Alum Aimed for Zero Waste—And Wrote a Book About It

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It started with Oscar the Grouch, the trashcan-dwelling curmudgeon of “Sesame Street”—followed by the 1970s series of public service ads featuring Woodsy Owl and his catchphrase, “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!”

For Eve Ogden Schaub ’92, BA ’93, BFA ’93, the message stuck.

“I’ve always had an understanding that garbage was not a good thing—and a curiosity about it,” says Schaub. “Back in the days before people would sort for recycling, my parents would put everything in one big, black bag. And I remember thinking, ‘That doesn’t seem right.’”

With her latest book, Schaub challenges herself—and her family—to confront trash’s ubiquity in everyday life.

Author Eve Schaub
Schaub tackled sugar, then clutter—and now trash, a thorny problem in our disposable culture.

For Year of No Garbagethe final installment of her trilogy of memoirs—Schaub, her husband, and their two daughters pledged to divert all the waste produced in their southern Vermont home from landfills and incinerators, whether by reusing, recycling, or composting.

“There are people in the world living zero-waste lifestyles, and I was anxious to try it,” says Schaub, who previously penned Year of No Sugar (2014) and Year of No Clutter (2017). “I have this real stubborn optimism. I always feel like there’s a way—and if I could just look hard enough, I’ll find an answer.”

As a former reporter for the Manchester Journal newspaper and a dual-degree holder in photography and English literature from the College of Arts and Sciences, Schaub approaches her memoirs as chronicles of her lived experiences, mixed with deep-dive research and expert interviews.

There are people in the world living zero-waste lifestyles, and I was anxious to try it.

In No Sugar, Schaub—inspired by a video showcasing the work of endocrinologist and obesity expert Robert Lustig, MD ’80—eliminated (with exceptions) added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and fruit juice from her household’s diet for a year; the project garnered considerable media attention, including a spot on “Dr. Oz.” 

In No Clutter, she tackled her home’s “Hell Room,” an upstairs bedroom so packed she could barely open the door. Along the way, she confronted our collective perception of possessions as invaluable parts of our identities.

Cover of Year of No Garbage, a book by Eve Schaub

For No Garbage, Schaub interviewed dozens of recycling and sustainability experts and parsed government documents, court records, and think-tank reports to discern exactly what happens to our solid waste and recyclables.

After taking out the last of the previous year’s trash on January 1, Schaub began composting food waste—which, in a woodsy state like Vermont, was the easy part. But sorting through synthetic items for recycling was a constant, laborious task.

“I firmly believed that all these different wrappers and containers had a purpose, a perfect home,” Schaub writes, “if only I could figure out what it was.”

Schaub’s “recycling station”—in many ways its own character in the book—spiraled from tiny, organized stacks to a snarled pile.

Though she avoided obvious offenders like excessive packaging, “the small stuff that I didn’t know what to do with seemed never-ending,” she writes—like the plastic rings around lids of cardboard oatmeal containers and glass olive jars, or the stickers affixed to most produce. 

And when it came time to research where some recyclables were ending up, Schaub says, her garbage-free journey became far more nebulous and disheartening than she’d anticipated.

An array of recyclable waste items organized in clear containers
Part of Schaub’s recycling and sorting station, about midway through the year.

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The truths she uncovered—particularly around plastics—alarmed her.

“When we stopped throwing things away, very quickly, Darth Vader emerged,” Schaub jokes. “And it was plastic.”

While she learned that some types of glass and paper have favorable recycling rates—particularly cardboard, at 90%—securing reputable destinations for other materials was daunting.

Plastic, at a dismal 5%, quickly became the biggest obstacle to her family’s trash-free existence.

When we stopped throwing things away, very quickly, Darth Vader emerged—and it was plastic.

“I think most people believe that if they make the effort to put something in recycling, it will be recycled—but that’s not happening,” says Schaub. “The government is not watching, and corporations don’t care.”

From a recycling standpoint, she says, the least consumers can do is be mindful of single-use plastics.

On a larger scale, Schaub urges readers to support legislation addressing plastic waste—whether through bag bans, bottle return bills, or holding corporations accountable for the high environmental cost of the waste their products create.

Says Schaub: “Individual action is important—but by itself, it is not going to make the difference.” 

Eve Schaub sorting through plastic trash items
Sorting and salvaging—but what to do with all those food wrappers?

In large part, Schaub was inspired to pursue her trilogy’s “year of” format by two high-profile projects: the 2004 documentary Super Size Me—in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock chronicled the effects of eating nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days—and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 book about her family’s adoption of a strictly local diet on their Appalachian farm.

“Three feels like a good number,” Schaub says of her series. “I love the symmetry of what we put into our bodies, the things we keep in our homes, and, lastly, the things we put into the environment. There’s a nice closure to that.”

All photos provided.

Published May 2, 2023


  1. Holton Falk, Class of 1978

    Reducing waste is a laudable goal. I can’t imagine getting to zero waste! What an inspiring and informative story.

  2. Eric Key, Class of 1977

    STYROFOAM! Actually, we know a place in PA that reuses it. But what a problem.

  3. Teresita Seminario Dillon, Class of 1980

    If people get inspired at least a 10% of Mrs Schaub actions it will make a big difference in our consumption and environment.

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