Remember that waste isn't waste until it's wasted.
Today, we have a guest post from Devon Beasley of Unburied Co. I first found out about Devon's initiative from our Zero Waste New Jersey Facebook group. (Join our group. It's a smaller group and focused more on sharing local resources.) I'm still struggling to strike that balance between buying locally, avoiding packaging and reducing online shopping. Clearly, I'm not there yet as I had a lot of shipping and packaging materials lying around. Previously, I was able to drop them off at a local shipping store, but they apparently had too much already so I was looking for an alternative. I save some of them too so that I can re-use them to ship out a few things on eBay as I continue to declutter. I figured they are better re-used than recycled since everything is still in great condition and could probably be used a few more times to ship items. Thankfully, Devon is around my area and she was able to pick up some of the shipping and packing materials for her initiative. We were able to meet #IRL and that was awesome. She explains Unburied co, her goals for zero waste, and her tips on reducing shipping/packing/wrapping supplies.
Hello everyone, I am Devon Beasley, the Founder of Unburied Co. I am a hub for reusable packing and wrapping supplies such as cardboard boxes, packing paper, bubble wrap, etc.
I got the idea moving to my most recent home. I posted all of my leftover boxes on Craigslist and was amazed by how many responses I got from my community. I couldn’t stop talking for over a week about how good it felt to help out this random local small business owner. On an individual scale, the packing materials I was collecting were worth nothing, but if I add like-minded peoples materials to my own, I could have something going.
Putting my reused packing supplies up on Craigslist was not a random thing for me. Since about 2013 I’ve been on a slow personal mission to reduce my participation in consumer waste. So much so that my dream had been to own a small convenience store. My customers could walk in and not have to think about their choices because I had already done all the research for them. It even had a name, The Oak and Reeds Convenience.
Unfortunately for that dream, I can’t just quit my day job. So, for now, I work full-time as an RN at a local hospital three days a week and work on Unburied Co. in my ‘off time.’ Eventually, I would like the opposite, to work on Unburied Co. full time and be a nurse on the side. Nursing allows me to take care of and connect with individuals, but Unburied co. allows me to do this beyond my community.
Balancing the Ideal and the Practical When It Comes to Zero Waste
When I started down the zero-waste lifestyle, I did not even know the movement had a name until I found r/zerowaste subReddit – massive shout out to everyone who regularly contributes. I love all of you and your positively. Before I found this forum, I felt very alone in my attempts to be less wasteful and conscious of my consumer habits. My friends and family had a couple of chuckles at some of my earlier experiments, and I learned a couple of valuable lessons such as:
Lesson One: My boyfriend Scott does not want my hair to smell like egg yolks no matter how much I protest about sodium laurel sulfate and plastic containers.
Lesson Two: Waking up in the morning to a kitchen full of worms who gave their lives in a midnight break freedom from an improperly ventilated vermicompost bin is a solid excuse to put off composting until you can do it outside. (Which I now do with a much higher approval rating from Scott.)
No matter how embarrassing, these lessons embody what Unburied co. is about – a balance between the ideal and the practical. Items need to be shipped, but they don’t have to be in new packages.
Online Shopping is Here to Stay
Online shopping is growing, and so is the waste it generates. In 2013, the EPA estimated that 27% of landfill mas was paper and paperboard. The increase is cardboard waste is causing waste management companies such as Recology in San Francisco to alter their processes to meet the growing flow of cardboard from online shopping (Sottile & Kent, 2017). (A similar thing happened in NYC after they did an audit of their trash.)
My goal with Unburied co. is to reuse as many items as possible before they are upcycled and then recycled. I hope that this process will decrease the demand for new materials and pave the way for more sustainable options. The first arm of this is collecting cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, packing paper and tissue paper. These are all items that we save up in our homes because want to reuse them but end up throwing them away when they pile becomes unmanageable. I want people to sign up for my service before it gets to that. The second arm of Unburied co. is to develop a network of businesses that will reuse these products. Reused materials from Unburied co. are cheaper, allowing for decreased shipping costs, are just as capable, and their use will help bring awareness to the Zero Waste movement.
After I have Unburied co. fully developed I want to return to my dream of owning a brick and mortar store – it will be an extension of Unburied co. to sell upcycled items that were too worn to be reused. That’s why you will see on my site that I will pick up much more than packing and wrapping supplies. I have crafty little ideas like fire starters, handkerchiefs, and cloth paper towels. Besides all of that, reducing paper waste has been one of the most successful and rewarding changes I have made toward a more sustainable lifestyle.
5 Tips to Get Your Zero Waste Journey Started
If you have to order online, order items in bulk and bundle purchases together. Submit a note to reduce packaging at checkout. If ordering via Amazon, check out these instructions from Mama Eco to submit packaging feedback.
When you do use paper products look for items that:
Are non-bleached (paper towels, toilet paper, envelopes)
Have a higher post-consumer product percentage
Are recyclable, unlike wrapping tissue and glossy paper
Reuse items before recycling such as cardboard boxes, packing paper, and paper bags. Reuse toilet paper rolls as gift boxes, seed starters, kids homemade toys.
Use cloth alternatives whenever possible (shopping bags, rags instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs, and reusable feminine pads).
Stop and think, "Do I actually need this?"
If you are too far away to use Unburied co. (we currently pick-up in central NJ, contact me), do what I initially did and post items on resale sites such as Craigslist, Facebook, or Freecycle, or NextDoor.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (2016). Municipal Solid Waste. https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html
Sottile, C., A. & Kent, J. L. (2017). All That Online Shopping Has Cardboard Consequences. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/all-online-shopping-has-cardboard-consequences-n773656
ZeroWaste subReddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/ZeroWaste/