Did you know that one crucial way to detox your home and bodies is to detox what you throw away? Some of our garbage will persist in our environment for decades, and some for centuries.
Our oceans now have five "garbage patches," or areas of dense garbage that aggregate from swirls of currents. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is commonly referenced, and described as twice the size of Texas.
A 2018 article on PBS News Hour(1) estimated that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains this much waste: 87,000 tons (16 times more than previous estimates), and containing more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. The 60 Minutes video below shares more insight.
These garbage patches are one among too many examples of why we should become more mindful of what—and how much—we buy. Ultimately, microplastics (plastic pieces less than five millimeters long) and chemicals from our waste contaminate our food supply, drinking water, air, dust, and bodies. So an essential way to detox our bodies and environment is to reduce our waste.
Zero waste lifestyle expert Abby K. Cannon, JD, RD agreed to help! In our interview below, Abby shares insights and tips on simple ways to reduce your waste.
An attorney turned dietitian, Abby received a degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and her law degree from Brooklyn Law School. While practicing law in New York City, she realized her true passions were for nutrition, wellness, and the environment. So she returned to school to become a dietitian.
Her food philosophy marries sustainability and nutrition in an approachable, non-judgmental way. Check out Abby's website at www.abbysfoodcourt.com. She created Abby’s Food Court to make a healthy, low waste life approachable, doable, and FUN. Her goal: To upgrade your health (and life) with hacks that are low-impact to your lifestyle and high-impact to the planet!
I hope you enjoy my Q&A with Abby below.
Throughout college, law school, and my first job as an attorney, I had a very unhealthy lifestyle. I was incredibly stressed out and was not eating the most nutritious foods (hello diet coke, Easy Mac & pizza…) or exercising. I made a few improvements to my lifestyle during law school, but when I was practicing law, I knew I needed to make bigger changes to optimize my performance. I started researching nutrition and wellness and worked on myself to improve my health and to help manage stress. My passion was born from there!
Then, while I was studying nutrition formally, I reconnected with my environmentally conscious self. I started making small changes to my lifestyle to reduce my footprint and realized that, in doing so, I was living my healthiest life. Using the lens of low waste living to guide my choices made making the healthiest choices so much easier. I’m incredibly inspired to share how low waste living can provide the motivation needed to make the choices that most support our health without having to always focus on the food. It’s quite liberating.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the United States, we create 4.48 pounds of trash (“municipal solid waste”) per person per day. This number comes from an analysis from data from 2015 and reflected an increase from previous studies (from 2014 and 1990). We’re on trend to increase the amount of waste produced each year. This is unsurprising as convenience options expand (i.e., packaged food and snacks and online shopping). For some perspective, in 1960, Americans generated only 2.68 pounds per person per day. Of all the waste produced only about one third of it is recycled and worldwide, less than 10% of plastic is actually recycled.
For the most part, we’re completely oblivious to the amount of waste we produce and the effect that waste has on our health and the environment. For most of us in New York (and around the country), we throw our trash down the trash shoot or leave it at the end of the driveway. It’s whisked away and we don’t give it another thought. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s therefore extremely easy to ignore the massive problem of waste.
We’re also demanding convenience more than ever before. Everyone wants food, products, clothing, etc. fast and delivered directly to us. We’re also being told that we don’t have time to do anything and that our lives require ultra-convenience. Yes, we’re really busy, but it’s also incredibly important to avoid accepting the notion that we don’t have time to do anything!
Changing behavior requires effort and work. There’s no way around that. We’re naturally great at (and suckers for!) short term programs that claim to deliver long-lasting changes, i.e., 5 day cleanses, 21 days to a hard core, etc. We can commit and go hard core for a few weeks, but eventually these intense programs don’t last. We do too much too fast and don’t integrate these new skills into our lives in meaningful ways. What I’ve seen with myself and my clients is that taking small, manageable steps toward a goal is the ONLY way to successfully achieve long-lasting change. Once we tackle these small changes and make the healthiest, least wasteful choices our default, we don’t give them another thought. We have to give ourselves grace and understand that nothing happens over-night and we’ll never be “perfect.”
We also have to be willing to make sacrifices and stop believing that sacrifices are bad. Sometimes we can’t have our cake and eat it too (in the exact way that we want it). Sometimes a cookie looks really enticing and has amazing ingredients and I have to stop myself from having it because it’s wrapped in plastic. This might seem like a sacrifice, but I have a greater purpose. I want to live in a way that aligns with my values and that desire makes sacrifices feel amazing. We have to be willing to accept that our actions have really horrible effects on our health and the environment and then choose to not ignore those facts when faced with making choices.
When I first learned about zero waste living, I was really excited about it, but also incredibly overwhelmed. There seemed to be so much that I was doing “wrong” and so much that I needed to improve. When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to do nothing because our stories, or self-limiting beliefs, hold us back. I didn’t want the overwhelm to win, which it often does.
We spend so much of our mental energy stressing and worrying that we can easily miss out on the joys of life. My low waste lifestyle helps me identify my emotional waste. I spent a lot of time thinking about food and nutrition, which I still love, but making my choices based upon the effect those choices have on the environment, freed up a lot of my mental capacity. I was no longer tempted by the foods that didn’t serve me or my health. Most of them are wrapped in plastic so I completely lost interest. I felt great power in realizing that my individual choices matter and it helped me cut through that emotional and mental waste. It helps me avoid getting caught up in trends and fads.
Additionally, yoga and breath work help tremendously to identify emotional waste and deal with it productively. At the end of the day, it’s most important to explore how your thoughts waste your time and find ways to avoid wasting your precious mental energy. This is very personal and what works for one person might not work for the next.
Absolutely! Once you open your eyes and see the waste and plastic all around, you can’t un-see it. At a certain point it becomes unbearable and you must make change! This part is fun and you feel such a sense of accomplishment when you figure out ways to reduce your waste. It’s like a game! It forces a more minimalist and more mindful approach to life, which research is now supporting contributes to happiness. It feels great to take action and do something every day that really matters.
Carry these five basic items with you always to drastically reduce your waste:
By having these items, I avoid so much single use plastic!
Eat real, whole foods of the highest quality as often as possible. There’s a reason why some foods are so cheap and some are more expensive. It takes hard work to grow food in a way that creates the most nutrient dense food and that doesn’t harm the environment. We need to value those foods and flood our bodies with the best foods so that we reduce the need for so much detoxing! The more pesticide-ridden foods we eat and the more unnatural products we use and put on our skin, the more we need to detox. Eating real, whole foods enables the body to use its natural detox mechanisms effectively.
Individual choices matter. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. We have to stand up for what we believe in and fight for our health and the environment every single day. This isn’t a trend. It’s a crisis. Fortunately, reducing our waste improves our health while also improving the environment. We must stay positive and ACT!
(1) Akpan, Nsikan. PBS News Hour. "Great Pacific Garbage Patch weighs more than 43,000 cars and is much larger than we thought." April 18, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/the-great-pacific-garbage-patch-weighs-more-than-43000-cars-and-is-way-bigger-than-previously-thought
In 2020, we're deconstructing our home, habits, and things to reconstruct a practical nontoxic and healing lifestyle. We're bringing consciousness to unconscious choices.