KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Going a whole day without creating trash sounds very daunting. If you sit down and think about it, there are so many things you do in your everyday life that create trash.
Going green means making eco-friendly switches and alternatives in your everyday life.
I had seen many videos online where people attempt to go a whole day without creating any type of trash, and by the end of the day, they are proud of themselves for making the effort and decide they are going to make some small changes in their everyday lives.
I knew if I was going to do this, I needed a game plan.
I meticulously went through my daily routine in my head the night before this challenge and carefully intercepted any instance where I used a single-use product and replaced it with a reusable one.
Some things proved to be trickier to substitute than I thought... which meant, oh no, I would have to sacrifice.
I decided to film the notable parts of my day-- everything from my morning routine, to my commute to work, to grocery shopping.
I did this challenge one day while working the day shift at work, so I could have some daylight and would be able to catch the KAT Bus more easily.
MORNING ROUTINE AND PREP
First things first, as soon as I woke up and got ready, I was ready for a hot cup of coffee.
Usually, I would load a K-Cup in the Keurig, but those contribute to a huge amount of waste in landfills. In fact, according to John Sylvan, the inventor of K-Cups, in 2014, 9 billion K-Cups were sold, and the majority of those more than likely ended up in the landfill, since they are not recyclable.
So instead of loading that single-use coffee pod in my coffee maker, I used a reusable pod and brewed a more eco-friendly cup of joe. Of course, I still had to use a bag of coffee to fill up that pod, which I will eventually recycle.
Instead of a paper coffee cup to catch that caffeinated goodness, I opted for a hard plastic travel tumbler and metal straw. Both of these products can be used multiple times instead of just once.
I always go for oatmeal for breakfast, but on this day, I grabbed my oats I store in a glass container instead of the single-serve packets I usually use.
I also reached for my Swell water bottle. I can fill it up multiple times in one day instead of drinking from plastic water bottles, which are tossed out after you're done.
I made sure to grab my reusable grocery bags before leaving so I could be prepared for my grocery trip later in the day.
RIDING THE KAT BUS
One way you can really cut down your carbon footprint is riding public transportation. In my effort to be as green as possible, I rode the KAT Bus everywhere I needed to go.
Full disclosure: I had never ridden a KAT bus until this day, so I was excited to check it out! Plus, riding public transportation also means you have the opportunity to meet some new friends along the way too!
I used the KAT Bus app to track the right routes for me. It's free and easy to use.
10,000 passengers ride a KAT bus every day, and on this "green day," I was one of them. By finding a seat on public transit instead of revving your engine for just one day, you can make a huge impact.
According to the EPA, in urban areas, cars are responsible for 50% to 90% of air pollution and 75% of carbon monoxide emissions come from cars.
By taking public transportation instead of driving your car, a single person, like me, saves on average around 4,800 pounds of CO2 per year.
Not only are you saving the planet, but you’re saving money too.
Every month I spend close to $150 on gas. A KAT 30-day pass is $50, which is two-thirds cheaper than what I would usually pay.
If you do choose to get on board, you will need to make sure you give yourself enough time, though.
My usual commute to work is 10 minutes. When I rode the bus, it took me about 20 minutes. That’s not factoring in the time it took me to walk to the bus stop.
Another plus is all KAT vehicles are either hybrid electric vehicles, or operate on ultra clean diesel.
Luckily, when it was time to hop off the bus, I was able to get pretty close to work because there are plenty of bus stops on Broadway.
GOING GREEN AT THE GROCERY STORE
So after my morning prep, a day at work and another ride on the KAT Bus, it was time for me to go grocery shopping! I went to Kroger, brought in my reusable bags, and was ready to tackle the trip.
I chose to check easy things off my list this shopping trip, like fruits and veggies.
I made sure not to grab a plastic bag in the produce section, and instead used my reusable ones from home.
But I quickly realized I couldn't get everything on my list this shopping trip. A huge amount of things are pre-packaged at the store, which means the bag or container creates trash when the food is gone.
I will say that a lot of plastic containers CAN be recycled, so remember that the next time you buy.
The experience made me realize a green grocery trip takes quite a bit of prior planning.
In the meat and seafood section, almost everything is pre-packaged with Styrofoam and plastic.
While you can’t bring your own containers for them to fill with meat for sanitary reasons, Kroger does offer an alternative recyclable packing solution; butcher paper. I had never gotten this at the store, but I’m glad to know it was an option. While it is still technically trash, I can recycle it so it’s the lesser of two evils.
When it’s time to check out, I requested that my reusable bags be used instead of plastic bags.
Kroger has a goal of having zero waste in their stores by 2025. That means no more plastic bags and no more food waste.
If you do use plastic bags, you can recycle them at the front of the grocery store or at the UT Recycling Center.
When it was time for me to get a receipt, there’s currently no way to refuse a paper copy like email or text, so I had to take that paper copy.
So my grocery trip wasn't an overall win because I ultimately did create trash, but I would give myself an A for effort.
EVALUATING AND COMPARING MY GREEN DAY
After getting home, I was eager to compare the trash I would usually use to the reusable items I replaced it with.
Let's start with a list of trash I would usually accumulate:
- A K-Cup
- Paper coffee cup with plastic straw
- Paper bowl
- Plastic spoon
- Single packet of oatmeal for breakfast
- Bottled water
- Can of sparkling water
- Plastic cup from a coffee shop
- Individually packaged snacks
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Plastic grocery bags, including the produce ones
That's a lot. This doesn't even include all of the things I use that aren't single-use but will be thrown away one day, like my beauty and hair products, makeup, shampoo and conditioner, and everything in between.
The good news is, you can recycle most of those containers and beauty brands like bareMinerals recycle used makeup containers.
Now let's look at the green alternatives I had to reduce all of this trash:
- Reusable K-Cup
- Coffee tumbler with metal straw
- Actual bowl
- Metal spoon
- Hand-scooped oats
- Reusable water bottle
- Personal coffee cup for drive-thru coffee runs
- Fabric cloths
- Reusable grocery bags
- Butcher paper
The piles look about the same in size, but the trash pile is from one single person and will all get thrown in the landfill and contribute to the tons of garbage already there.
The reusable pile lives for a much longer time. I can use these items again and again, ultimately saving pounds of trash from cluttering up the earth.
Okay, I'm not going to lie-- this was hard! There are so many things you don't realize are trash. However, I came out of this eye-opening experience realizing how much those single-use trash items really add up, and by just replacing those with the greener options, I'm automatically decreasing my carbon footprint.
While we may not be able to go every day without creating waste, we can at least make an effort and choose the greener option every day.