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The Low Waste Musician

The Low Waste Musician Experiment, One Year Later.

Last year in September I decided to challenge myself. After reading articles and watching clips about the maelstroms of plastic coagulating in our oceans my conscience couldn't take it anymore. I knew I was a big part of the problem. Have you ever seen a tour van after a long drive? After a festival? It's a wasteland of plastic bottles, to go containers, trash trash trash. After some thought I decided to become a “zero waste” touring musician. I'd go strict for one month, then hopefully make a permanent change in my life.

Almost a year later I've learned some lessons that might help you, dear reader, in this journey.

First, I hate to break it to you, but being a “zero waste” musician is nigh impossible. In this world of convenience where we created everything to be disposable it's incredibly hard to take your show on the road. We musicians drive across country, fly thousands of miles, purchase packs of strings online, order thousands of plastic wrapped records, eat gas station meals, use tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner. And I mean....for real we're not gonna bring reusable toilet paper on the road. Gross.

Going “zero waste” in our situation is like going on a diet where you only eat goji berries and purified water: it's not gonna last very long. So, instead, I made three rules for myself and changed my goal to “low waste”. These days, when people ask me how to start on their anti-trash mission I share with them my three little rules:

  1. No bottled water

  2. No styrofoam containers

  3. No straws

Since we're all different in our consumption, you can choose your own three rules, but whatever you do, don't listen to the naysayers. In the trendy uproar over plastic straws I've noticed a lot of people saying that forgoing straws isn't gonna save the world. Well, yeah, but its a start. Think of straws like your gateway drug. After I gave myself the month challenge with the three rules I started seeing plastic everywhere. Walking into a grocery store was almost a shameful experience. As a consequence I started remembering my bags to the grocery store 100% of the time, which for many of us is a miracle.

One goal led to the next. Now, at home I use bulk Dr. Bronners (dilute!!) to clean everything, I compost, I make my own counter spray, I use cut up rags in the place of paper towels (though I still keep a roll around), I purchased a shampoo bar (from Lush), delicately shave my legs with a metal safety razor, use a Diva cup....and oh yeah, we got five chickens.

Are you impressed? Don't be. This all took a long, long time to get used to and there were countless trash failures on the way (there still are). The main take-away is: don't do everything at once. Every item you switch out will naturally lead you to the next. Is your plastic toothbrush tired? Buy a bamboo one! Ran out of Saran wrap? Get beeswax wrap! It's all worth it when you discover that two weeks worth of household or tour van waste equals one small bag.

I also have a few immediate tips that touring bands can implement. Have a rider? Change it to exclude bottled water, single use plates/cutlery/cups and veggie platters ensconced in a plastic clamshell. Also, encourage festivals you play at to decrease their waste output. Planet Bluegrass (Rockygrass, Telluride) does an incredible job at this, and I think most festivals I've performed at in recent memory could learn from their example. If you don't want to be too outwardly pushy make sure you put your money where your mouth is and use your water bottle onstage. Della Mae stops almost exclusively at grocery stores rather than fast food chains. This way there's something for everyone and you can purchase bulk snacks, un-wrapped veggies/fruits and sometimes theres a hot bar for your to go container.

I have had many victories and have also run up against many problems. Moral questions like “should I drive to five stores to get all my groceries low waste or just stop at one place” are ones you must solve for yourself. The answers are based on where you live, what resources you have access to, and what your biggest waste output is. Do you drink a ton of milk from plastic containers? Can you switch to returnable glass bottles? Do you absolutely require bottled water? Can you instead get a filter for your tap at home? If you honestly take the time to think about your personal consumption, there are many swaps you can make that don't take a lot of time or effort.

So.....Wanna try it out? Remember the three rules, and as a bonus I'll share with you the items in my low waste “kit”.

  1. Collapsible to go container

  2. Utensil set/spork

  3. Kleen Kanteen steel pint with a coozie and a lid (can be used for many beverages hot and cold)

3a. Water bottle

  1. Shampoo bar

  2. Reusable stuff-able bag

You probably already have some of these items. Bring them everywhere with you and you're good to go. There are many other helpful items but I found that traveling with all of them added a lot to my already bulging luggage.

I assure you that trying this experiment will probably end up being a pain in the rear at some point. You might go hungry or thirsty before you can find a conscience friendly source of food or water. But, believe me, its worth it. Our environment is worth it and this is OUR problem. You probably got to this point in my article because you care, so give it a try, put your actions where your heart is already leading you. Hopefully, small personal changes will snowball in time to a cultural shift. If we can't believe in these small changes, then what do we have left?

Start today, I believe in you :)

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