Middle school students in Quincy, MA, reached out to ask me questions about sustainable hygiene products. It was a little scary to be referred to as Mr. Levy, but if I’m being honest, I am old enough to have an eighth-grader of my own! Please see their initial email and the interview below:
My name is D******** and I am an eighth-grade member of Central Middle School’s Lego robotics team, which is based in Quincy, Massachusetts. Our team has read your blog posts, enjoying your interesting view on living a trash-free lifestyle.
For our project, in particular, we are trying to transform common toiletries including floss, toothpaste, and toothbrushes to more eco-friendly products.
Attached below are some questions regarding our project and your lifestyle and we would be greatly honored if you could answer them. We hope to put your responses in our project and thank you so much in advance for taking the time to read this!
The Golden Gladiators
1. How did adjusting to a trash-free lifestyle affect your mentality and attitude towards daily life? Making the transition towards a trash-free lifestyle was really challenging at first. I realized really quickly that almost every food I ate and product I purchased came in some sort of packaging. It was overwhelming, to say the least. I started bringing all the tools I could think of to reduce waste, such as a reusable water bottle and utensils, but still found myself stressing out when I would get stuck with a piece of trash that I was not expecting. I used to really let that sort of thing impact me negatively, but have since loosened up quite a bit, which has made daily life much easier and less stressful.
2. What inspired you to start changing your everyday lifestyle to a more environmentally friendly way? I used to work in a really big warehouse for a large retailer. When I say really big, I mean huge. It was 1.86 million square feet, which would be like lining up 32 football fields in a row! That warehouse supported about 75 retail locations, so it was jam packed with a lot of stuff. Being surrounded by so many consumer goods, but especially the disposable ones, like bottled water and diapers, really stressed me out. I wasn’t familiar with the term “zero waste,” at the time, but I knew that I was not on the right path for me. Instead, I wanted to do work that I felt like was having a positive impact on our planet. I thought that the best way to do that was to work in the garbage industry trying to make it more sustainable.
3. How do we get the rest of the world to do what you accomplished? Wow, this is a great but tough question to answer! The best way to reach people is to lead by example. I know that living with a trash-free mindset is the best way to be because I am doing as much as I can to reduce my environmental impact, but I didn’t always think this way. I need to be mindful that not everyone has this concept on their radar. They might be focused on other priorities and challenges in their lives, so it is important to try to reach them on their level and not overwhelm them in the same way that I overwhelmed myself. I do my best to try to show people that they can start small by just making one change at a time, but I try not to be preachy. If people feel like I am talking down or don’t respect them, they won’t respond well to what I have to say. This takes a lot of patience and persistence.
4. Are there any cons about trash-free hygiene products (ex. cost, health conditions, feasibility)? When it comes to hygiene products, it is important that each and every one of us finds a middle ground that we are comfortable with. Some people enjoy using homemade toothpaste, whereas others need to continue to use the store-bought version, for example. I am a lucky person who has short hair and gets a hair cut every month or two, so I can get by without using shampoo, but others with different types of hair complain that their hair doesn’t do well without being washed.
For the purpose of your project, I think it is important to be mindful of the fact that people are very slow to change. Sure, I was willing to switch to a bamboo toothbrush, bronze tongue scraper, homemade toothpaste and more sustainable floss, but many people are not. For some reason, because these items are “different,” people often respond adversely to the thought of trying something new. I think the best way to get people to adopt new, more sustainable products, is to make them so they can be integrated into our daily lives and smoothly as possible.
5. Is there anyone you admire or look up to regarding environmental issues especially trash related problems? Anyone we could contact for more information? There is this really cool non-profit organization called Californian’s Against Waste. They are located in Sacramento, which is California’s state capitol, and are advocates for legislation that promotes sustainability on a state-wide level. Whenever I am researching upcoming environmental policy, I turn to their website for detailed analysis.
6. Do you have any other additional advice you might give us about our research? A lot has changed in the last 10 years with respect to technology. Cell phones and social media was far less common (or didn’t even exist) not that long ago. I recommend reaching out to parents, grandparents and great grandparents to ask them about their views on waste. Many of the new zero waste products are really just throwbacks to how we used to do things in previous generations. If you have the opportunity to speak with someone who was raised in the Great Depression or during World War II, for example, they will tell you about how little was wasted because they either couldn’t afford to waste or had to support the war effort.
How did I do? Did I answer their questions well? What do you have to add? Let me know in the comments section!
To read, listen and watch more interviews, please check out my press page.