Every year our organization celebrates America Recycles Day, a nationally-recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling. We believe recycling right is an important practice that makes a positive impact on our planet.
However, Keep Omaha Beautiful wanted to take this opportunity to focus not only on recycling but waste reduction as a whole.
We wanted to challenge you to stop and actually think about waste. Why is it here, and what can you do with it?
Recycling is one of the ways in which we can reduce waste, but it’s not the solution to all waste. Recycling can give a second life to some materials, but it’s just half of the equation to creating a more sustainable world. Reducing and reusing first and foremost are truly the most effective ways to save our natural resources, protect the environment, and save money.
With this in mind, we invited Omaha to join us for the 24-Hour Zero Waste Challenge. We asked you to commit to discovering ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle everything you consume in one day to avoid creating waste.
Attempting to go zero waste for 24 hours can be tricky, but it makes you aware of everything you consume, purchase, and use on a daily basis, and how often these things end up in the trash. That was our goal, to get you to think about your trash differently…and it worked!
We were thrilled to receive a number of photos and stories from people who participated in the challenge.
“Hey there! I’m so glad that I came across your email about the Zero Waste Challenge. I’ve always been interested in decreasing my amount of waste and being conscious of my impact and this challenge was a perfect way to get started on my journey!
In the 24 hours, I think I managed to only throw away two things, a Kleenex and wax paper that was wrapped around some butter. I did some research on composting and dedicated a container for it in my kitchen and found a new place to compost. It’s great to learn new things that better help the environment in any way.
I happened to be with my family and friends that day and shared so many tips and tricks to a zero waste lifestyle. Hopefully, they will take them into consideration and remember that their waste is their responsibility. Thanks for inspiring me to make changes." - Kara
Many participants were excited about the opportunity to go all in and make a conscious effort to not only end the day with as little waste as possible but invest in practices that would lead them towards a zero waste lifestyle.
Like Kara, Alyssa made an effort to limit her waste during the 24-hour period, but also consider what would end up as waste in the future.
“I tried to think about things I was using that I maybe didn't waste yesterday but will be wasted in the future. My biggest challenge is toothpaste, I'd love to make my own but when I read how to make it I ran into a lot of conflicting information. I have some more work to do to get to the bottom of this!” – Alyssa
Others took this challenge as an opportunity to reflect on the sustainable steps they’ve made over time that have had an impact on their daily lives.
“Since I started composting my average amount of landfill contributions have gone exponentially down. Even what I produce at work and play I try to bring back to my apartment and properly dispose of. I buy bulk, plastic-free vegetables, make my own toothpaste, deodorant, and face wash. I started using the hefty energy bags and I fill one up once every three months or so.
In the past 28 days, I have produced 7.2 pounds of trash. This is also about 95% of pet waste. So I am proud to say that Hooters (my cat) and I produce on average a little more than a quarter-pound of landfill contributions each day. According to the EPA, 4.40 pounds is the rough average daily waste per person. Ouch. I am once again very very happy to say that I am not average. Here's the biggest thing to always remember: The Earth wasn't given to us by our parents, it is loaned to us by our children.” - Paige
Daisy shared with us the mantra she’s set for herself, words that guide her everyday decisions.
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Repurpose are practices I strive to achieve daily. They are words constantly bouncing around in my head. I like it that way. I like to think that I do my part. Is it perfect? Heck no! Is the effort there? I try, but there is so much room for improvement. I try to encourage others to do the same.” – Daisy
As we expected, the 24-Hour Zero Waste Challenge didn’t come without challenges. The fact is, going completely zero waste is difficult in a world where single-use packaging and disposable materials are cheap, convenient, and widely used.
“Produce and most products I buy from the grocery store are almost impossible! Even when choosing the least packaged options there is still some waste.” – Kristine
“I work in a local hospital. The plastic usage is out of control. Due to pressure from insurance companies to make a healthcare setting at less risk for spreading infections, most items are now disposable. Zero waste at hospitals today is impossible.” – Joyce
“I was doing really well, and even brought my stainless steel to-go container to a restaurant over lunch, until I had to pick up posters for work. The custom order had been shrink-wrapped in plastic. I know I can place the plastic in the Hefty EnergyBag, but then the plastic will be broken down by pyrolysis and burned as low-grade diesel fuel - releasing carbon into the atmosphere. I find it nearly impossible to go zero waste when single-use plastics are so widely used. I look forward to the day when the burden of zero waste is placed on the companies packaging the materials.” - Brittany
It can be frustrating running into problems like these. It’s true that manufacturers and producers need to take responsibility to reduce waste at the source. The good news is that YOU have the power to help make big changes happen.
As a consumer, you have your voice and purchasing power. Speak about what’s important to you. Have conversations about waste with your friends and family. Let the companies and brands you love know what you want to see change. Choose to support companies who are using sustainable practices, shop secondhand, and invest in your local businesses. The only way to truly move towards a zero waste future is by working together.
What we asked of participants in this challenge was to pursue progress, not perfection. Yes, it takes time, planning, and thoughtfulness, but taking small steps and making smart decisions will add up over time, ultimately benefiting our community and the environment. We hope you are encouraged and inspired by this challenge. We hope that you will replicate the things that you learned and will lead others to make sustainable changes.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anne Marie Bonneau
Alyssa BeeBee was selected at random as the winner of this special prize kit on Thursday, November 21st. Not only did we love that Alyssa took the Zero Waste Challenge head-on, but we were happy to see how she chooses to reduce her impact on a daily basis. Alyssa rode her bike to our office to claim her prize and when we offered her some of the snacks we were sharing, she eagerly reached into her bag to grab her reusable plate and cup that she carries with her everywhere. Alyssa has been working towards a zero waste lifestyle over the past two years and she’s looking forward to trying out some of the new products from the prize kit like the toothpaste tablets from Exist Green and the Swedish dishcloth from The Dapper Dwelling. Thank you, Alyssa!
Looking for more ways to reduce your waste? Check out these local and online resources below.