I’ve written a lot about the statements and choices that we as Bowdoin students make, but all of these things are visible. Parts of our lives are less obvious, but are just as much of a part of our impact. Every day, most of us throw things away, and our trash vanishes almost magically. But trash builds up, and it turns out a lot of it can be avoided. I decided to spend Monday living as I typically would but without throwing anything in a trash can and trying to put as little as possible in the recycling. I kept a journal throughout the day to see just how small my feet could be (If you really want to know, I wear a kids’ size five).

7:40 a.m.: I wake up, only pressing snooze once. I brush my teeth with a recycled plastic toothbrush, wash my hair with a shampoo bar that came wrapped in paper and put in my contacts.

8:15 a.m.: I walk to breakfast at Moulton. I forgo a muffin since its wrapping is disposable, instead eating oatmeal and grapefruit. Both of these things can be bought without packaging. I fill my stainless steel insulated Klean Kanteen with coffee and almond milk and drink a Mason jar of water as I catch up on some reading and study for a quiz.

9:29 a.m.: I go to my campus job in the music department, where I notice how much paper is recycled. We recycle paper all over campus, but recycling takes a lot of energy and isn’t always the most eco-friendly solution.

11:23 a.m.: Time for class—I take my quiz with a mechanical pencil that can be refilled. In class, I use Moleskine notebooks, which have paper covers and are sewn with thread so that they can be composted or recycled if I ever decide I want to get rid of my notes (which of course I never, ever will). Anticipating funny looks, I blow my nose into a handkerchief instead of a tissue, but no one notices.

12:57 p.m.: I go back to Moulton for lunch. Express lunch can be a huge source of waste, but this is easy to avoid. Look for foods packaged in rigid recyclable containers or paper rather than plastic wrap, keep a metal utensil in your bag instead of using disposable plastic cutlery (which breaks all the time anyway) and avoid chip bags that will go straight to the landfill by selecting a piece of fruit instead. Consider refilling your water bottle rather than grabbing a can or carton. Packing lunch in a reusable bag or refusing a (fragile) paper bag is easy to do.

2:20 p.m.: I print out some readings before class. Although paper takes a lot of water, energy and trees to produce, I struggle to understand things that I read on my laptop, and my professor doesn’t allow computers in class anyway. Deciding to prioritize my education, I print my readings and paper clip them instead of stapling. At the end of the semester, I’ll recycle the paper and reuse the paper clip.

4:03 p.m.: I head to the Union to do some work before dinner. I want a cup of tea, and although teabags without staples can be composted, Bowdoin doesn’t have compost receptacles in campus buildings and the tea in the dining hall comes wrapped in plastic. The most zero-waste option is to use loose-leaf tea, which can be bought unpackaged at many stores. I keep a container of loose green tea in my bag that I put in a tea infuser and I ask the Café to fill my insulated mug with hot water.

4:49 p.m.: After checking my mailbox (no mail), I swing by an informational table in the Union offering stickers, flyers and buttons. Although I love stickers as much as anyone, I decide that taking a sticker isn’t a good idea since the backing will have to go in the trash. I also take a picture of the flyer with my phone to keep the information, since I’ll just recycle the flyer anyway.

5:45 p.m.: I meet friends for dinner. Since I typically use about nine paper napkins at every meal (I’m sure I’m not the only one), I bring a cloth napkin to dinner. Despite my roommate laughing at me, it’s not a huge inconvenience to use my own napkin, and I feel pretty fancy not scrubbing my face with paper after a huge bite of dessert.

8:26 p.m.: I take a break from studying to order a green juice. (It’s nearing the end of the semester, and I still have Polar Points; something is wrong.) As you probably know if you’ve seen any of the multiple videos about plastic pollution, disposable straws can hurt animals and pollute the ocean as well as take up space in landfills. I love drinking out of straws, and because of my sympathy for turtles, I’ve carried a reusable stainless steel straw with me for over a year now. Put into a jar instead of a plastic cup, my juice is waste-free.

12 a.m.: It’s time for bed. I’m exhausted but ready for another day of the zero-waste lifestyle tomorrow.  

Living a zero-waste lifestyle isn’t always easy; medications and other necessities often come wrapped in disposable packaging, and sometimes you just want to get a sticker from the Union. But implementing one or two of these simple ideas, or just refusing a disposable straw, does make a difference.