EcoFellows (try to) Live Zero Waste for a Week

When thinking of living a zero waste lifestyle, mainstream media pictures a mason jar with years of trash stuffed inside. This is a popular approach for bloggers who, after maximizing recycling, donation, compost, and purchasing reduction opportunities, provide a visualization of their impact by fitting the leftover waste in a jar. We wrote a blog on how this extreme zero waste lifestyle might not be the most accessible way to reduce waste as individuals. The associated cost, time, local infrastructure, and location are some of the most notable barriers. Taking this information into account, our EcoFellows – Becky (BK), Morgan (ML), Olivia (OH), Jonathan (JR), and Natasha (NN) – challenged themselves to live zero waste for a week to see what it was like! The goals were to test the feasibility of living the stereotypical zero waste mason jar lifestyle as young professionals in Western Massachusetts, as well as understand the challenges and successes for each person.

For seven days, each EcoFellow kept a list of all of the waste they produced, making note of what could theoretically be composted and recycled in our area. Throughout the challenge, they actively thought about reducing waste and made changes accordingly. Some of the areas of waste tracked included food and associated packaging, hygiene products, receipts, and cleaning materials.

The responses below to speak to each fellow’s experience. All five live in Northampton, so the physical infrastructure and location are relatively standardized. This area has multiple stores with bulk sections, a plastic bag ban, and a progressive mindset towards sustainability and environmental issues in general, which many of them found to be beneficial during their zero waste week.

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The EcoFellowship Experience: Olivia Horwitz

The last semester of college was a very nerve-wracking, yet exciting time for me. I was overwhelmed with what I would do after college and how I was going to make it as a young professional in the environmental field. I was studying Environmental and Urban Studies with a focus in food systems and agriculture at Bard College. I knew I wanted to go into the environmental field, but I had no idea what I wanted to focus on. Prior to the EcoFellowship, I worked on farms, greenhouses, and waste reduction initiatives on campus, yet I was fearful I didn’t have enough work experience or wasn’t qualified enough to work in a professional environment. I originally thought I would go into food waste prevention. However, during my time here at CET I have been able to explore different sectors in the environmental field, causing me to shift my focus from food waste to building material waste. CET has a retail store, EcoBuilding Bargains, which is the biggest reuse store in Western New England, and being able to work at the store combines my passion for the environment and sustainable building practices while also including my strong interest in interior design.

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The EcoFellowship Experience: Morgan Laner

About halfway through my senior year of college, I felt slightly panicked. I was completing a degree in environmental studies and sociology at Rollins College and realized that I had no idea what my next steps were. In this period of uncertainty, I came across the Center for EcoTechnology’s EcoFellowship program. It was the perfect opportunity – the ability to explore my options through data-driven and meaningful projects and work with likeminded, empowered people. Once I began, I learned that the term ‘professional development’ wasn’t just a buzzword that CET used to recruit potential fellows – I actually got to conduct informational interviews, take tours of facilities, and explore passions outside of my direct responsibilities as part of my paid work day. Throughout these past five months, I’ve realized the benefit of the EcoFellowship for my own personal growth and am looking forward to furthering my knowledge and interest in waste reduction in order to solidify my career aspirations.

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The EcoFellowship Experience: Jonathan Ruiz

Hello! My name is Jonathan Ruiz and I am an EcoFellow at the Center for EcoTechnology. I graduated last April from the University of Michigan with a degree in Environmental Science. My desire to work in the environment started when I took an Environmental Sustainability class in high school. From then on I wanted to learn everything I could about environmental practices. My senior year of college I went back and forth on how I could make an impact, but also find a career I would enjoy being a part of. Upon finding the EcoFellowship, I knew I had to apply since it was everything I was looking for. Over the course of the last five months I have developed a plethora of professional skills: project management, direct installations, and outreach and education development. In the coming months, I hope to find more ways I can make an impact in the natural and built environment. The skills I have attained so far, through the EcoFellowship, have helped me progress not only as a professional, but as an individual.

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The EcoFellowship Experience: Becky Kalish

Hello! My name is Becky Kalish and I am a Communications EcoFellow at the Center for EcoTechnology. I graduated last May from Oberlin College with degrees in Environmental Studies and Viola Performance. I have loved living in Northampton and being surrounded by people both passionate about the environment as well as music and the arts! The EcoFellowship has allowed me to explore the role of marketing in an environmental setting, and work on the best ways to communicate our messages to a public audience. From attending press conference events in Rhode Island, to appearing on live television, to creating promotional graphics and flyers, every day at work is different and I never stop gaining new skills. It is exciting to continue learning how the environment connects to so many other aspects of life—hotels realizing how food waste diversion both helps the environment and results in smoother business operations, homeowners incorporating upcycled building materials into their home, and so much more. 

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