Less than two months ago, I decided to get serious about my personal carbon footprint. Like many people, I bring my reusable bags to the store and do my best to check the labels on food products — is it organic, is it BPA-free, etc. Deep down, however, I know this is not enough.
After a summer filled with heartbreaking environmental events like the fires in the Amazon and Alaska, massive melting of Greenland’s ice sheets, and another year of record temperatures, I was compelled to make a drastic change in myself by taking steps toward adopting a zero-waste lifestyle. I started a community Facebook page, Zero Waste Santa Clarita, to 1) educate and reinforce my own goals, and 2) help others find zero-waste options and plastic alternatives in Santa Clarita.
Previously, I had stopped working on projects that I care about, because the impending reality of climate change rendered everything else meaningless. I was very depressed, not knowing what I could do about it. About this time, a young woman from Sweden—Greta Thunberg — sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat to meet with leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Summit in September. That it was the time to act hit me straight away.
Now, in the ninth week of transitioning, I’m more familiar with local brands and food options in Santa Clarita. I purchase locally made honey and fresh produce at the Old Town Newhall and College of the Canyons farmers markets, beer in refillable growlers at local breweries in Santa Clarita, and recently I stopped by the new SCV Vegan Exchange Market in its first month.
I frequent the bulk bins at several local grocery stores. There are lots of bulk options that are cheaper, healthier, and free of packaging. I make my own peanut butter. I use washable bamboo towels rather than paper towels for cleaning, for reusable tissues, and as an alternative to cotton swabs. I’m researching the pros and cons of bidet toilet seats vs. toilet paper. Some of the changes I’ve made are temporary until the market offers something better.
The ultimate goal is to maintain an empty trash bin and avoid anything going in the landfill at all costs by finding alternative places to drop off food waste. Things I am unable to recycle locally I am collecting to mail to TerraCycle, a company that researches and implements smart ways to use things like toothpaste tubes and cigarette butts.
When cooking, I make large batches so there is less time and energy in the kitchen. Rather than digging for a recipe, I allow what is in the fridge to guide the next thing I try out. Every choice is focused around decreasing food waste. What ingredients can I buy to combine with stuff in my refrigerator that will soon expire? Do I need to freeze anything that I can’t finish eating? When shopping, I try to buy local or from bulk bins first. If I have to buy packaged food, I choose glass, paper, or metal packaging before plastic. This can be challenge if you are buying for others. I offer alternatives to my family when possible and practice Zero Waste leader Bea Johnson’s five R’s of zero waste — Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.
With the recent outbreak of fires in and around Santa Clarita in October, I am convinced that learning how to live this lifestyle is critical in slowing down the worst impacts of climate change and surviving in a world with depleting resources and food security challenges. While researching, I learned that Santa Clarita is moving toward zero waste emissions and improving waste management collection. However, I am disappointed with the majority of grocery stores, markets, and retailers in Santa Clarita, as they sell an overwhelming amount of single-use plastic, an acutely inefficient byproduct of fossil fuels. On top of this, I see many restaurants that still use Styrofoam… yes, Styrofoam.
This is unacceptable in a world that desperately needs us to drastically reduce our waste, consumption, and plastics, which are overtaking our oceans and waterways, leeching into our food, killing wildlife, contaminating fish and other seafood, and exposing us to serious health risks — not to mention making life on planet Earth more challenging. It is not the sole responsibility of the consumer to solve the problem. Businesses must take action now to implement plastic alternatives.
Their bottom line depends on it.
Lisa M. McDougald lives in Valencia and is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.