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The 24 Hour No Trash Challenge

Here at United By Blue, we’re a little too familiar with trash: Since we started organizing cleanups in 2010, we’ve hauled shopping carts full of trash out of river banks, pulled abandoned tires out of creeks, and picked up plastic bottles along the beach. So to wrap our brains around where all this waste comes from (and to celebrate the fact that we’ve picked up 1 million pounds of trash), we decided to spend one day trying to create as little waste as possible — and documenting everything we did throw out, recycle, compost, and reuse.

Our inaugural No Trash Challenge went down on June 8th (also known as World Oceans Day), and we were thrilled to see so many of our loyal customers take on the challenge with us. Here are their stories from their zero-waste day, complete with tips for how to make it more of an everyday thing.

“It wasn't as difficult as I thought. Being waste-free is truly a matter of being more aware of how to reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

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“It was really eye opening. I negotiate in favor of convenience and make excuses. I always thought that I did pretty well at reducing my environmental impact, but I can still do a lot better.”

The Challenge

The idea behind the No Trash Challenge is pretty simple on paper: Find ways to reduce and reuse everything you consume to avoid creating waste. But that gets tricky as you go through your day and consider every moment you walk to the trash can (especially when grocery shopping, cooking, or snacking at your desk). To make things a little easier, we established five rules of thumb.

What Wound Up in the Trash

“It's incredibly sad how much plastic we have become accustomed to just using once and tossing. Planning ahead, cooking, and buying bulk really saves a ton of ‘normal day’ packaging from the landfill.”
“Today made me think more about my day-to-day decisions. Once I was putting more thought into my waste, I realized I didn't need to use paper towel to dry my hands or my rinsed-out mug. Most of my waste was simply habit: For instance, I use paper towels to wipe off the bottom of my coffee mug, and now that I recognize that, I can avoid it in the future.”
“I was so surprised at how much packaging was used when I went out to eat. I decided to treat my friends, and the restaurant gave me a paper bag, a cup inside the bag, 10 napkins, and the food in packaging. This one meal almost tripled my overall trash of the day!”

What Got Recycled

For this challenge, we decided to count recycling as waste — while it’s a much more sustainable option than throwing things in the garbage, it still requires energy to process. Here’s what did wind up in the recycling bin.

“I already consider myself an avid recycler, but breaking that habit gave me ideas for how to be more waste-free. For example: Bringing my own container for the turkey I get from the deli to avoid the ziplock bag (even though I would’ve recycled it).”

What Got Reused or Composted

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“Most of my waste is food — either leftovers gone bad or waste like stems and pits. I need to get a compost bin for home!”
“I re-purposed a cardboard toilet paper roll by filling it with dryer lint to use as firestarter.”
“I used a twist tie to fasten my growing tomato plant to the rope that I am using to guide it upward.”

The Takeaway

“It's about choices, planning, preparation, and awareness. Seeing the waste you create is a powerful tool.”
“I have the privilege of access to clean water so I don't have to buy bottles and the privilege of access to fresh produce that isn't processed and packaged. All of that is amazing, and I think we need to stop taking it for granted and make living with less waste less of a privilege.”

Think you could spend 24 hours without creating any waste? There’s no need to wait ‘til next year to try the No Trash Challenge for yourself. Simply stick to our five rules of thumb (and since we love hearing your stories, feel free to share your experience on social with the hashtag #NoTrashChallenge).

To learn more about zero-waste living, check out what happened when one UBB team member spent seven days waste free and our crash course in waste-free living with zero-waste vlogger Stevie Van Horn.

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