Answers to common questions on polluting less

October 17, 2018 by Joshua
in Choosing/Decision-Making, Habits, Nature

A new reader and listener asked some questions I get a lot about polluting less and how to start.Fountain Pen

I’m sharing the answers so people can find them faster.

I’ll preview the questions, then share his whole email for context, with my answers. Feel free to scroll down if you just want the answers.

Just the questions:


  1. What parameters did you start with?
  2. Do you buy everything at a bulk center/zero packaging stores?
  3. Do you count recycling as packaging or just things that go in the garbage?
  4. How do you buy toilet paper, toothbrushes, shoes? Anything that comes in a package?


  1. Do you still travel? If so what is your preferred method?
  2. Do you have any articles comparing pollution of different travel methods?

His email, with my answers in italics:

I stumbled across your block on Spotify about a month ago and have been absolutely loving it. Thank you for putting together such a unique podcast. I have been trying to figure out what direction to take my career and I feel like through listening it has given me some direction, although I am still figuring it out at least I have started to take some steps.

Just a little background, I’ve been vegan for just over 4 years. I went vegan purely for the environment. After graduating college I worked as a structural engineer but felt that I wasn’t making enough change. After a year I accepted a volunteer program in Ecuador working on a reforestation project, fixing green housing, and helping teach Spanish. After returning I wasn’t sure what to do and not overly fond of working in an office or getting right back to that feeling of not influencing change.

I spent about a year traveling, not wanting to commit to anything because I didn’t feel the options would have enough influence. Finally I decided I just have to do something and signed up to take an emt course while doing some work with my cousin on the side. I’m currently living with two friends on Long Island who are both vegan as well. We get a csa every week and do not have a ton of garbage but we have a ton of recycling. We definitely need cut down the garbage and I feel the recycling drastically needs to be cut down as well.

I have a few questions regarding not using packaging as well as not flying.

As per the packaging:

1- what parameters did you start with?

My first challenge was one week buying no food that came with any packaging — no boxes, bags, cans, rubber bands, etc. I could bring bags with me for carrying and for bulk nuts, legumes, etc. I allowed myself to finish anything in my fridge or cupboard. I didn’t allow myself to receive packaged food from other people. I didn’t know how I’d do it when I started but made it 2.5 weeks.

2- do you buy everything at a bulk center/zero packaging stores?

Most of my food comes from my CSA, then from farmers markets, then from a bulk food store. I buy some packaged food, but decreasing. For example, I started making vinegar from apples since I like vinegar and couldn’t find it in bulk.

3- do you count recycling as packaging or just things that go in the garbage?

I try to minimize recycling, independent of categorization. I consider it pollution that someone has to deal with. I empty my recycling about once or twice a year, also decreasing.

The way I usually say it is, “If landfill garbage is like smoking, then recycling is like smoking filtered cigarettes.” It’s almost the same.

4- how do you buy toilet paper, toothbrushes, shoes? Anything that comes in a package?

People ask these questions a lot. Bea Johnson’s page and videos answer the logistics better than I can. My conversation with her has links to her page and videos.

I answer more about process than logistics. To most people I say, if you still get take-out or waste on a bigger scale than toothbrushes, you’ll get farther if you focus on what you know how to do than what you don’t. After you cut out what you know how to, cutting out what you don’t will become easier, especially after reading and watching videos of people who already solved those problems who will become your peers. For example, I never would have known how or considered making vinegar when I started. I was too busy solving other issues. Once I solved the other issues, vinegar became fun.

Another way I put it is that when I took salsa lessons, I asked the teacher how to do the fancy spin moves. She said to focus on my footwork and the music, which at first didn’t seem helpful since the spinning seemed to happen with the hands. But then when I got my feet working, the hand parts fell into place.

In other words, when learning skills, focusing on the basics makes everything else fall into place.

1- do you still travel? If so what is your preferred method?

I’ve turned down many offers to travel in the past 2.5 years. I’m learning to sail so I can visit places beyond North America. I took Amtrak to Salt Lake City in March and just got a ticket to take Amtrak to L.A. later this month. I’ll stay there about a month since it’s a 67-hour ride. I’m working on my next book, so can use the solitude for writing. I can always find value in solitude. Plus, I love this country and didn’t get bored of looking at it, especially west of Denver.

[new information that wasn’t in the email: I’m stopping in several cities on the way home, which trains make easy, at least for places on the route.]

I looked into getting sponsorship from Tesla since I heard they have many solar powered charging stations across the country, but I couldn’t make it work. Maybe next time.

2-do you have any articles comparing pollution of different travel methods?

I’ve researched them but haven’t saved them. I remember trains as polluting roughly a third of trains and buses a little less. with variability due to distance and a few other things. I once considered trains much less polluting than flying. Now I think a third of flying is still a lot. I can’t wait to sail across the Atlantic and Pacific, not that I know when I’ll do it.

Speaking of my next book, I think it will be relevant to you, though it’s not coming out until next fall. My leadership book might be helpful too. Many people who started projects from doing its exercises found they helped give them direction, purpose, and motivation. Amazon makes the first to chapters available free.

By the way, since I get your questions a lot, do you mind if I post the above into my blog so others can benefit from the answers? I wrote at length in anticipation of sharing it with others. I can refer to you or keep you anonymous, as you like.

I hope the above helps. If so, I’d love to hear how.

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