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Just One Bag of trash. For an entire year. Wow.

How did KJ McCorry, a sustainability consultant, do it? That’s what we wanted to know, so we visited her at her Boulder home to find out.

“It didn’t happen overnight,” said McCorry. who’s been working towards this Zero Waste goal for several years.

“You have to create systems that work with your lifestyle,” she said. “If it’s not easy, then you won’t do it.”

McCorry has shelves in her kitchen dedicated to glass jars of foods she buys in bulk, often at Simply Bulk Market in Longmont or in the bulk sections at many local grocery stores. Her kitchen table has candles she made herself from candle remnants. And her garage, while small, is cleverly packed with boxes labeled “Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials, Pack with a Purpose, RAFT, Mail-in Donations, Hazardous Waste,” and so on. When the boxes are full, she pops them in her Prius and delivers them to their destination and/or mails them off to appropriate organizations.

“It took time to create a system that worked for me, and I really have to think carefully when I go shopping,” she said. “Before I buy, I ask is this recyclable? Compostable? Reusable? If the answers are no, then I look for another product.”

What was in her one bag of trash? 90 percent was packaging, mostly plastic, that wasn’t recyclable or compostable.

What were the top 5 things McCorry did?

  • She composted everything she could in her  curbside composting cart, including food waste, compostable containers, and tissues.

  • She cut down on plastic packaging taking her own bags and containers with her everywhere and buying items with less packaging or packaging that was recyclable, compostable, or reusable.

  • She did an end-run on take-out food using her own containers and refusing straws, plastic utensils, and napkins. She carries a set of reusable utensils and a reusable travel mug in her bag.

  • She recycled her hard-to-recycle items, including electronics, white block foam, plastic bags, and scrap metal at the City of Boulder / Eco-Cycle Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials.

  • She reused and donated almost all discards that could not be donated to thrift stores and are not accepted at the CHaRM, such as broken pots and ceramics, which she discovered can be used by local mosaic artists. You can learn more about these resources on her website.

McCorry says that she “could not have accomplished this goal without Eco-Cycle and its vision,” adding that, “one of the reasons I live in Boulder is because we have incredible Zero Waste resources, so we should use them,” mentioning that the  Boulder County Recycling Center and the CHaRM both operated by Eco-Cycle, the Boulder County Hazardous Materials Management Facility, ReSource Central, and Art Parts, among others are places she frequents.

What items were the hardest to deal with?

  • “Pet food snacks and litter bags for one,” said McCorry who has a cat.  The litter bags cannot be recycled so she reuses them to package plants from her garden that she gives as gifts.

  • Snack food packaging, which is primarily packaged in non-recyclable material.

  • Stickers and labels, also not recyclable. KJ gives away stickers that she gets in the mail.

  • Take-out food containers, which is one reason why she takes reusable utensils and a container with her when she eats out. Dealing with take-out containers got a bit easier last October when the Boulder County Recycling Center started accepting more plastics. See guidelines at www.ecocycle.org/recycle

McCorry is continuing her Zero Waste efforts this year. And who knows? Maybe this time around she won’t even need a bag.

Have you tried to go Zero Waste?

If so, we’d love to hear from you! Leave your stories, questions, or comments below, or email us at recycle@ecocycle.org. For more Zero Waste Resources in Boulder County, see pages 18-19 of our 2018 Eco-Cycle Guide.