EnvironmentPodcastZero Waste

KTW 07| Zero Waste for the Imperfect Traveler with Celia Ristow

Celia Ristow wants you to know you belong in the zero waste community- even if you can’t give up everything packaged. Continuing the conversation we started last week, Celia, another zero waste veteran, takes a more behind-the-scenes and inclusive approach on her blog, Litterless. She started the blog in 2015 after already reducing her waste for over a year. Well, her environmental journey actually started with her parents, who were constantly taking their kids on outdoor adventures – camping, rafting, and to national parks. This gave her a massive appreciation for the beauty of North America and her home in the Midwest especially.

Celia majored in History and Environmental Studies at Haverford College and was one of the leaders of the campus environmental group. She talks about this time as a way to inspire and empower other students to take environmental matters into their own hands – a way to give people to tools to tackle the challenges that lit a fire for them instead of organizing around a single environmental initiative chosen by someone else. It’s the teach a man to fish principle- and a guaranteed way to cause the Ripple Effect. The Ripple Effect, Celia told me, is created by the tiny changes that occur when one person makes a better environmental choice. Say you give up disposable coffee cups and this choice inspires your work BFF, IRL BFF, and mother-in-law to all do the same. And now their changes will inspire other people and BOOM we’ve saved the world.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t that simple. And we get into that. Celia thinks, writes and talks a lot about what happens when zero waste meets the real world … You’ve planned, you’ve packed and you’ve eaten all your snacks before boarding a 12-hour flight with no vegetarian option and the only thing to do is relinquish control to the universe, or get something prepackaged at the airport. Something we get into because Celia is also fond of travel. The zero waste community is getting better at being upfront about what they still buy packaged – toilet paper, hot sauce (soba noodles for Celia) but that word “zero” is pesky. Bloggers want you to know it’s baby steps – every choice you make for the environment is better than you were doing before! Instead of relenting the uphill battle- look how far you’ve come.

Celia manages this inclusion by omitting the normal talisman of zero waste bloggers – the trash jar (a mason jar stuffed with things the person has consumed that would otherwise go to a landfill). Celia’s reasons to omit the jar? Simple – it’s stressful (like weighing yourself every day of a diet or counting calories- works for some but if you’re like me it means a belly full of shame and cookies at bedtime) and it can be misleading. There are things that people omit for sanitary reasons (condoms) and safety reasons (broken glass- which can’t be recycled) which means the jar is more of a symbol than an accurate portrayal. Now we’re not saying the jar doesn’t have its place – or that it’s not a noble goal of a noble pursuit. But not having the stress of the jar allows Celia to open up zero waste to a bigger community. A community of people who might otherwise have shied away because of the fear they might never reach the jar goal.


And leading a community is something that Celia does very well. Celia teamed up with two other eco-minded friends to create an environmental organization called Zero Waste Chicago. Together the three have created a website with links to all of the local resources in Chi-town, but wait – there’s more. They also lead community workshops in person at partnering businesses in Chicago. This has provided a safe, local place for the curious to learn and find amazing changemakers to gather with. Yet another unique thing about Celia – that she has a knack for taking the online, abstract ideas and putting them into action to empower people where she lives. Blogging is amazing – you can reach people on the other side of the world with a few clicks but to be in the same room is a really special opportunity.


*all photos were taken with permission from Celia’s social media

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