Maddie's Mission Zero Waste: 2018 Recap & Lessons Learned

Happy New Year Waste Warriors!


I realize it’s April, but it’s also been quite some time since my last post. Since then, I’ve completed my zero waste year and have oh so many tidbits of knowledge and insight from my year of walking the walk, so to speak.

While navigating the way through my zero waste year, I learned a great deal. Leading into it, I was under the impression I was living a pretty zero waste lifestyle already – which, I suppose holds true when my usual low-waste lifestyle is compared with the average 4.48 lbs of waste generated per person per day, as estimated by the USEPA in 2015.

However, all things considered, the full year of zero waste was one of my greatest personal challenges to date. I’m going to be honest with you; there were times when I wanted to give up, times when I cheated, and times I knowingly ‘wish-cycled’[1]. The times I cheated were mostly in professional situations where it would’ve been messy and weird had I not accepted the non-recyclable wax-lined paper tray my meal was served in, etc., but still…

Not only was the zero waste year a challenge in practicing conscious consumerism, and quite frankly, responsibility, but it was also a challenge mentally and emotionally. I had to be completely prepared with my reusable gear every single day, and vigilant to refuse single-use items in any situation. This often meant having to carry a backpack rather than travel light with a handbag, and also very often meant having to explain myself and my reusable tools to those with whom I was around.  

From this, I’ve grown evermore used to spreading the gospel of zero waste, which I was/am more than happy to do to anyone interested. It also made me realize how little many of those that work outside the environmental movement tend to know about ocean plastics and I can’t even tell you how many times in the past year I’ve explained what a “gyre” is. But, I digress… for more on ocean plastics and the 5 gyres, I implore you to visit our friends at

All in all, I’m exceedingly grateful for the enlightenment my zero waste year has granted me. Although I’ve chosen not to continue the strict zero waste regimen into 2019, I have adopted many new habits and will work hard to keep them permanent lifestyle changes. I will also continue to spread the zero waste gospel to any open ear, and will try to use my social media accounts as a platform for zero waste products and lifestyle hacks. I will also continue to write these blog posts, however infrequent they may be.

To wrap this up, see below for a list of some of the most important changes and hacks I gained from my year of zero waste.

Lessons Learned:

1.     Meal prep whenever possible! Whether that’s preparing whole meals and freezing them to simply throw on the stove for a few minutes when you get home, or cutting up the vegetables and cooking up that bulk bin rice the night before for a quick and easy stir fry, you’ll be glad you prepped (and a lot less HANGRY). This is especially true for office workers and those that frequent the gym after work. The last thing you want to do at 9PM after a long day at work followed by a solid sweat sesh at the gym is to rehydrate and boil your dried bulk bin beans or spend time cutting/sautéing up vegetables for that night’s meal at like.

2.     In this similar line, DO NOT grocery shop after hitting the gym either. You’ll end up purchasing whatever will most quickly find it’s way into your gullet, such as a can of soup or a jar of pickles.. that last one may be just me, but you get the picture. Since you’re unable to get most take out options when zero waste (Styrofoam take-out containers), or buy prepared quick meals from the freezer section (plastic freezer bags), meal prepping in advance of the gym sesh will help ensure you’re fueling up with well-balanced, zero waste meals.

3.     Get used to bringing your backpack of zero waste gear everywhere you go, unless you care to shove as much into your purse as possible with some things like your reusable water bottle and/or thermos to be left up to your hands. When things are in your hands, you’re more likely to lose them or leave them in your Uber/on the table at the restaurant/etc.

4.     Embracing a zero waste diet, it’s likely you’ll eat a great deal of produce, stir fry dishes, curries, vegan soups, smoothies, eggs, beans, and nuts. Although this may sound somewhat restrictive, flip that frown upside down and think of how it encourages the opportunity to get creative with new spices, vegetables, grains, and recipes you’ve never tried.

5.     Lastly, the most important lesson (IMO) is that a zero waste lifestyle is not going to happen overnight; it’s a transition. Switching out all things in your kitchen, bathroom, etc. to be zero waste is costly, takes copious hours of research, and for some things, a trial and error period is necessary (see my post on zero waste laundry soap, for example). Behavior change and adopting new habits takes time. Be patient with yourself, and instead of being guilty failures, let any mishaps or accidents be constructive learning experiences that help you grow to be the best environmentalist you’ve ever been.

Have you ever tried a zero waste month or year? We’d love to hear how it went! Are there any other topic areas of zero waste you’d like me to write about, or any burning questions you’d like answered? Tell us on Twitter and/or Instagram at @globalgreen !

BTW, here’s my 2018 waste encapsulated by 2 overloaded jars:


[1] Wish-cycling is the practice of discarding items into the recycling bin you hope or ‘wish’ are recyclable. Unfortunately, this often usually leads to contamination of recycling loads, as well as safety issues for workers at materials recovery facilities where your waste is sorted.

Madisen Gittlin