Waste Not, Stuy

The different ways Stuvesant students lead a zero or minimal waste lifestyle, including their struggles and accomplishments.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Zero waste. We’ve all seen it; we’ve all heard about it. However, for most Stuyvesant students and teachers, the idea of living a zero or minimal waste lifestyle exists only outside of school, with many viewing juggling both a high school career and living with minimal waste in New York City as almost impossible. Yet, for a handful of people at Stuyvesant, a passion for helping the Earth makes this lifestyle a reality.

Junior Meril Mousoom first encountered the zero waste lifestyle while watching a YouTube video about environmental activist Lauren Singer. Singer’s dedication to being eco-friendly immediately inspired Mousoom and soon, Mousoom embarked on her own mission to do the same. In her efforts to produce less waste, Mousoom focuses on consuming products with little to no packaging. This often involves buying items in bulk.

“One non-recyclable bag of bagels and a tub of cream cheese produces less waste than buying individually wrapped bagels at Ferry’s,” she said. Along with this method, as well as bringing her own reusable containers when purchasing from stores, Mousoom strives to eat less meat. “I did Meatless Mondays all of last year. It was easy to follow and I didn’t cheat at all. This year, I’m trying to eat meat on only two days of the week,” she explained.

Having been living a minimal waste life for over two years now, Mousoom is familiar with the difficulties of minimal waste living. “There are times when I am more passionate about it than other times,” she began. “It’s sometimes hard because in the morning, it’s so easy to buy coffee and grab a plastic water bottle for convenience's sake. But in all this we have to remember that we’re voting with our dollar. We have power as consumers to support eco-friendly companies by just choosing not to buy certain things.”

While Mousoom understands that many people are reluctant to join in on her lifestyle because of its apparent difficulty, she believes that minimal waste living doesn’t have to be so daunting. “If each person just does one small thing, like buying a refillable coffee cup instead of getting plastic ones, we can produce thousands of pounds of less trash,” she declared.

Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Jerry Citron looks at environmental practices through the lens of American consumerism. Citron believes that traditional economics, especially in America, are focused on material consumption, manifested in events like Black Friday or even the “shop ‘til you drop” mindset during the holiday season. By partaking in a zero or minimal waste lifestyle, one does not play a part in this economic system.

Citron added that living the zero-waste lifestyle just isn’t possible for everyone. “Living the environmental dream is elusive,” he said.

For some students, religion is what compels them to live minimal-waste. This is the case for junior Jonathan Xu, whose belief in Tengrism, a traditional Central Asian religion focused on living in harmony and natural balance, inspired him to take up the minimal waste cause.

Xu explained, “One of the tenets of my religion, [Tengrism], is living harmoniously with nature, so I try to be conscious of the impact I have on my environment.” However, Xu is not militant with his minimal-waste approach. Dubbing his philosophy “minimum waste as is convenient,” Xu upholds minimal waste practices as long as they aren’t extremely inconvenient for him. Furthermore, his definition of living minimum waste doesn’t only encompass reducing physical waste, but also reducing energy waste. Xu’s efforts to be environmentally-friendly include making use of old handouts as scrap paper, and not using the heater and air conditioner unless absolutely necessary. Xu believes that the positive environmental impact of living minimum-waste outweighs the inconveniences he suffers when forgoing small luxuries. He said, “I do it because I understand there is no reason not to; the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.”

Senior and president of the Environmental Club Julia Hart strives to practice the zero waste lifestyle whenever possible. Though Hart does not identify as someone who lives zero waste, she often makes an effort to step back and consider the ways she can make her daily practices more environmentally-friendly. Hart likes to stay aware of her own habits as well as the habits of the corporations she buys from and the communities she is part of.

Whenever possible, Hart makes sure her daily habits do not harm the environment, whether that’s bringing a thermos for coffee or composting food scraps.

Hart observed that often, those who practice zero-waste are seen as privileged and pretentious, as they have the time and resources to do it. Stil, Hart believes that even “ordinary” people can and do participate in zero-waste living. She explained, “A great deal of [the people who practice zero-waste] are ordinary people, trying to make a change in the world with what little they have at their disposal.”

While living zero-waste is an ideal situation, consumption-heavy lifestyles coupled with a stressful academic life mean that it may not be feasible for many people. Sophomore Michelle Zhang noticed this. “The problem with zero-waste or minimal waste is that it isn’t very convenient, especially for students or teens. Unless you’re living on your own, you can’t control a lot of aspects of your life yet,” Zhang expressed. “So instead of living a zero-waste or minimal waste lifestyle, the next best step would be to just reduce the amount of waste produced.”

For the people who are interested in the lifestyle but unsure about where to start, Hart has some advice. “Take easy steps towards less waste, but don’t sweat the small stuff.” Some of these steps are doing Meatless Monday or bringing a reusable water bottle to school.

Some say that it is unrealistic to go zero—or minimum—waste at Stuyvesant. Some even say it’s impossible. But it seems that, with students like Mousoom, Hart, and Xu setting an example for the community, “impossible” is hardly an accurate word. Zero starts somewhere. Zero is possible.