My name is Tippi Thole, and I’ve developed an incurable condition: I’m allergic to plastic. How did this happen, you ask? Like most people, I thought I was doing everything I could to protect the planet. After all, I recycled, composted, drove a hybrid car and bought organic food.
While eating lunch with my son at school one Friday, I noticed how many individually wrapped snacks, yogurt containers, Ziploc bags and drink boxes got thrown away in his lunch group alone. My son agreed it was terrible then said “Yeah, and it’s Zero Waste Friday.” “It is?” I asked. As a school parent, I hadn’t heard about the initiative but thought it was a great idea. Interested in doing more, I got together with another eco-minded mom, and we proposed a Zero Waste Lunch Week to Green Club.
Every Friday we worked with a group of six Green Club kids (including my son) to plan and organize the initiative. We helped them see the importance of focusing on five consecutive days, working with the entire school, sending tips and reminders to parents, informing students of their impact and publicizing the dates in school hallways.
One aspect of the week was a raffle with prizes to incentivize families’ participation. We planned to give kids a ticket for every zero waste lunch they brought to school that week. But the astute group of green kids raised concerns: What if kids ate their single-serve yogurt in the morning then threw away the evidence before lunch? What if parents simply unwrapped granola bars at home and packed them into reusable containers? Wouldn’t that be cheating?! I didn’t have a good answer for them. I said we’d simply need to take the kids at their word because there was no way to know.
The next morning while packing my son’s zero waste lunch, I had an epiphany. The trash-free lunches I’d been packing my son for years weren’t zero waste at all. My kitchen trash can was filling up with plastic as I made his lunch: the plastic wrapper from the cheese I sliced up, the shrink wrap from the cucumber I opened, the recloseable plastic bag from the tortillas I finished … I was (gulp) cheating!
From that day forward, I vowed to live zero waste at home. Without hesitation, my nature-loving son wholeheartedly agreed. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, we were determined to live a plastic-free, zero waste lifestyle — for the planet’s health as well as our own.
One of the first things I did after embarking on our zero waste challenge was adopt a tiny trash can. I reconfigured our kitchen waste sorting so the largest bins would be compost and recycling, and I used what was formerly the bathroom wastebasket as our one and only trash can. This simple change made it easier to make green choices, and it has definitely made my son and me more conscious of our collective trash output!
After taking a close look at what we were throwing away, we realized the vast majority of our household trash was plastic that originated in the kitchen. In three short months, we were able to reduce our weekly household trash from a standard kitchen trash can to a 5-inch tall mason jar. Avoiding food packaging reduced our trash by 80% and cut our recycling in half. Each week our shrinking trash can inspires us to do better the following week. We hope our tiny trash can will inspire you, too. Tiny trash can make a big difference!
You can follow our zero waste journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. When I’m not obsessing about trash, you can find me designing logos and websites as the happy owner of Bright Spot Studio in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Thanks for reading our story!