Zero Waste in Maine: Interview with Lisa Botshon, professor and columnist

Lisa Botshon is an English professor at the University of Maine at Augusta. Her zero waste efforts came to my attention through her series of Portland Press Herald columns on her and her colleagues’ efforts to pursue zero waste for a year and her advice to others. Her engaging and accessible writing is a great entry point for folks thinking they’d like to try out some zero waste strategies as well as for those who could use some encouragement to keep going, and her approach is always practical and kind. We are so pleased that she agreed to be featured here.

How did you get interested in Zero Waste? Tell us a little bit about how you got interested in the Zero Waste movement and what your journey has been.

My parents were back-to-the-landers in New York State. We didn’t have services like trash pick up or recycling, so, in addition to growing a lot of our own food, our family produced very little trash. We composted and rendered discarded newspapers into fuel. While I don’t pretend to replicate this model wholesale in my adult life, it has been an important touchstone.

Why do you think the Zero Waste movement is important? What challenges do you think it faces?

Concepts like climate change can be overwhelming, but zero waste strategies allow people to take incremental steps towards making a difference. There are other compelling aspects of zero waste projects, too, such as providing an approach for thinking about our vexed relationship with consumption.

However, overzealous zero-waste activity can alienate others or become overwhelming itself; it’s easy to get quickly frustrated.

What’s been easy for you with Zero Waste? What’s been a challenge? What’s been a surprise?

I’ve always been an advocate for composting, and I am enamored with local composting pick-up services in my part of the state. While I believe I – and everyone else – should tend their own compost heap, it’s so satisfying to have it picked up and carted away and not have to worry about turning it or how to deal with it when it’s freezing out.

I have found it challenging to balance my and my family’s needs and desires with the mandate to produce no waste. Even when I am extremely vigilant, we still end up with a weekly collection of things like plastic bread bags and old band aids. We will never be that family producing a single quart jar of waste per year.

We loved the articles you wrote in the Maine papers about your Zero Waste experience and the advice you gave to others. Could you tell us a little about these projects- what they were, how you got involved in them, and what that experience was like? Are you currently working on any Zero Waste projects?

The University of Maine at Augusta, where I teach, started a zero-waste challenge in conjunction with our annual theme during the 2016-2017 academic year; it was one of the ways that we were trying to address the issue of climate change. A number of us wrote about our experiences in the Portland Press Herald as a way to both educate ourselves and communicate with others about what we’d learned. It was pretty successful for those of us who tried it: one of my colleagues managed to buy nothing non-essential for an entire year and reduced her trash output to something like a single small bag a month.

While I am no longer pursuing zero-waste strategies as actively as I did during that first year, I have retained an aversion to (but not an outright ban on) buying anything in plastic, I carry my stainless steel water bottle wherever I go, and I try to be mindful about purchases of all kinds.

If you could give one piece of advice to folks interested in pursuing Zero Waste, what would you say?

For me, the most life-changing aspect of zero-waste tenets is the first one: refusal. This can really produce a paradigm shift in the way we think about what, how, why, and where we consume things. Acquiring less stuff inevitably means a smaller carbon footprint. The rest is gravy.

To read more of Lisa’s work, visit her Portland Press articles through the links below:

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