shopping differently. I really think about what I’m bringing into my life. I don’t just buy it because it’s cute any more. Instead, I make sure that it really works with everything I already own.
Do you approach purchasing beauty and hygiene products differently?
Yep, I pretty much approach buying everything differently. I think about what’s in the product, where it came from, how it’s packaged, and where it’s going after I’m done with it.
Most beauty products aren’t tested by the FDA in the US. So, there’s a lot of harmful and untested chemicals in our products. I do make some beauty products, especially skin care products. Lip balm, lotion, face masks are all soooo easy to make. More difficult things to make are make up. Thankfully, there are a lot of awesome brands that offer sustainable or compostable packaging.
Do you face any difficulties while trying to maintain this lifestyle?
I do basically everything I did before I went zero waste; I just do it slightly adjusted. For example, I always try to leave the house with a full reusable water bottle. Imagine if I had to stop at the gas station to run in and buy a bottle. I would lose both time and money.
In living a zero waste lifestyle, I save time. I save money. I’m content and happy and my life is full. Everything in my life is either necessary or it brings me joy. Each day I wake up content.
Zero waste isn’t a sacrifice. It’s not difficult. It’s just a whole bunch of little tiny changes that add up to massive impact. In the beginning, you’re building new habits. That might be challenging but it all depends on how you approach it. I went zero waste for myself. It was fun! It was an adventure. It was a chance to learn something new and to better myself.
Would it be accurate to say going zero waste leads to a more minimalistic life?
It doesn’t have to, but it certainly led me down that path. I think they do go hand in hand. One of the best things you can do to produce less waste is to buy less stuff. So, in that way minimalism and zero waste really match up.
You eat better, you save money, you eat healthier, you walk more, you support local businesses and you feel good about supporting your community, you get to know your town, you form relationships with the people in your supply chain like I know the guy who grows my spinach!
It’s awesome how zero waste improves almost every aspect of your life. It’s calming. I’m no longer filling my life with stuff, everything in my life has purpose or meaning. I’ve simplified. Modern society will tell you, you are what you buy. But, that’s simply manufactured need. I’m more focused more on who I am and who I’m becoming rather than letting the latest stuff define me. It’s a recipe for happiness. But, more than happiness, it’s a recipe for being content.
What regulations have been implemented or could be implemented to reduce our waste?
I just heard a fascinating talk on policy. They recommended a landfill ban. Basically so much waste has to be diverted in order to prevent fines. I think that’s certainly a good way to get business on board with a package free business model.
I think education and awareness are the first steps though. A lot of people have never even thought about package free shopping but whenever I’m out and I ask for stuff to go in my own container, most people think it’s awesome! They’re always like, “This is so cute, I love that you’re trying to avoid plastic.”