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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

The Struggle to Stop Being So Trashy

Joining in the zero-waste bandwagon because trashy is not sexy.

Large Garbage Disposal Bin

When I was 14, I was afflicted with a very unfortunate obsession that would trail after me into adulthood.

It all started when I saw a poster hanging on the wall of my classroom. It featured a young mother nursing her newborn baby on a garden bench, except, instead of being surrounded by trees or the lake, they were all but buried under mountains of trash.

Full of trash

I couldn't find the original image - it has been more than a decade after all - so here's the next best thing.

Imagine a mother and a baby on a park bench surrounded by this.

My 14-year-old thought: “Ewwww.”

If only it had stopped there. But no, I continued to think about that imagery, even when I went home, even when I graduated years later, and even now, as I type this.

When the movie Wall-E came out, I felt like Pixar had read my very soul, had seen the thoughts that whirl in my head and had translated the nightmares of my sleep onto the big screen.

No, not the robot-to-robot love (nothing wrong with that), but the trash. ALL THE TRASH that rendered the planet inhabitable.



The world Wall-E lives in. Source

Oh, and the fat lumps of flesh being chauffeured around in individual pods wearing horrendous red suits, i.e. humans.


Lazy. Obese. Addicted to screens. Seems familiar. All we're missing is the individual pods. Source

If anything, Wall-E only intensified my sensitivity to trash.

Before, I was only obsessed over recycling, mildly annoying my friends with my rallying cry to “RECYCLE EVERYTHING!!!”

Now, my obsession has extended towards all trash and waste related matters. I no longer want to recycle the waste I produce, because recycling can no longer keep up with the diarrhoea of trash spewing out of us.

What I I want is to stop producing trash to begin with.

Life with waste

I’m a bit of an unrealistic optimist, but even I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me that it was possible to not produce trash. After all, almost every little thing we do results in something being thrown away:

  • the wrapper of the ice cream or candy bar we ate

  • the plastic bottle of water we drained under the hot sun

  • the container from the fast food we grabbed for lunch

  • The receipt from our latest purchase

  • the ten bajillion plastic wrap that our online order came delivered in, in case a rabid rhinoceros stomped on it during transit

Waste is such an ingrained part of our daily life that it’s hard to imagine life without it. I mean, imagine! Life without stinky trash cans, life without litter blowing all over the roadside, life without a garbage truck rumbling away to dump all our crap in front of some unfortunate person’s home (as long as it’s not our home)!

We can’t imagine it. We get angry when the municipality doesn’t provide enough trash cans, which justifies us throwing our trash on the streets. We get positively livid when the garbage truck missed one pick-up day, because how dare they leave us with all the waste that came from our own selves!

Garbage collectors

How dare they not pick up my trash! Source

Honestly, at this point, generating trash is almost a human right.

Life without waste

Like I said, life without waste seemed impossible. That is, until I stumbled upon Bea Johnson (Zero Waste Home) who, with a husband and 2 kids in tow, managed to cut her waste down to one mason jar a year. (In fact, her book made it to my list of Books That Changed My Life)

Zero Waste Home

She’s not the only one. Closer to my demographics is Lauren Singer (Trash Is For Tossers), a 20-something girl living in cosmopolitan New York City who has also managed to do the same.

Trash is for Tossers

If you thought this is just a privileged, first-world, American thing, think again. Closer to home are Tin Fong Yun and hubby who successfully fit 5 months of waste into a jar (what is it with these people and jars?) , and Clare Sancelot who just relocated to Kuala Lumpur and still managed to continue the zero waste lifestyle she started in Hong Kong.

After reading that, I had to do a lot of self-reflection. All these people are #goals. If a family of two - heck, even a family of four - can cut down their crap to almost nothing, what’s stopping me, myself and I from doing the same?

And as with all the shenanigans that I get into, it all starts with: “I mean, how hard can it be?”

Let’s do this.

Eliminating, Reducing & Substituting, One Thing At a Time

Below are a list of items by category that can be eliminated, reduced or substituted in order to stop them from going to the trash can.

In the next few months, I'll be going through each one in a random order. Some I have completely solved, some I’m still struggling with, and some I simply have no idea what to do with (help!).


Packaging (saran wrap, plastic, bags, nets, stickers)




Paper, magazines, books, letters, name cards, newspaper



Out & About






Tissue, nails & hair


Medical waste (band aids, etc)

Airline tags

How far can one go?

I attended a talk on sustainable living where a member of the audience asked a panel group if “zero waste is even possible”.

If you want to get technical about it, then the answer is ‘no’. Living day-to-day inevitably produces waste of one kind or another, as mentioned above. Our lifestyles, as they are now, depend heavily on modern conveniences that come with a lot of packaging and disposable things. Nowadays, you can’t even buy a piece of fruit without it being smothered in plastic, and every little biscuit comes individually wrapped.

So will your waste-o-meter ever reach zero?

Probably not, but it is a goal worth aiming for, and even if you miss the mark, you are still better off than you were before.

And that’s all that matters, really: progress. Just keep in mind the words of one of the panelists who tackled the question: “The more you simplify your life, the less you need and the less dependent you are on modern conveniences, the closer you will get to zero waste.”

If you’re still hung up on the term, try ‘mason-jar waste’ instead. Now that’s proven to be doable.

Mason jar of waste

Proven to be doable. Source

Next… “know thy enemy”– before I could eliminate my waste, I had to know what they consisted of. This calls for a waste audit.

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