Zeroing In On Our Waste Problem

How often do you think about where the coffee cups, food wrappers, and other trash you throw out ends up? Would you appreciate it if everyone’s trash was gathered in a giant heap near your home? If this occurred, would you be concerned about your health and your children’s health?  

A right to clean air, and a healthy present and future for the NEPA region is exactly the concern of Friends of Lackawanna, a group organized to defend against proposed expansion of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dummore.   Image result for friends of lackawannaThe landfill is already one the largest in the state of Pennsylvania, and hopes to triple in size, creating a mountain of trash for the NEPA landscape. Department of Health air monitoring found spikes of chemicals in the air twice in 2015 and once in 2016 due to the landfill, and noted that these spikes could lead to adverse health effects, including tearing eyes, headaches, and irritated throats.  If expanded, FOL argues, these effects could worsen, especially amongst vulnerable young children and elderly.

The accumulation of waste and how it can affect our health and environment are not only local concerns. Various governments and cities around the world are attempting to address this mounting waste problem by reducing the production of waste. In 2016, France became the first country to ban all plastic plates, cups, and cutlery.  Seattle, beginning this July, will enforce all restaurants within the city to offer only compostable or recyclable straws and utensils. The law was a result of an industry-led campaign, and Scranton’s own Terra Preta Prime (a vendor at the NEPA Green Fair) is attempting to lead as well by phasing out the use of straws, and currently offering them by request only.

Americans are by far the worst waste offenders in the world, producing an average of 4.4 lbs of trash per person each day, but the best way we can, as individuals, help to address this problem of the generation of waste is by becoming zero-waste ourselves.  One of Scranton’s own, Kathleen Roland, otherwise known as the Zero Waste Wanderess, has embraced this zero-waste lifestyle and shared her insights about this lifestyle change with the NEPA Green Fair.

Image result for zero waste wanderess

How would you describe your zero-waste lifestyle?

a.    My zero-waste lifestyle is a unique and creative experiment that is constantly evolving. I say ‘unique’ because we all have different needs, wants, abilities, opportunities, etc. My zero-waste lifestyle can and will look dramatically different from someone else’s. Moreover, I say ‘creative experiment,’ because there are so many little eco-friendly lifestyle shifts we can make to live more sustainable lifestyles with less trash output. How many ways can you reuse or re-purpose a jar, an item of clothing, a shoe string, a plastic bag, a curtain? The more you play around with ways to make the most use out of a material, the more you value the item and your abilities to think outside the box. My zero-waste lifestyle is forever evolving because I learn something new everyday.

What was the catalyst that started you down this journey and how did you go about it?

a.    I started reducing my trash output 2 years ago in March of 2016.I was introduced to the term ‘zero-waste’ through an online search for eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products. I came across Be Zero, which is a nonprofit grassroots organization that educates and activates individuals to “make less trash” and live more sustainable lifestyles.  When I read more about what zero-waste means and how it can be incorporated into my everyday life, I felt completely inspired and motivated. Initially, I tried to change my life all at once. I recommend not doing that. It is overwhelming and blinds you to opportunities for growth. Now, I take my journey one step at a time and look for alternatives or creative solutions as situations arise.

What has been the most challenging?

a.    The most challenging aspect of this lifestyle is with food. Package free foods are not always an option. Luckily, there are a number of ways to avoid a lot of food packaging. The number one way is to shop at local farmer’s markets and bring your own bags! Other ways are to bring your own bags and shop the bulk sections and cut down on take-out food. This leads me to another challenge I learned to overcome, and that is to not be too hard on yourself! Waste is going to happen no matter how “zero-waste” you try to live. There’s no way to avoid it all, so take care of yourself first.

What has been the most rewarding?

a.      Every time I avoid accumulating trash is a small rewarding experience in itself! I have turned a few people on to a zero-waste lifestyle, which is also very rewarding. That is the ripple effect any activist for any cause wants to create, so when you have someone tell you they were inspired by your actions, it feels great.

Has going zero waste changed any of the relationships you’ve had?  How has it changed you as a person?

a.   I am grateful for the support and enthusiasm my loved ones have shown in regard to my zero-waste lifestyle. I try not to be too extreme about it. I never want to tell someone they ‘should’ live a certain way or fear monger anyone. I think keeping my beliefs and passion at bay keeps the relationships I have strong. The more I show I am having fun with the lifestyle, the more people want to join in. On a personal level, I would say going zero-waste has given me a greater sense of purpose. In turn, I am more confident and focused on what I want to accomplish in my lifetime.

If someone else is interested in going zero waste in NEPA, what advice would you give?

a.     I always tell people to go at their own pace because this is a journey, not an overnight transition. Striving for a zero-waste lifestyle should not be stressful or judgmental. It takes time and there is no way to totally avoid all waste, so never beat yourself up. Some amount of waste will happen, even in a “zero-waste” lifestyle. I also suggest getting involved in community projects and events, as well as following the online zero waste community on Instagram. My account is ZeroWasteWanderess, which can be a starting point!

What is your hope or vision for Northeast PA regarding the environmental movement?

a.     I hope to see more access to sustainable options and I would love to see the environmental movement keep growing. I envision a curbside composting infrastructure developing or a community composting yard in which individuals can be taught how to compost and, in turn, be given the option to donate the compost to local farmers or gardeners who may need it. I envision more ‘green’ in the cities. Vacant lots becoming community gardens and restaurants breaking the habit of putting a plastic straw in everyone’s drink when they don’t ask for it. I would love to see more educational programs that teach sustainability and eco-friendly living to adults, and most importantly, children.


We want to thank Kathleen for her interview and involvement in the zero waste movement. Please check her out on instagram at #ZeroWasteWanderess. Also, be sure to support Friends of Lackawanna at the Green Fair & 5K for Clean Air. If you can’t make it on May 5th, please consider donating online to Friends of Lackawanna to help their efforts in stopping the Keystone Sanitary Landfill Expansion and continue to advocate for sustainability in the region. 


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