Kate Mason is a native Nashvillian with a passion for sustainability. She began reducing her personal waste in 2017 after living in New Orleans and seeing the impact of climate change on coastal communities. Simultaneously, she began to realize that you never truly throw trash ‘away,’ you just throw it somewhere else. After experimenting with going zero waste, Kate created the online resource, ReduceReuseNashville.org and accompanying Instagram to help connect Nashvillians to resources that can help them lead more sustainable lives.
Here’s the thing, Zero Waste is one giant misnomer. There’s really no way to live a truly zero waste lifestyle in Nashville, or anywhere for that matter—you’re bound to send something (probably many somethings) to the landfill. To be “Zero Waste” in our present society means to re-evaluate what we think we need, reuse what we can, recycle less, and compost the rest.
You can prevent a TON of waste just by focusing on your purchasing habits. Before you buy something, think about where it came from and where it will go when you’re through with it. We exist in a linear economy, not a circular one—most of the items we buy are deliberately designed to fail after a certain time, requiring us to buy a new or improved version (also known as planned obsolescence). The problem is, the linear economy in which we live is totally unsustainable. As materials become more scarce, prices go up, people look for new ways to extract resources often to the detriment of the planet, and landfill space runs out as more and more obsolete items get thrown “away.”
A circular economy, on the other hand, minimizes the creation of waste through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, and reuse. Many people think that zero waste is time-consuming, difficult, or expensive. My hope is that with this site as a resource, your zero waste journey doesn’t have to be any of those things. In fact, once you get the hang of it, I think your life may feel simpler—and you may even have more money to spend on experiences rather than stuff. Imperfection is key to going zero waste. No one expects you not to create trash. You’re awesome just for thinking about your waste and wanting to take steps toward reducing it.
15 zero waste actions for beginners
Want to reduce your waste but don’t know where to start? Here is a list of zero-waste swaps to get you going (and save you money!)
1. Bring your own bag(s) to the store and refuse plastic bags.
2. Ask for ‘No straw please’ when you go out to eat/drink—and if you’re a straw person, bring your own! Alternatives include reusable metal/bamboo/silicone/glass straws.
3. Get your coffee ‘for here in a mug’ or bring your own reusable mug to take your coffee to go.
4. Carry a refillable water bottle instead of buying individual plastic water bottles (there are TONS of perfectly good refillable water bottles at second-hand stores).
5. Speaking of second hand, the next time you need something, shop second hand first—with a little patience you can find most things at Goodwill or on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and gently-used clothing apps like Poshmark, Vinted, and thredUP.
6. Be prepared with a “zero waste kit” — in fact, put swaps #1-4 in there — and add silverware.
7. Ditch paper towels and use a cloth (old T-shirt?) instead. If you can’t do away with paper towels completely, try keeping them under your cabinet for ‘emergencies’ and using the towels for more manageable messes.
8. Switch from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one. Disclaimer: I personally don’t love the feeling of wood in my mouth — if that’s you, I get it. I’m still using my electric toothbrush with disposable heads but my boyfriend switched to bamboo and loves it. To each his/her own.
9. If you are a person with a period, try a menstrual cup (highly recommended, not as scary/icky as you think!) or period panties like Thinx.
10. Use cloth napkins at the table.
11. Buy in bulk using your own jars/bags/tupperware.
12. Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues.
13. Bring your own lunch to work/school to avoid disposables (napkins, plasticware, plastic cup/lid/straw, sauce packet, bag).
14. Save your vegetable scraps to make vegetable broth—compost your other scraps.
15. Put your name on a ‘do not send’ list to avoid unwanted junk mail.
For more information go to: https://reducereusenashville.org/