ETSU graduate student talks eco-friendly habits, goals

East Tennessee State University graduate student Zoe Hester came to the Elizabethton/Carter County Library Tuesday morning to discuss the Zero Waste movement in internet culture and practical ways to apply some of its principles in real life.

She said she first heard about the concept roughly four years ago, both by reading a book titled Zero Waste Home and seeing its rising popularity on internet platforms like Instagram.

“We should aim to reduce waste as much as possible,” Hester said.

She said the goal, as the name implies, is to remove all waste from daily life as possible, including plastic packaging and waste emissions from motor vehicles.

However, she said for many people, particularly in rural communities like Carter County, completely eliminating waste is simply not realistic.

In addition to the well-known three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, Hester added Refuse before Reduce and Rot after Recycle, the latter referring to composting.

“There was a misconception that less trash equaled more recycling,” Hester said.

In fact, in many cases, she said this was not a one-to-one relationship.

“Plastics can only be recycled so many times,” she said. “Lots of places are not taking glass anymore.”

Therefore, refusing certain products, she said, is more important. In her example, many college events will give out free pens or plastic cups, items most people will use for a week before throwing away. Refusing those items will reduce the plastic that ends up in the trash.

She said taking the larger steps to reduce household waste, like changing dietary habits and buying more local products, can be difficult without first taking the smaller steps.

“It is important to be intentional,” Hester said. “The habits closer to our hearts are the hardest to change.”

She said people looking to permanently reduce waste should start with small, individual changes, such as buying cheap, reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones at the store, or buying some cloth bags to use at the grocery store.

Above all, she said the goal of zero waste is the ideal standard, but most people cannot achieve this standard, so it is important to reduce waste as much as you can in your own life, whether it is a small or large change.

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