The 8-Week Challenge
Fall is my favorite season of the year. Everything is decorated, from streets and trees to homes and businesses. Not just by us, but also by Mother Nature. Beautiful colors are everywhere, from the trees that change colors to fruits and vegetables that get harvested before the winter.
I love going outside and at the same time I love being inside, cosied up on the couch with a book and my cats curled up next to me. The fragrance of spices, baking or cooking are following me everywhere, from my neighbors kitchen window and the grocery store, to gift stores, restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores.
This is probably the busiest season filled with cooking and baking, parties and family visits. It is also possibly the most wasteful time of the year, with all the packaging that we pick up whenever we purchase groceries, gifts, and take-out dinners.
I would love to challenge and inspire you all to set a goal to reduce packaging this season, if only for a short 8 weeks. This is the season of giving, so why not give back, not only to our planet (by not giving to the landfills) but also to ourselves and our communities.
Below is the 8 week challenge. Be as vigilant during these weeks as possible. If you have to make multiple trips to do the right thing, make the trips. Aim to make it through without cheating. And when you’re done, let me know how it went.
Week one: Go shopping as you usually would and collect all waste materials (excluding food scraps) in a trash bag that you take a photo of at the end of your first week. Print out the photo and post it on your fridge. Store away clean produce plastic bags in one or two small pouch type bags. Zipper coin wallets, or even a pocket from an old pair of pants that you turn into a mini bag will work, or use an old eye glass case. Throw away your trash and recycle everything that you can.
Week two & three: Start this week with clean trash bins all over your house. Put two small reusable bags in your purse/bag that you take to work every day. Hang two more bags on your door handle at home so you can remember to take it with you when you leave the house to go to the groceries. If you have two more bags, put them in your car conveniently in the glove box, or in the pouch behind your seat or if you ride a bike, put the bags in your bike basket if you have one.
Every time you buy groceries, you will have three places to grab reusable bags from. From your front door, your purse/bag, and from your car/bike basket. If you walk into the store and forgot the bags, turn back around and skip the shopping until you get your bags. Do this for two weeks. Commit to not buying anything unless you have your own bags. If you purchase smaller items and don’t have your bags, carry the items in your arms, stuff your jacket, and your pockets, but refuse to bag anything at the store in paper or plastic.
At the end of week two and three, take a photo of your waste that you accumulated. Print out the photos and mark them with the number of weeks that you are into this experiment (here it would be week 2 & 3). Discard the trash after you take the photo and put the printed image on the fridge, below the photo of the first week. Recycle everything that is recyclable.
Week four and five: You now are probably getting used to carrying your own reusable bag, so I’d like for you to start using the plastic produce bags that you put in a small pouch (or whatever you ended up putting your plastic produce bags into). Place the plastic bags into one of the reusable bags, each. One in one of the bags by the door, one in your purse, and one in one of the bags in your car. When you go shopping, put your produce into these reused plastic bags. If you buy hard produce, like apples, cabbage, pears, etc. you don’t need to bag those. You can place these in your canvas bag towards the top so they don’t get squished. Bag only the soft produce and raw meat. And don’t bag produce that is already bagged.
When you get home, empty the produce bags and stash them away in the pouches so you can reuse them again next time. The plastic bag that had meat in it, you should recycle, to avoid any contamination. Once the bag becomes dirty, and gritty, recycle it as well. (I’ve been reusing these clear plastic bags for months and it serves the purpose of carrying my groceries from the store to my fridge just fine. The produce is in them no longer than 30 minutes.) If you forget your plastic bags, pick up your produce next time you grocery shop, even if it means going home in order to get the bags. (I know this will use up gas and we could argue what is better or worst environmentally, but this is important for the sake of the exercise to train yourself to remember next time).
The more I’m aware of how much plastic is out there, I’m reminded how silly it is to put a few apples, tomatoes, bananas, etc. into a bag for only 30 minutes and then throw that perfectly clean and good bag away at home. It just doesn’t make sense at all anymore why we would do that, but I guess it is a habit that is difficult to break.
At the end of week four and five, take a photo of your waste that you accumulated. Print out the photos and mark them with the number of weeks that you are into this experiment (here it would be week 4 & 5). Discard the trash after you take the photo and put the printed image on the fridge, below the photos of the first 3 weeks. Recycle everything that is recyclable.
Week six and seven: Hopefully the first month of this exercise has been helpful in raising your awareness of the amount of trash that accumulates around you at home. Week six and seven are possibly the most difficult because now you will start looking at packaging differently and will notice how hard it is to get away from extra baggage. Continue taking your reusable bags and the reused plastic bags to the store with you and when you shop during week six and seven, try to buy things that are not packaged in anything, especially plastic.
Buy loose carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, celery, etc. and put them in your own reusable produce bag. Buy beverages in glass or in aluminum can containers, not in plastic. Buy butter that is packed in paper, not in plastic. Buy milk in cardboard or in glass. Get your fresh meats and cheese at the deli wrapped in paper, not plastic. (If they don’t, find a grocery store that does. I buy fresh lunch meat and cheese at a local mom and pop store because the chain grocery stores package their deli product in plastic.)
At office supply stores, gift stores, or coffee shops, buy things that are packaged in paper (recycled paper that is wrapped in paper, not plastic. Greeting cards that are loose, not in a plastic bag. Fresh food instead of packaged.) and when you eat somewhere, ask for a ceramic cup or glass, for real silverware not plasticware, and use wood stirrers instead of plastic. Buy paper gift wraps and paper bows for gifts and if you host a party and don’t have time to clean dishes, serve on paper plates and get chopsticks and ask your guests to bring their own mug. Otherwise serve on china and treat your guests like kings and queens!
Be vigilant. You only have to do this exercise for two weeks. Pay attention to products that are not made out of plastic. Notice sustainable gifts and foods. This is very difficult and it can be frustrating. But stick with it. You will walk into the holidays stronger and more confident, I guarantee that!
At the end of week six and seven, take a photo of your waste that you accumulated. Print out the photos and mark them with the number of weeks that you are into this experiment (here it would be week 6 & 7). Discard the trash after you take the photo and put the printed image on the fridge, below the photos of the first 5 weeks. Recycle everything that is recyclable.
Week eight: You are almost at the end of the two-month experiment. Woohoo! By now, you are probably seeing a reduction and a difference in your trash. More paper and glass and much less plastic. Now the fun week begins, where you can put your acting chops to good use.
This week’s challenge is to leave any packaging that is possible at the store. Don’t take anything home that you would not need and you know you would throw away as soon as you unpack your bag.
If you buy some electronics, ask them to cut the package, and leave it at the store. If you have to tell them that it’s hard to do it at home and you don’t have the scissors, or your hands are hurting, do that. Anything you can think of to leave the package behind. Use your acting skills. Tell them you are allergic to plastic, or that you are doing this experiment to reduce waste. Tell them that your landlord doesn’t allow you to bring any waste into the apartment or be the charming green queen or king who can’t break a promise and has to be packaging-free. Tell them you are writing about this or that you are working at the nearest landfill and waste makes you sick. This can be a lot of fun!
If you buy cosmetics, toiletry, magazines, household items, office supplies, jewelry, etc., leave the packaging at the store, unless you like the packaging and will reuse it at home. Let the stores take care of the waste. Let them tell the manufacturer to reduce packaging because customers don’t want it. Inspire the businesses to make better choices, to ask for more sustainable practices from their vendors.
At the end of week eight and the end of your challenge, take a photo of your waste that you accumulated. Print out the photos and mark them with the number of weeks that you are into this experiment (here it would be week 8). Discard the trash after you take the photo and put the printed image on the fridge, below the photos of the first 7 weeks. Recycle everything that is recyclable.
Congratulations! The challenge is done! You did it! And I bet that you reduced your entire household waste by 50-75%! Wow! You did a fantastic job!
If you leave any packaging at the store, if you reuse your bags, if you buy things with the least amount of plastic, you not only help Mother Planet, but you also help reduce the size of landfills, you help reduce pollution, and you also benefit your own health and inspire those around you who see you do the right thing. Your behavior can have a huge impact, as you will motivate two – three friends to act the same way and they will inspire two – three of their friends and the snowball affect will continue beyond your immediate circles.
The year 2010 will come to an end when you are finished with this challenge and maybe you can start the new year continuing on this sustainable path. Maybe you won’t be able to commit all the time or maybe it is too difficult for you to follow this routine. Either way, if you reduced your waste for 8 weeks, you already made a big change and you already accomplished a lot and you should be proud of yourself!
There are so many beautiful things to buy that are not harmful to us or the planet. There is no reason to choose one that is prettier and cheaper over a more sustainable product that might be a bit more expensive, if it will hurt us in the long run.
Be sustainable when you can and ask others to join you. Do this experiment for only 8 weeks and send me photos. Email me in 2011 and let me know how this experiment went for you. I’d love it if you’d join me!
As to my December Article, I need your help:
Do you make, manufacture, distribute, create sustainable products? Are you ready for orders in December? Would love to hear from you!
I’m writing for several online magazines about sustainability, community, and transportation issues, and I would love to offer my readers good choices for their holiday shopping.
If you make or distribute sustainable products, please get in touch with me to be considered for my articles.
What to do:
- product or samples of your product with description
- ingredients in the product (if makeup, cosmetic, or food)
- where it was manufactured (if not in the US, how was it shipped)
- what materials were used to make the product
- description of what makes this product sustainable
- description of recyclability or reusability of product
- history about the product and your involvement
- short bio about you
- link to website(s)
- contact information (email, phone number, and mailing address)
- pricing (and special deals for my readers if you offer)
- customer comments (if any)
Send your product or sample(s) in sustainable packaging to:
5629 Hollywood Blvd. #44
Hollywood, CA 90028
All submissions will be looked at and tested for their sustainability, durability, and might be compared with other products. The samples will not be returned and there is no guarantee that you will be mentioned. All products and/or samples received will be auctioned or given away to a charity of choice.
Deadline: Product(s) must be received by November 15th!
Looking forward to hearing from you! Please, spread the word by forwarding, blogging, Tweeting, Facebook-ing, and Youtube-ing this.
Enci is the publisher of the theatre site Bitter Lemons, the Co-Founder of the Bike Writers Collective, she’s on the board of Bikeside, on the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force, on the SAG Conservatory Committee, and she works with government entities to make Los Angeles more bike-friendly and bike-conscious.
Contact Enci with article suggestions or find her on Twitter, Facebook and other networking sites to connect. When contacting her, please introduce yourself and tell her you read her column in the Networker.