So much plastic…

Early January, I had the opportunity to visit one of Waste Management’s offices and learn more about the energy consumption and life cycle of the waste we produce. This includes the empty pizza boxes, the take out utensils, hazardous waste like batteries and e-waste, and the multitude of food scraps. One of the biggest mind-blowing moment was how much plastic is produced and either sent to the landfill because of contamination; it can be sold to other countries which either burn it for energy (adding tons of GHG to the atmosphere), or it ends up in a huge outdoor dump, where is would sit forever. Plastic doesn’t decompose like regular organic materials like wood or produce. It just sits there and further broken down into microplastics, which pollute the soil, air, and waters all about us. I couldn’t help but feel angry at myself for contributing to it.

So, I had a good hard look at myself and my habits, contemplating how unnecessarily wasteful I’ve been. I went through my daily routine, and marked how much plastic I kept in my life, and how much of it I wouldn’t think twice about throwing away. Toothpaste, coffee cups, plastic boxes from take-out sushi… I felt disgusting.

Disclaimer: I’m not the “love mother earth” kind of person, I fully believe we need oil and gas to keep our economy running at this moment and we aren’t in any place to get rid of fossil fuels entirely. I shamefully would feel almost naked if my phone did not have any charge because of lack of electricity, and I enjoy driving a stick with an engine that revs. I have my vices, like we all do. However, the amount of waste that a single person produces, that I produce, is ridiculous, and that is something I can fix.

Since January, I’ve looked further into the zero waste movement, learning about living a waste-free life, and I’ll admit, some of y’all go 110%, and I totally support that. I am not at that level yet to dive so far deep in, but I’m making baby steps.

  1. I looked into composting, and spent a good many hours trying to find places around me that accepts food scraps (I can’t compost where I live right now). Luckily there is a MOMs Organic Market near me
  2. I don’t leave my house without a water bottle (I have a zojirushi bottle that I’ve had around the house; I didn’t go out and buy a new one) and a portable kleen kanteen carrier (I did invest in this because I needed one that wouldn’t spill in my bag; all the portables I have were not spill proof and I drink a LOT of coffee)
  3. I have an ever growing reusable bag collection for groceries (they are always one of the swag items at events)
  4. Most importantly of all, I look at what I have and don’t just see what it is right now; I’m seeing its end-of-life self and where the materials go once I deem it “unusable” and that is what reminds me to be mindful of what I consume

One of the multitudes of youtubers I follow was talking about her Zero Waste “journey” (I dislike that word so much, because it is so overused and means almost nothing now, but I digress), and the one idea I loved was using what you have before consuming more. I’ve heard many looking to join the Zero Waste Movement wanting to throw out all of the plastic in their life and buy new things for a specific purpose that could have been fulfilled by a previous, albeit plastic, option that could last a long time and one can get a lot of use out. I really appreciated this, because I felt weird thinking I should throw out all of these perfectly good products that aren’t eco-friendly, just to replace it with eco-friendly products. It didn’t sit right with me because they were perfectly good items that had a lot of use left, so to throw it out almost felt even more wasteful. I took this idea to heart and told myself it’s okay to use your current shampoo, it’s okay to finish your toothpaste in your plastic tube, and it’s okay to have plastic tupperware in your kitchen. Use all that you have to best of your abilities to make sure the plastic used was worth the years it will sit on this earth after you.

So… my hair routine hasn’t changed. My clothes are still the same and made with synthetic material. I still have plenty of non-vegan non-sustainable make-up to use up and I will use them all. I still drive my non-electric car with the windows down. On the flip side, now I won’t throw away the onion root just because I’m not eating it. I won’t put the pizza box in the recycling because it has grease on it, but I’ll compost it. When I run out of shampoo, I’ll put much more thought on the ingredients going into my next shampoo and what package (if any) it comes in. I carry a portable chopstick set wherever I go, as well as a recycled bag that folds into a pouch for emergencies (already had a few). I bring my own cotton produce bags to the grocery store (guilty of buying these on amazon). Last but not least, I will definitely not buy the potato wrapped in plastic.

I’ll do some more updates later on as I move towards slowly phasing out the plastic in my life, but better late to the party than to not show up. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Playing it safe isn’t a bad thing

For most of my life, I’ve tried to follow the standard path to “success” whatever that is. Study hard. Get into a good college. Make loyal and honest friends. Accept a well-paying job. Work on your career. Find a smart partner with numerous job prospects. As of now, these are the milestones I’ve been focusing on and is what is keeping me going. However, lately I’ve been wondering why hitting these milestones are even necessary, and why we put so much emphasis on them.

I’ve been a planner since I was little. What I mean by “planner” is someone who decides on what she wants and creates game plans on how to get it. This meant internalizing all the things a perfect first child should do to make their parents proud. As well, this meant that when things didn’t go to plan, I predictably had a slight melt-down and would once again modify the plan to accommodate the set-back. Then, continue on the same path.

Lately I’ve been living with someone who takes a more laisse-faire attitude towards life. Her perspective towards success both fascinates and irks me. This person doesn’t subscribe to the typical milestones that I set as life goals, so she lives in a very free and whimsical way, untied to any traditional idea of “a successful life”. This difference in definitions threw me off, because it made me further question my own idea of what makes someone successful. Is my idea of “success” a valid and personal one? Do I truly believe in it, or is it because my parents and society tells me that this is what you should want for a “good” life, the way to be “successful”. What do I want? Should I want these things? What are the pros and cons of each of these milestones? Why do we subscribe to them?

After many hours of mulling over these questions, I came to this conclusion (this might sound cliché, but perhaps every generation goes through these questions and comes to a similar conclusion).

I am in control of my own life. My happiness is purely in my own hands. My success is built on my own idea of success, which may or may not include a long career, a rich partner, or children, but if it does, it will be of my own accord. If I want any of these things, it’ll be because I deem them part of my happiness, not because of any parental or societal pressure. In the end, if I want something, I will go and get it myself. I am not patient enough to see if life gives me what I so desire. So, I shall create plans in order to achieve my success. Most importantly, I am happy on my journey. However, there are other forms of success, and it is in my best interest to accept and appreciate the other views of success, so I may continue to re-evaluate my own.

This semester has been a series of personal successes, gaining two research positions and doing well in my work. Hopefully my next mini meltdown doesn’t come until after the semester ends, but who knows. I hope to keep up the hard work, so wish me luck, as I pursue my own “success”.