Over three months ago I bought my last packaged grocery item, swore off new plastic objects, and started transitioning into a Zero Waste lifestyle. I had a pretty good handle on things: mostly buying bulk, shopping at the farmer's market, always carrying my own containers, and sourcing non-food items second hand. In general, I was taming my desires and living a much simpler life that involved zero trash.
This is why I was very confident I would be able to maintain my zero waste lifestyle when I went on tour with my band Killin H8 to Germany, Romania, and Tel-Aviv. The results of week one involved many more pitfalls and disappointments than I expected. But despite the hardships there were also some wonderful achievements.
DAY ZERO - THE NIGHT BEFORE
Thinking about how much garbage is created through travel will send any trash conscious person into a frenzy. Every packaged meal, duty free candy, plastic wrapped magazine, plastic cups and pretzel bags, endless napkins, plastic wrapped headphones and blankets… the list goes on. This would be my first time traveling with zero waste intentions and I wanted to be as ready as possible.
The day of the flight I bought fresh granola, veggies, and fruit in bulk and packed it up for our journey across the Atlantic. Nate and I bought some sandwiches to eat on the way to the airport, had them wrapped in our napkins, and I was feeling really happy thinking to myself: "I can do this."
Very quickly I ran into the first pitfall.
Immediately after we finished our sandwiches, the napkins were dirty. We hadn’t even gotten to the airport and I realized without my home base that I would be carrying around a dirty napkin until I found time to wash it. This didn’t immediately become a problem as I use dirty napkins over and over all the time. But after a couple of days it became clear this was something I had overlooked. By the fourth day in Germany I could no longer use my napkin to grab food on the go - it was too smelly and needed to go in my laundry bag.
At the airport I enjoyed my fresh snacks and stuck with my commitment to abstain from buying anything. Just for fun I looked around to see if there was anything I could buy… I did find some bananas, I also found these plastic wrapped apples. Haha.
The second pitfall I actually foresaw in New York, but thought I would find a solution.
Even if you’re buying fruits and veggies in bulk, you have to account for your organic waste. I was so excited to get bulk cherries from the Chinatown market, but had no idea what to do with all the stems and pits. I ended up making a little compost baggie from an old Ziploc I had at home and decided I was going to find a compost dump in Germany. Slowly but surely my plastic bag full of compost started to rot and get smelly. Uncomfortable as it was, I kept it on me. My trash, my responsibility. Soon other pieces of trash found their way into this baggie. It was unavoidable, the floodgates had been opened.
How could I have avoided this? More planning perhaps. We didn’t have time between shows and traveling to go find a compost station. Not having the ability to compost threw me off the zero waste wagon a little bit. Soon I was getting lazy about paper recycling and just started accumulating unwanted objects in my smelly little bag.
DAY 1-6: GERMANY
We landed in Berlin and immediately I felt that being zero waste was going to be way harder than I thought. Not because there’s a ton of trash in Germany - actually it seemed to me that plastic bags were not as normalized here and that people generally lived somewhat simpler, less consumer-based lifestyles.
But fairly quickly we bought our first sandwich sans napkin… boom! Trash. Luckily it was just paper and aluminum. Then I got a drink with a straw in it. At the Berlin Music Video Awards I avoided all drinks in plastic cups. When they offered us a shot of Jaegermeister I tried to get it poured into my cup, but a disposable shot glass was used as a measurement tool.
They also gave us a plastic holder for our names, so I took a ceremonial picture with it and vowed to return it to them so they could reuse it in later festivals.
Things felt like they were falling apart.
I had no bulk food stores around and relied entirely on restaurants and fast food for sustenance. Slowly but surely I was accumulating trash. I tried to store it all in my little baggy, hoping that I would could take care of it responsibly once I found home-base in Tel-Aviv. I felt defeated and disappointed in myself. But, after some painful introspection, I had an important realization: despite the circumstances and the unexpected mistakes, I was doing my best. Looking at the whole week from a more compromising and optimistic perspective, one would see that my efforts actually resulted in relatively minimal waste acquisition, and responsible disposal of what I did acquire.
Here are the MVP’s of my trip:
1. Travel Mug
2. Water Jar
Because of these two items, Sir Kn8 and I avoided the acquisition of at least 20 coffee cups and plastic water bottles. We also avoided plastic bags and packaged food by habit. Suddenly I realized the importance of the “refuse” element of zero waste. Since we were already conditioned to avoid bags and packaging, we didn’t even need a tool for that. Just by *not* getting packaged stuff we created less waste.
Moreover, the travel mug brought smiles to people’s faces as it traveled with us from city to city. Getting used up and refilled over and over, it started to gain personality, it’s own story.
Eventually it didn’t make sense to hold on to my smelly garbage baggie, and we didn’t have space to take it with us so I threw it away. All the trash we made in one week was just a small sandwich sized ziplock bag and it consisted of only paper, aluminum and organic waste.
There were two episodes in the week in which I completely let go of my zero waste intentions. The first was at a train station near Hamburg. We had been traveling for 10 hours and I needed something sugary and cold to sooth an ache in my mouth. I bought an icicle with a plastic wrapper.
The second time was in Romania, also after 2 sleepless nights and weird travel schedules. I woke up from a fitful nap and ended up buying a fried dough pastry that came in a little plastic bag. I’m saving the bag as a souvenir. It reminds me that zero waste is just as much about my emotional state of mind as it is about saving the environment. The connection between plastic and sugar is also becoming more apparent to me.
I will have a home base,and I will have compost and a world of bulk options. In the next leg of this tour we will be documenting our journey living zero waste in Tel-Aviv. I will be focusing more on personal interactions and conversations. Bringing zero waste to Tel-Aviv is going to be interesting and I’m eager to see what comes of it.
Until next time,
Hila the Killa
Killin H8 - Small World Tour
Killin Waste <3