How one woman lives a 'zero waste' life

See how she lives 'zero waste' lifestyle
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Story highlights

  • 26-year-old Atlanta woman uses a mason jar as a trash can
  • She has produced about as much waste in six months as an average person does in less than a day
  • She strives to live a 'zero waste' lifestyle

Atlanta (CNN)"Do you use toilet paper?"

That's the question 26-year-old Anamarie Shreeves receives most often.
It's not exactly a typical question, but Shreeves, who lives in Atlanta and is the site manager for the nonprofit Keep Atlanta Beautiful, lives what some may consider an atypical lifestyle: She creates almost no waste.
    The list of things she doesn't use would send shivers up a consumer marketer's spine: No plastic packaging, no new clothing, no metal cans, no cars (and in turn, no gas).
    The small amount of waste Shreeves does create goes straight into a 32-ounce mason jar that sits three-quarters full right next to her kitchen sink. Its contents include produce stickers, some paper tea bag wrappers and a long, twisted piece of cotton that went around her toes for a recent pedicure.
    This is all the waste she has collected in nearly half a year. That's right, EVERYTHING. Six month's worth of garbage for Shreeves is similar to what the average person generates in half a day.
    A Maryland native, Shreeves considered herself an "Earth advocate" from a fairly young age. Of her four brothers and sisters, she says she was always the one wading in the creek that passed by her backyard, climbing trees and pushing her family to stop being so wasteful.
    "I got them their first recycling bin," she said.
    Shreeves began her journey into zero-waste living two years ago. She had just quit her job working in television and decided to move to Ecuador for a few months.
    Before she left she resolved to get rid of as much of her stuff as possible. She had read a blog post by a woman who lives a zero waste life in New York called the No Trash Project, and she was inspired.
    "The average person throws away a ton of trash a year," Shreeves said. "One single person. For her to go to zero like that, I was just amazed."
    Upon her return from Ecuador, Shreeves decided to take the lifestyle she started before she left to the next level. In April of last year, she officially began to live zero waste.
    Simplifying her existence wasn't easy. She had to rid herself of old habits.
    In the first week, she filled up half the mason jar with paper towels after grabbing them to dry her hands, just out of habit. It also took a while to feel comfortable with the funny stares she would get after politely asking food vendors to put her sandwiches and salads into her metal tin instead of paper and plastic containers.
    But she stayed strong and a year later she is at the point where she composts, makes her own shampoo, toothpaste and even uses reusable feminine products. And yes, she does use toilet paper -- the kind that's quickly biodegradable.
    The key to making it all work is an enormous amount of preparation.
    Shreeves packs her bags every day with a cup to drink out of, a metal tin and a reusable fork and knife, a cloth napkin and a couple canvas bags. This allows her to avoid the waste that comes so often with prepared foods. She has also had to stop going to some of her favorite restaurants and coffee shops because they won't provide reusable kitchenware.
    Shreeves acknowledges that with this lifestyle come certain restrictions; she has learned to make most of her food from scratch to avoid packaging. She also has to put more time into getting places by bike or public transportation.
    But without a doubt, the rewards for her outweigh the inconveniences.
    "The quality of life that I experience as a zero waster far exceeds my life before. It's made me appreciate the things that I do have. I wouldn't want to be in another space," she said.
    To learn more about cutting down on waste, visit Shreeves' blog, fortnegrita.com.