When Dave Chameides at 365 Days of Trash issued his challenge to throw nothing away for seven days, I decided to take him up on it. I would do my best to eliminate generating any trash, and I would save my trash instead of chucking it in a bin, for seven days straight.
I started out my seven-day challenge expecting to make drastic changes in my lifestyle.
But when first-trimester nausea hit halfway through the week, I found myself in the midst of a very different live-changing event!
When a couple discovers they are soon to be parents, they proudly and excitedly start to eat healthy, to exercise, and to read everything they can about the new little one growing inside them.
I decided I wanted to focus on living sustainably through the pregnancy too.
I had learned some very good shopping and planning habits during my seven days of trash. I learned not to buy food in useless packaging. I learned to buy fresh bread. I learned to plan my meals, and pack a water bottle and empty bags and Tupperware with me wherever I went. The solutions were simple and they cut my trash by at least 3/4ths. I was convinced I could keep it up beyond my seven days!
But I failed to take into account my body’s new demands.
Anyone who has experienced morning sickness can tell you it’s really 24/7 sickness. The nausea can only be staved off by eating every hour (and sometimes not even that helps). I turned to ginger, dry toast, apples, and crackers.
But I was supposed to generate as little trash as possible. What wheat crackers don’t come in waxy, unrecyclable plastic that is stuffed inside a cardboard box? Only the home-baked kind, and when you’re curled around a toilet bowl, the last thing you want to do is bake. Ginger, too, helps with nausea–and it took me three weeks to find cystalized ginger that wasn’t sold in a million pounds of useless wrapping (Winco, next to the spices). Meanwhile, did I pass up the evils of foil-plastic-wrapped ginger in heroic self-sacrifice to the betterment of the Earth? No way! I ate packaged ginger like the ravenous, desperate-for-a-peaceful-stomach soon-to-be-mother that I was.
The riot of hormones that come with the miracle of new life growing inside me produced a number of astonishing changes to my taste buds, which started to rebel against my favorite foods. I bought delicious fresh-baked bread every morning during my throw-nothing-away experiment, and I was delighted with the yummy and healthy trash-free ritual. But it wasn’t long before my beautiful mouth-watering dough evoked stomach-turning bile; I had to resort to a tasteless, preservative-laden, stuffed-in-plastic bread that wouldn’t offend my mouth.
Shopping at all was a challenge, too. When exhaustion set in, I didn’t have the luxury of searching for the most environmentally-friendly product on the shelves. When a craving hit at midnight and my blessed husband went running to the store to fetch my body’s curious demands, I hardly had the heart to ask him to avoid Plastic 7. And when pregnancy forgetfulness strikes, it’s all I can do to remember my wallet at the store, let alone the carefully-saved reusable bags I should have brought.
When my mom asked me whether I would do cloth or disposable diapers, I fretted. If my pregnancy was so full of unavoidable trash, what would it be like with an infant? Suddenly it seemed the concepts of family and sustainability were at astronomical odds.
It was my mother-in-law who offered the wisdom that calmed me. Morning sickness, she said, is only supposed to last for the first trimester.
It’s temporary. Maybe during the second trimester I could cut back on the packaged crackers and ginger, I realized. Sure, the second trimester will come with new challenges that may require me to participate in the unsustainable practices I dislike. But those will only be temporary too. When the baby is born, it will be one challenge after another to live sustainably. But those too will be temporary.
I was holding myself to the expectations of the old me, who had different challenges than I did now. Under the circumstances, I was doing pretty well!
Sustainability, like pregnancy, is a process. Though there may be setbacks some weeks, things change. Old problems get better and new ones are presented. Blessedly, each new challenge gives us the opportunity to live healthier and better lives, in the context of our individual situations.
As our lives change, so does Mother Nature. Already microbes have been bred that can more efficiently break down plastic. It’s only a matter of time before the insurmountable plastic problem becomes merely a temporary setback, and an opportunity to get better.
Like the challenges in pregnancy, this one too will be overcome.