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Just Call Me Jar Girl

By Katie Berohn

New York City produces 14 million tons of trash in a year. 14 million tons. That’s equivalent to the weight of 9,368 jumbo jets, 11 Empire State Buildings or 20,000 blue whales. It should come as no surprise, then, that New Yorkers throw away approximately 25 pounds of trash per week (the size of an average 2-year-old)—16 pounds at home and 9 pounds at work.

Recently, more and more people have been adopting a “zero-waste” lifestyle, where they attempt to fit all of their trash (anything that can’t be composted or recycled) into a single mason jar. This not only minimizes their own carbon footprint but also shows others that it can be done. Some people live this way for years, but as someone who knows my own limits, I decided to try a zero-waste lifestyle for one week.

Day 1

I use a face wipe before I go to yoga without even thinking about it, and it becomes the first thing I put in the jar. Later, I begin to make dinner and realize my quinoa burger is wrapped in single use plastic—the second addition to my jar. Why is there so much single use plastic!? My roommate helpfully suggests that I could use a dish towel instead of a paper towel as a napkin for dinner. This is nice, and I take her advice, but now I have more laundry to do.

I realize as I’m scrubbing on body wash in the shower that my loofa is definitely plastic and definitely not recyclable. Thank God I don’t have to try fitting it in the jar.

I swipe toner onto my face as the first step to my skincare routine, and realize that yep, my cotton ball has to go into my jar. I consider forgoing my toner for seven days, but I’m not going to sacrifice my skin, so I’ll have to find a different alternative. It will probably involve more laundry. My jar is criminally small and I already resent it after approximately 5 hours of use.

Day 2

A horrible realization dawns on me at 7 a.m. while I’m making my morning coffee: coffee filters are definitely not zero-waste. I simply cannot go without my morning caffeine, so I choose to invest in a reusable coffee filter, which is five dollars on Amazon. My oatmeal boils over and I instinctively go for a paper towel to clean it, but catch myself and use a sponge instead. Putting my jar in my bag for the day seems weird, but I’m fully committed, so I feel like the millennial version of a bag lady. Jar girl?

Throughout the day, I’m feeling pretty grateful for my reusable water bottle (which I hope to be buried with and keeps my water cold for 24 solid hours). I already consider it one of the best purchases I’ve ever made, but it is a great flex to have when you’re trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle.

Later, I pick up the two children I babysit from school. Their mom instructed me to take them to a bagel shop for lunch. I’m also with a nanny I don’t know, but I have to spend three hours with her and don’t want her to think of me as jar girl. Since I’m not even paying for the bagels and it’s technically the children’s waste, I decide to give myself a pass.

Day 3

Full disclaimer before the final days: I am very, very bad at this. I eat a banana before my morning yoga class to avoid unwrapping any bars. After yoga, however, I run into an issue: I simply refuse to put dripping yoga clothes in my bag with my normal clothes, so I put them in a (recyclable!) plastic bag.

I have to eat breakfast at work, but I put everything in recyclable containers, which feels like a triumph. I quickly realize, however, that my omelette fully permeated the cardboard container I put it in so it’s not recyclable anymore. It definitely won’t fit in my mason jar, either. At lunch I eat a wrap and also throw out the wax paper it comes with, because again, it won’t fit in my jar. At this point I’m acting like someone who ate a donut on a diet and says “better luck tomorrow!” before going on to eat McDonalds for dinner.

Tough looks for your gal today. Thinking of the cardboard box and the wax paper (fallen soldiers), I promise myself that from here on out I will bring my own reusable containers to work.

I go to a friend’s apartment where we drink beer and eat pizza. I start to rinse out my bottles and ask for recycling but he tells me he doesn’t have any. I can’t believe it. “But the Earth is dying! We should all be jar people!” My friends don’t hesitate to point out that I haven’t been the most shining example. I rinse the bottles and set them aside for recycling anyway.

Day 4

Today is the day I celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, and I feel like being Irish gives me a pass (I do not deserve one and this is a thin excuse at best). I make sure no bars give me straws with my drinks, but I run into trouble when my friends and I get fast food. Being slightly intoxicated, I don’t even think about my trash jar (at this point, I am a trash jar). I eat fries and chicken strips without abandon and throw the remnants straight into the trash.

I go home and nap. When I wake up, I meet my friend to get ice cream, where I order an IV worth of liquids because in my still intoxicated state, I’m pretty sure that I will actually die if I don’t order a large Sprite, a large water and a medium milkshake (again, tough looks for your gal). I go to bed and vow to be better tomorrow!

Day 5

I examine the lint trap in the dryer after doing laundry more than I ever have before. Does lint count as waste? How do people that live like this do laundry? Scratch that—how do people that live like this live in general?

I eat a cheese stick and put my plastic in my jar. I take off my nail polish to put on a fresh coat and put the cotton balls in my jar too. I clip my nails and wonder if I’m supposed to put that in the jar too, but the mere thought makes me want to vomit so I choose not to. I begin packing for my trip to Kansas City.

Day 6

I wake up early to catch a flight. I feel like I may have a slight cold (I’m sure it wasn’t at all influenced by my Saint Patrick’s Day shenanigans) and take a multivitamin instead of Emergen-C to avoid any single-use packaging. The joke is on me because I violently remember that taking multivitamins on an empty stomach makes me vomit (we can dissect this information about me at a different point). To counteract this, I grab the quickest thing possible—a granola bar wrapped in single-use plastic. Into the jar it goes. My trash jar goes through security without a hitch, but I can’t help wondering if TSA is judging me. I fill up my water bottle before boarding my flight.

Day 7

To be honest, the last day was a wash. It’s almost impossible to get anything in Kansas City without singl- use plastic, and frankly, I didn’t see a single recycling can anywhere.

My verdict? Living a zero-waste lifestyle is incredibly challenging. In order to succeed, I think you need to be willing to radically change your lifestyle, be constantly prepared for any unforeseen circumstances life might throw at you (like a multivitamin that makes you want to throw up, or an Irish holiday) and be immune to strangers’ judgement.

It’s sad that we produce so much trash in a week, but the real sadness is that municipal trash (like, what people produce) only makes up about 3 percent of solid waste in America. That means that 97 percent comes from industrial processes, which means that maybe the entire country should have a jar, and you should judge me less for ordering three different drinks in plastic containers on Saint Patrick’s Day.