Julia Sampson at recycling center in Fayetteville, Arkansas

One Year, One Bag of Trash

Julia Sampson moves toward zero-waste

Julia Sampson, a neighbor at Willow Park Apartments, is a cornerstone of sustainability in Northwest Arkansas. She works for Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, where she helps to create innovative solutions for local farmers in thirteen southern U.S. states. She has served on the board of Ozark Natural Foods, co-directed the first project in NWA to feature meals created with “local food,” and founded Appleseeds NWA, which educates students about where their food comes from, how to grow it, and how to make healthy meals.

Julia takes recycling seriously. On the day we spoke to her, she came out of her apartment carrying her recycling bin, which contained a kitty litter box and jars for coconut oil and multivitamins. She began really trying to reduce the landfill trash she produces in 2000, when the city of Fayetteville instituted a new system to reduce the city’s trash output, in which each household received two large trash bags each week. Opponents of the program said that wasn’t enough for large families, but environmental activists thought it was overly generous—an opinion which Julia shared. That year, she fit an entire year’s worth of trash in one thirty-gallon trash bag to prove that it could be done.

Smiling woman standing in front of trees with container under her right arm

The land we live in and the earth are gifts. We are stewards. Our job is to take really, really good care of it.

How she did it

Not everyone can make it a whole year with just one bag of trash, but Julia’s approach can help us all to have a lighter footprint

  1. Plan before you shop
  2. Buy in bulk, bring your own reusable containers
  3. If it can’t be recycled, don’t bring it home

The key, according to Julia, is planning before you actually go to the store. Julia takes containers with her when she shops to buy in bulk, and when she must purchase food in containers, she ensures that the container is recyclable. If it isn’t, she doesn’t buy it—”don’t even bring it home!” She calls this choice the “fourth R” of recycling—reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse.” According to Julia, “you have to use your dollars to vote,” especially when the health of the planet is concerned. Julia subscribes to the ecological philosophy of seven generation sustainability: this concept, which originated with the Iroquois, dictates that decisions be made by considering how they will affect children seven generations down the line. She says, “The land we live in and the earth are gifts. We are stewards. Our job is to take really, really good care of it.”

Julia also seeks to apply the seven generations principle to the ways she purchases and consumes food. Even the shirt she wore read “The Future Depends on Us—Support Family Farmers.” She believes strongly in eating food grown locally and keeping local farmers in business, for the health of our bodies, our economy, and the earth. She orders most of her produce through CSA boxes, and she gets her meat from Ozark Pasture Beef. Her face lit up as she exclaimed, “I can get delicious local beef and chicken delivered!” A major element of her work and personal eating philosophy is that people should know where their food comes from and how it is produced. That’s why she founded Appleseeds NWA, a local nonprofit that creates school programs to educate students in where their food comes from, how to grow it, and how to make healthy meals for themselves and their families.

We hope that Julia’s life and philosophy can inspire you to make better decisions for the planet and your health through changing the ways you recycle and buy products. If you live at a Specialized Real Estate Group property, then you are lucky enough to have onsite recycling! If you don’t have a habit of recycling already, then set a small goal to start, as simple as recycling all of your cans for one month. If you’re in the habit of recycling already and are looking to decrease your landfill trash further, consider setting a goal to refuse more: try to be more conscious of whether or not the packaging for the products you buy are recyclable or compostable, or if they will have to go into a landfill. It’s also not too late to join Plastic Free July, a movement to cut out single-use plastic (like plastic straws, cold brew cups, and ziploc bags) for one month.

The original version of this story by Emalie Cockrell appeared in Connection, our quarterly newsletter.

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