Christine Liu – blogger and author of Sustainable Home, the inspirational and practical guidebook that has been making waves on social media – shares her journey of sustainability.
“Americans make up 5% of the world and produce 40% of the world’s waste.”
On February 20th 2015, my brain instantly sparked when I heard this statistic in one of my packaging classes. It was my last quarter of college, so I was completely distracted with a mini crisis of what to do with my life after graduation. But after I heard the lecturer say those words, my brain would never stop thinking about what was wrong with our country’s waste infrastructure, and why we were producing so much of the world’s waste.
From 2011 to 2015, I studied Industrial and Packaging Technology. It was an interesting program, with a blend of business entrepreneurship, packaging engineering, product design, and manufacturing. Yet to this day, nothing has intrigued me more than my courses in packaging because I got to learn the ins and outs of such a hidden, unspoken of industry.
It all started when I took a course in plastic polymers and processing. It only took our class a few days to figure out that the average consumer’s relationship to plastic packaging, and plastics in general, was unhealthy. Single use plastics and plastic packaging may appear convenient, but the more we learned about these materials, the more concerned we became about the potential health and environmental impacts that these materials would have: plastics are not stable materials and have the potential to leach dangerous additives into our foods, bodies, and environment. Plastics also never degrade in our landfills, or if littered, never disappear. Why was there such a huge disconnect between our consumption and where these products arrived at end of life?
So in 2013, I decided to take small steps to try going plastic free. I ordered some organic cotton produce bags, stainless steel containers, and begged my now husband to take me shopping that evening to get some non-Teflon cookware. Soon after, I would go to the grocery store with my reusable bags, cook with wood or stainless steel cookware, and pack my snacks and meals in only metal and glass. Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Fast forward to February 2015 and one Friday morning in packaging class. While I was debating what to do after graduation, our class had a guest speaker from the local landfill to speak about packaging sustainability. Slide after slide were pictures of our trash; some black carrots that never degraded in the landfill (because organic foods are unable to naturally decompose in landfills), and shocking statistics about how our nation was responsible for almost half of the world’s trash. When the lecture ended and I walked out, I wondered if there was something I could do about my knowledge in packaging, coupled with this awareness of waste generation in the United States.
A few months later, passion led me to applying and getting accepted into a social entrepreneurship program called the DO School. I was accepted as a Sustainable Packaging Challenge Fellow and worked on developing environmentally sustainable solutions with 18 other social entrepreneurs from around the world. Whilst working on the challenge, each fellow was also responsible for incubating their passion project to bring back to their home country for implementation – my problem statement went back to the simple yet shocking statistic that “Americans make up 5% of the world and produce 40% of the world’s waste.” Coupled with my knowledge in plastics, packaging materials and manufacturing, I was determined to figure out a solution to save our nation that was sinking in its own waste.
Idea after idea, iteration after iteration, I slowly stumbled upon the concept of living a zero waste lifestyle. So in the summer of 2015, I decided to try living a zero waste life, and launched my blog – Snapshots of Simplicity. I looked for any speaking opportunity I could get at festivals and schools to share my knowledge about packaging and waste generation in the United States. By 2016, I was regularly documenting my journey and tips of living with minimal waste, connecting with others in the zero waste community throughout the world, and networking my way within my company at the time, Cisco, to work within packaging sustainability.
Two years passed by within the blink of an eye, and my life has completely transformed – not just because of my decision to live a zero waste lifestyle, but because of how a simple passion project such as a lifestyle blog got me up on my feet to do things I never would have imagined. Fueled by a shocking problem statement about trash, I was able to blog about the importance of reducing one’s trash and ways to do so, land a position at Cisco as Sustainable Packaging Manager to reduce waste in a large corporation, co-launch the Cisco Green Team Network employee organisation, and publish my latest book, Sustainable Home – a collection of all my thoughts on how to make your household and lifestyle a little greener for the sake of ourselves and the planet.
I’m absolutely blessed to have witnessed this growth at such a rapid rate, and hope that the push for sustainability in my own life is just a glimpse of the potential growth in the sustainability movement worldwide.
Read Christine’s tips on how to reduce food waste at home.
Christine Liu’s book Sustainable Home (published by White Lion publishing at £18.00) is available now.