For seven days, I tried living off as little waste as possible.
For months, I had been feeling guilty each time I grabbed plastic forks, knives and paper containers at my office cafeteria, only to dump them in the trash a half-hour later. It had become a daily routine — eat, waste, feel bad; eat, waste, feel bad.
The habit was so contrary to so much of what I believe. I grew up in California in a family of scrap metal recyclers, and I've always recycled. I shop with a tote bag and freeze food that's going bad. Then I came across people on the internet such as Lauren Singer and Jonathan Levy who were living a "zero waste" lifestyle, documenting it and gaining followers. The movement is occupied mostly by millennials, many of whom claim their annual output of trash fits into a small mason jar. They make it sound like something anyone could do.
So I challenged myself to minimize my own waste for a week.
I carried a backpack filled with metal silverware, a washcloth (to serve as my napkin) and various reusable containers. I avoided single-use take-out containers and paper receipts and pushed through thirst and exhaustion when I wanted water or coffee but forgot my reusable jug. I limited my grocery shopping to package-free items and collected my leftover food scraps for composting.
Even though I'm already pretty environmentally conscious, as a millennial living in New York City who rarely cooks, it turned out to be much more rigorous than I envisioned.
Here's how it went and what I learned.