By Dana Hall.
Are certain lifestyles more attainable depending on where you live? Kathryn Kellogg would say absolutely. Growing up in Arkansas, she explains that many areas of the state don’t offer recycling, something people in other parts of the country consider commonplace.
Although she grew up in Arkansas, Kathryn lives in the Bay area. During her first new months on the west coast, she was shocked to see the ocean littered with plastic. She learned that 80% of the garbage in the sea came from landlocked states, coincidentally, states that generally didn’t offer the same environmentally friendly resources as places like California or Oregon. Seeing the amount of waste at sea was upsetting, and it got Kathryn thinking about sustainability.
There was a second experience that had Kathryn considering the impacts of her lifestyle. At just 20-years-old, she had begun feeling pains in her chest. She wasn’t sure what was causing it, but even the most basic movements, such as raising an arm, became challenging as the pain intensified.
An ultrasound revealed a collection of growths, and after a round of various tests, it was revealed that Kathryn had several small tumors, all of which were harmless. Benign though they were, they were the source of Kathryn’s now-chronic pain. Her doctor told her to prepare herself, as she would need to learn to live with the discomfort.
The pain came and went in waves. Some months, it was persistent, while other months provided temporary relief from the discomfort caused by the tumors. The pain got Kathryn thinking about the way she was treating her body. She began paying more attention to the food she ate, with the theory that cutting down on the chemicals found in processed foods might help combat the pain.
Food limitations were nothing new for Kathryn, who is lactose intolerant. She was used to checking ingredients and exercising caution with what she was putting into her body, so she applied the same focus to healthy eating, avoiding processed foods and focusing on more natural alternatives. She learned to cook and began discovering different types of produce, most of which she liked.
As she continued with her ventures into food, she started wondering what else she could make on her own. Now that she had cut down on the chemicals she was ingesting, she began experimenting with making her own shampoos and other hygiene products, most of which contain what are considered to be by many, harmful chemicals when bought from a store.
A few months into her experiments, Kathryn realized her pain had disappeared. Her intuition had been right: cutting down on her exposure to chemicals had not only minimized, but eliminated the pain in her body.
Deciding she wanted to go all in with limiting her waste, she is now an advocate for the Zero Waste lifestyle. Zero Waste is a call to action, urging individuals to generate as little garbage as possible. It begins with simple changes such as investing in reusable bags and cutting down on purchases involving plastic. Eventually, some are able to reach a point of generating no more than a mason jar of trash a year.
Kathryn is open about the fortune she has in living somewhere that supports her lifestyle. California is rich in sustainability and resources to help individuals make environmental changes in their lives. Growing up somewhere that doesn’t provide these same opportunities is what inspired Kathryn to start her blog, Going Zero Waste.
The blog works to connect those in low-resource areas with information about how to take on waste reduction and sustainability. With posts ranging from tips on getting started to small changes one can make when they travel, Kathryn’s blog is meant to speak to everyone.
How did you start your zero-waste lifestyle? Was zero-waste your original goal?
I quit plastic due to health reasons. After quitting plastic, transitioning to zero waste was pretty natural. It started as a fun experiment that stuck around.
The amount of litter so close to the bay is astounding. It made me really sad and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t contributing to it. So much garbage blows out of the bins.
80% of marine debris is from landlocked areas. All storm drains lead to the sea.
What was your lifestyle like prior to starting the transition into zero waste?
Pretty normal? I grew up allergic to dairy, so I was used to cooking from scratch. I was a professional actor, and we’re not known for making much money. So, I’ve always been pretty frugal.
How long did you experience chronic pain and what was it like for you?
It came in waves. But, it felt like someone was stabbing me. I couldn’t wear a bra and lived like that for almost five years. Some days it was fine, and some days it wasn’t. I was just relieved that it wasn’t cancer. The pain sucked, but I’m a pretty positive person. I’m sure chemo would have been a lot worse.
What kinds of challenges did you encounter with changing the way that you eat?
Well, growing up allergic to dairy, I’ve always been really cautious with what I eat. But, I dropped processed food and refined sugar. It wasn’t really a challenge. It was fun learning how to cook with vegetables. I tried tons of new produce and I like almost all of them.
You started experimenting with making different types of cleaning, hygienic, and makeup products as well. What inspired you to start doing this?
You start by making one change, but it’s contagious. You realize it’s super easy to make vinaigrette or bread or cookies and you start thinking, what else is super easy to make? Then you realize almost everything is super easy to make. After that, it’s all about balance. I have a great blog post on the rules of personal sustainability.
Dietary changes helped minimize pain, but it wasn’t until you started making your own deodorant that it went away completely. What was it like for you when the pain first went away?
Dietary changes didn’t really help minimize the pain, it was just a part of the journey. Yeah, it wasn’t like an immediate reaction since the pain came in waves. I realized about 3-4 months later that I hadn’t had any pain. Then I realized that it coincided when I switched from a commercial prescription strength anti-perspirant deodorant to an all-natural deodorant. I haven’t had any pain since making the change. I don’t even remember all the products I was using. I wasn’t a brand loyalist. I was just a normal young girl buying all sorts of beauty products I thought I needed. I have no scientific evidence to back my claim up, but it would appear to be what correlated with the pain.
That must have been an incredible realization that you finally had relief from chronic pain. The founder of our website here at Rise Up Eight had a similar experience, and was able to reverse the process of kidney disease by eliminating chemicals from his life, and moving towards a more natural and organic lifestyle.
Was there a definitive moment when you decided to commit to a zero waste lifestyle?
I decided beginning of 2015. There’s plastic everywhere. 80% of plastic in the ocean is from landlocked states. Being on the coast and finally seeing it was eye opening.
I approached zero waste through a health lens. I cut plastic because it has endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen. I didn’t want anything to do with it after my health issues. After quitting plastic I went zero waste, so it was a pretty gradual transition.
So in layman’s terms, you found that plastic could harm your health, which we’ve read has happened with other people as well. When did you start blogging about your experiences with zero waste?
The last day in March of 2015. I just have a different viewpoint coming from a health point of view, that I didn’t feel was adequately represented. I also don’t come from a progressive coast. I’m from middle America. We’re forgotten because we’re “backward” or “not progressive”, but I truly believe anyone can make a difference. Anyone can make small changes that add up to big impact for both our health and the health of the planet. I wanted to be a voice for everyone and not just someone with a co-op down the street.
In parts of Arkansas, they still don’t offer recycling. We have to change the conversation, and I wanted to be a part of it.
It’s been great so far! I love getting to meet new people and help people reduce their waste. Plus I have a lot of fun getting to write about it and make graphics.
What were some of the obstacles you encountered?
Not too many, I live in a great area with a lot of resources. But, I’m from Arkansas where there aren’t a lot of these resources. I really wanted to write a blog that dealt with compromise. Zero waste is a goal, not an ultimatum. Making any choice in the right direction – is a step in the right direction!
What is the biggest challenge for you in maintaining a zero waste life?
There’s really only been positives in changing my lifestyle. I thought I missed s’mores. My boyfriend Justin, being the wonderful human he is, bought me s’mores gear when we went camping once. They’re really not as good as I remember. Fake food tastes pretty fake after you’ve gotten used to real food. It’s pretty amazing how your taste buds change.
What would be your advice to someone looking to go zero waste?
Patience. It’s a marathon, not a race. Get plugged into a zero waste community. Even if it’s online. You’ll make one change and then two and before you know it you’ll have changed everything! Slow baby steps is the way to go. Start small: compost, bring a water bottle, bring a reusable bag etc.
Told that her pain could be a life-long condition and that it was something she would need to learn to live with, Kathryn followed her instincts and began experimenting with cooking and homemade products. The new method of living paid off and Kathryn was able to defeat her chronic pain by eliminating chemicals in her life.
As she expanded her repertoire of products to include household cleaners and laundry detergents, she decided she wanted to cut down on the trash she generated as much as she could. Her success only inspired her to take it further and to share what she learned with those living in places that can make sustainable living more difficult.
Had Kathryn not begun experiencing the pain that she did, it is possible that she wouldn’t have discovered the lifestyle she now leads. Her journey reminds us that sometimes we need to fall down seven times in order to rise up eight.