For Lent, Mary Kate Ranii produced as little garbage as possible. Anything she couldn’t avoid, she carried with her.
Mary Kate Ranii pulled a Tupperware container out of a white, flower-printed cloth bag. She grabbed the scoop next to the row of candy bins and laughed as she filled the carton.
“What a world we live in where I can get bulk, GMO-free jelly beans,” Ranii, 26, said. “And they’re on sale!”
Ranii shut the lid and placed the box back in the bag, between three glass jars and a quart-sized Ziploc bag. The jars were filled with peanut butter, dates, and maple syrup. The Ziploc, though, was what was really compelling — it contained the sum of all the trash Ranii had produced during Lent so far.
“I thought I could do the usual thing of giving up cookies or sugar or, I don’t know, some other junk food,” Ranii said. “But I wanted to do something that was better for the planet.”
For 40 days in 2016, Ranii carried all the trash she produced with her in that Ziploc bag. It was a collection largely made up of receipts, which Ranii said were nearly impossible to avoid, considering many stores automatically print them.
Ranii lives in Shaler, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. She found a handful of places where she could shop waste-free, but she usually chose the East End Food Co-op in the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood. There, products are sold in bulk and without packaging.
Besides buying food unpackaged and in bulk, she swapped out her plastic toothbrush for a bamboo version, and bottles of hair and body wash for bars of soap and shampoo.
Ranii defines waste as items that aren’t recyclable, reusable, or compostable. She said living trash-free for Lent wasn’t very difficult, but it did require more thoughtful planning for shopping trips. On the final day of Lent, she evaluated the contents of her bag to best avoid unecessary waste in the future.
“You look at how you walk through the day and you look at the trash you produce and, once you identify it, you can make those small changes,” Ranii said.
Ranii is back to using garbage cans now, but she still works to be mindful of waste. This year, she is picking up 40 pieces of trash every day for Lent.
This story first aired in 2016 on WESA in Pittsburgh.