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Easy Changes Lead to Less Waste

When Sue Sweeney of Katonah heard about the Bedford 2020 Zero Waste Challenge last fall, she didn’t hesitate to sign up. Susan and her husband, Josh, had recently started taking their food scraps to the Bedford Community Compost drop-off and had already seen a significant reduction in waste each week. Beyond that, they hadn’t focused on reducing household waste, but making a few other changes in their habits seemed “like something [they] could easily do,” Sue said.

During the six-week Zero Waste Challenge, participants were asked to set goals for reducing waste and then log the weight of all their trash, food scraps and recycling. One of the first places Susan looked to make a change was in her lunchbox. A high school teacher,  Sue packs her lunch on workdays. She ordered reusable zip-lock pouches online to replace disposable baggies and started including a cloth napkin and silverware from home. She felt these were easy changes to make and stopped using all disposables in her lunch box. These habits also carried over to her kitchen where she began using only cloth napkins and favoring glass containers for storage and reheating. 

The EPA reports that the national average in 2015 was around 4.8 pounds of waste generated per person per day.  During the challenge, the Sweeneys logged an average of 2.2 pounds of all waste per person per day, with almost two-thirds of that being recycled or composted. According to Bedford 2030, most families that participated in the Zero Waste Challenge who composted food scraps achieved similar results. 

Sue has permanently adopted the waste reduction habits she developed during the challenge and continues to look for ways to reduce waste. She uses reusable produce bags and has started her own garden; she has become creative with organizing drawers and closets, using small boxes from recurring deliveries (like coffee) and cell phone boxes instead of plastic drawer dividers. She proudly showed her junk drawer impeccably organized with those sturdy cardboard boxes, which lined up together perfectly. “I think these actually work better than the plastic dividers,” she said. At the time they did the Zero Waste Challenge, the Sweeneys were already empty-nesters. But having raised three kids, Sue feels these changes are “easy to do, even for a busy family.” Sue’s advice for families of any size interested in reducing household waste: “Small changes over time.” 

Story by Teresa Donkin appeared as a Climate Story in the Record Review (modified)