Adventures of a Summer Intern: The Notion of Less

View of a stone bulkhead with the beach and hood canal in front.Last weekend, sitting in my favorite spot, up against the bulkhead in front of the cabin on Hood Canal, I was reflecting on my summer as the Kirkland Solid Waste Intern. Trying again and again to skip rocks (a skill I have yet to master), I was thinking about how much I have learned, the skills I hope to bring to a future career, and the adventures I have had this summer. I picked up what I thought to be a rock, but looked down to see a beautiful piece of cobalt blue beach glass.

This sliver of glass used to be a treasure among the rocks and seashells before my internship with the Solid Waste team. But this time, the glass was just another piece of trash that ended up in the wrong place. Turning this piece of glass over and over and feeling its ocean-smoothed surface, I realized that one of the most important things I will take away from this internship is the notion of less. Less packaging, less food, less possessions, less consumption in general.

After spending a summer learning about diverting waste from the landfill, I’ve come to understand that I need to change my own lifestyle. I buy things out of habit, because I have always bought them, not because I really need them. I decided it was time to start purchasing things with intention. To do that, I took a closer look at the products I am used to buying, and started to make some changes. I now pay close attention to the things I purchase and make sure I actually need them. I also focus on buying products with little to no waste at the end of their use.

Here are the changes I’ve started to make in my life:

Buy products with compostable or reusable packaging – or better yet, no packaging!

I’ve started using bar soap and bar shampoo instead of the bottled version. Although the soap containers are generally recyclable, I feel better reducing my waste altogether by purchasing bars with either no wrapping, or a small amount of compostable packaging. At the grocery store, try purchasing items in containers that can be reused. For instance, lunch meat in Tupperware-like containers can be used again as opposed to the Ziploc bags which generally need to be thrown out.

Shop from a list – and only from the list.

Grocery-list

Too often I am sucked in by successful advertising that convinces me I need another pair of shoes. By preparing a list in advance, I know what I need and I buy only those items.

Donate one item for every item purchased.

When I return from the store I go through my clothes and bring to Goodwill or Value Village one piece of clothing for each thing I purchased. This way, the clothes I keep but don’t wear can be used by someone else.

Speaking of Goodwill and Value Village, I shop at thrift stores.

Not only does it reduce consumption of new items and encourage reuse, but it’s also thrifty! Why buy a shirt new at Target for $20 when you could get the same or similar shirt for $5 at Goodwill?

Eat leftovers.

I try to make only enough food for one meal, since leftovers tend to get pushed to the  back of the fridge and forgotten about-only to be thrown away two weeks later. But when the inevitable happens and I’m stuck with leftovers, I pack it up and put it in my lunch for the next day, or place it at the front of the refrigerator to eat for dinner the next night.

I’ve decided on these changes because they are small.

Hood Canal at sunset, with a row boat floating in the water.They can all be done on a college-kid budget and don’t involve major, life-changing alterations. Although small in scale and effort, if each person begins to make a conscious shift to a more sustainable lifestyle, these small-scale changes can begin to make a large-scale difference. When overall consumption decreases, so does the amount of waste going into landfills, or even worse, escaping as litter on the streets and into natural areas. My goal is to reduce waste and help slow the consumption of natural resources from our planet. In doing this, my hope is to protect and preserve natural places like Hood Canal so that future generations are able to sit and enjoy the beauty and calmness of nature just like I do.

What changes will you make?