Eva Pollard can fit all of the trash she’s produced over the last year into a single, small mason jar—and she wants to inspire you to learn how to do the same
By Dave de Give
When environmentalist Eva Pollard arrives at a local café to talk about sustainable living, she brings along her customary dining-out tools in a small handbag to demonstrate the ease of her low-impact lifestyle. She pulls out a folding “spork” to use instead of plastic utensils, a reusable glass straw, and a cloth napkin that doubles as her pastry plate and hand towel—leaving the paper-towels in the restroom untouched. When her coffee comes, she sips it from a Mason jar she provided to the server.
As an adherent of the zero-waste philosophy, she’s dubbed her own version of it “circular living”—a nod to the cycles of nature—and it is now her greatest aspiration to share its benefits with others.
“People say this is so hard and takes so much time,” says the affable 26 year old, “but really it just takes a little bit of forethought and mindfulness.”
Like many of us, Pollard has long considered herself an environmentalist, but it wasn’t until last year, after some soul-searching, that she decided to truly live up to the epithet.
“I had this moment where I realized that I wasn’t living in alignment with my environmental values,” says Pollard, who lives in Santa Cruz and is currently earning a teaching credential at Cal State Monterey. “I thought that I was environmentally conscious and that I was not contributing to pollution, but I realized I wasn’t walking my talk.”
Since then, Pollard estimates that the circular lifestyle she’s developed and blogs about on her website, thekindplanet.com, has prevented 1,500 pounds of her own garbage from entering the landfill.
She began by taking inventory of the trash she produced. “What I came to realize was that it was mostly comprised of food scraps and single-use plastics that couldn’t be recycled—plastic forks, plastic straws—and that if I was going to stop making trash I was also going to have to stop using plastic,” says Pollard. “My toothbrush was made of plastic, my razor was made of plastic, and my shampoo and conditioner were packaged in plastic. Pretty much everything I was using on a daily basis was either made out of plastic or packaged in plastic.”
The problem with plastics, explains Pollard, is that they never really go away. Plastic we put into our recycle bins is only reused if there’s a buyer for it—otherwise it’s landfilled. The most frequent buyer is China, where companies melt it down and down-cycle it into products like polyester shirts that are sold back to consumers, but then can no longer be recycled. The plastic microfibers eventually end up in our landfills or water sources.
“There’s this idea about recycling that it’s the be-all-end-all … the ultimate solution to reducing waste around the planet,” says Pollard. “But while recycling is really great, as you can see with plastics, a lot of it isn’t being recycled.”
After choosing to nix plastic from her life, Pollard went through everything she owned and donated most of it to a local women’s shelter, allowing it to be upcycled—one of the best forms of recycling, as it doesn’t require energy-consuming and waste-creating remanufacturing.
Now, she buys food in bulk with reusable cloth bags and makes food from scratch at home. If she can’t buy it in bulk or make it herself, she doesn’t use it. She even makes her own deodorant and other personal hygiene products that are so good that friends have urged her to market them.
Nearly everything she discards is compostable or recyclable. Her home doesn’t have space for a compost pile so she collects her food scraps in a pail that is picked up once a week by Santa Cruz Community Compost. The handful of items she puts in the recycle bin include glass (one of the best materials to recycle since it’s 100-percent recyclable), and cardboard such as tubes from toilet paper that she purchases in compostable wrappers. She doesn’t put a thing into her household’s trash bin. She has a small mason jar that contains pieces of unrecyclable trash that she used either by mistake or happenstance since she began circular living—a good reminder that no one’s perfect.
Pollard points fondly to past eras, when goods were built to last and to be used over and over, or what she calls “pre-cycling.”
“The term circular living is really just the definition for a circular economy; and we don’t live in a circular economy,” says Pollard. “We live in a linear economy that’s focused on single-use and disposability. Things are not designed to last or be repaired. They’re not designed to be recovered.” Circular living, she adds, is about returning to a simpler, more purposeful way of being. “It’s a relearning of many of the skills that we have forgotten because of technology,” she says.
Pollard’s open-minded upbringing seemed destined to lead her to a low-impact lifestyle. She became a steward of the ocean and environmentally aware after her father Dean Pollard, a local surfer and member of the Santa Cruz Longboard Union, first pushed her out into the swells at The Hook in Capitola when she was 6 years old. She surfed throughout her Waldorf-educated childhood, which included stints living out of a van on surf safaris with her dad ranging from Santa Cruz to San Diego. She also spent time growing up with her mother, an organic farmer in Viroqua, Wisconsin, where they grew their own food and sold it at farmer’s markets.
For all of her knowledge and experience, Pollard doesn’t come off as an eco-snob. She points out that anyone can take positive steps to lessen their environmental footprint, even if they feel they feel intimidated to start.
“It’s about baby steps. You can’t do everything at once,” she counsels. “Even just small changes have long-term positive effects.”
Eva Pollard’s Steps to Circular Living
Be kind to yourself. Negative inner commentary or comparing yourself to others will not aid in your progress. Circular Living is different for everyone. It may be challenging and frustrating at times, but don’t give up—this transition takes time. Think about why you want to change your trash habits … Is it for the health of the environment, your health, both of those reasons and/or something else?
Begin to examine and become aware of the trash you are making on a daily basis. Quitting plasticis a good place to start, as it makes up a lot of the trash. Recognize the products you own and buy that are packaged in plastic and begin swapping them out for Circular Lifestyle alternatives.
Downsize. Think about what you need and use on a daily basis. I looked at my clothes, beauty products and household items (cleaning products, kitchen tools), and saw that I had accumulated many things that I either never used or did not need. I donated most items to the local women’s center and Goodwill. Cleaning chemicals and other harmful agents, as well as ink cartridges, batteries, electronics and so much more can be properly disposed of and/or recycled. Learn more at thekindplanet.com/what-recycles.
Make the switch. Bring your own cloth bags to fill up with produce, reusable containers to fill with bulk items, and your own reusable grocery bags. Bring your own cup! When you cut out trash, you are no longer able to make impulse buys, which will save you big money and keep you healthier.
Persistence. Remember that what works for me in myCircular Lifestyle might not work for you. This is a path of self-discovery, and you will find the best way to reduce based on your own way of being in the world.