I've been obsessed with trash my whole life.
When I was a kid, my mom would pull our giant, purple, 90s conversion van over to the side of the road a few times a week to dig through other people's trash. We didn't necessarily need anything in those piles, but she just couldn’t stand all of that good stuff going to waste. And there was always a lot of good stuff out in the trash. Then and now, people threw away treasures - items with plenty of life left in them, destined for a landfill or worse.
In high school, horrified by all the waste, I started a recycling program at my school and spent my time during special events sorting through the stuff everyone else was throwing away. In college as a Sustainability Science major, I helped start a composting program in our main dining hall. I spent many lunches standing amidst the waste bins trying to help other students sort through the leftovers on their plates.
Then I worked in recycling and food recovery. And then I went back to school to keep studying waste, because I still didn't understand why we made so much of it and how to fix the problem.
It turns out, most of my life I was looking at trash the wrong way. I was always focused on downstream solutions - things like recycling better or composting more. In other words, how to deal with waste after it's already waste. I've learned since that we have to zoom further back, and make sure that all that waste is never created in the first place.
Most people know some of the statistics about our waste problem: projections that plastic pieces will outnumber fish, microplastics being found everywhere from fresh fruit to isolated mountains to the human placenta, and single-use consumer items being connected to environmental degradation and climate change along every part of their supply chain long before they hit the trash.
And most people are doing the best they can, but the system sometimes makes it hard to connect our values with our actions. The biggest producers of household and personal care items are also some of the biggest polluters on the planet.
I created KnoxFill to offer better alternatives to wasteful products in our community. When I started on my less-waste journey, I didn't know where to start and wished we had a local shop that sold zero waste goods. We all need things like soap and toothpaste - but we don't need the single use packaging these products usually come in!
I care about making our community a more sustainable, safer, and equitable place. Whenever possible, we've worked to source locally made products from right here in Tennessee. A percentage of all earnings will also go to local non-profits dedicated to the work of environmental, racial, and social justice.
Together, we can make a small change in our part of the world.
- Michaela Barnett