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Zero Waste Redemption: How I Fit a Year of My Trash in a Mason Jar

By Ella Hester
Jan. 29, 2018

When I went zero waste at the beginning of 2017, I wasn't just embarking on a fresh start: I was literally running from the law! I needed a clean, new lifestyle--preferably one that involved minimizing any evidence of my existence.

One year in, I've decided to release my trash mason jar from its home in the safe buried in my garden in order to reflect on my successes and failures in this new life I've created for myself. No matter how hard we zero-wasters try, there are always some items you can't recycle or compost for fear that they'll pollute the Earth in a landfill, or make it into the hands of the police.

Mason jar of trash

Photo by Aubrey Christofersen

Below are the full contents of my mason jar, warts and all.

1) Credit Cards

Damn these plastic devils sent here to destroy our planet and give undeniable evidence of my whereabouts on November 6th, 2016 at 12:05 p.m.! While it's no one's business, I'll have you know that I was at a friend's baby shower in Bridgeport, Connecticut, NOT at that Stop 'N Shop in New Haven. Which brings me to my next item!

2) Receipts

At first glance receipts might seem like the poster child for composting, but be wary, my fellow environmental warriors; they are not what they seem. What looks like innocent paper is actually violated with a glossy coating, ink made with harsh chemicals, and the fact that I bought a lighter and ten gallons of gasoline at that Stop 'N Shop in New Haven.

3) Plastic Clothing Tags and Wires

Did you know that clothing tags are made of synthetic materials, including plastics, even if the clothing itself is made of natural fibers? I always cut them out, but wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to contribute to the destruction of the environment every time we bought clothing? And wouldn't be nice if I was able to safely dispose of evidence that places me at the Salvation Army in Torrington, Connecticut, buying clothes to create a disguise and reinvent myself? Pat on the back for thrifting! But reminder to self that hand-me-downs or a stranger's unattended clothes are the safer option in the future.

4) Construction Paper

Lastly, we come to my most incriminating, yet most compact and minimal item! If one were to unfold these pieces of construction paper they might perceive cut outs in the shape of letters that were used to write a ransom note, infamous all over Connecticut for its crudeness and cruelty. But they would be sorely mistaken. Instead, it is merely the remnants of my holiday crafting. My "unconventional snowflakes" might seem disturbing to some, but what is the point of crafting if you do not starkly express all of your most extreme emotions for everyone else to see? However, in the excitement of my crafting, I wasn't thinking of the harm the color dyes in the construction paper would do to my impeccably-maintained compost bin. I am thankful to have outgrown this wasteful and damning pastime.

Going zero-waste has taught me a lot about my (new) self and the power of the individual to make a small but significant dent in the fight against climate change. Despite a few hiccups along the way, I am a changed person. Having shed my material possessions, name, and profession, I can either fade into the void or go rummaging through my neighbor's recycling bin for a new identity altogether! Here's hoping to another trash free year!