Zoë Hester, an ETSU graduate student, works to encourage others to live a low waste lifestyle.

Hester runs an Instagram account and blog called Zero Waste East Tennessee, which focuses on her experiences living a low waste, sustainable lifestyle. She also hosts meet and greets for people who want to discuss low waste and plant-based living.

“I decided to start documenting my own experiences with a low waste lifestyle on Instagram because I hadn’t seen any representation for the movement in this region on social media,” explained Hester. “A lot of the big name zero waste Instagrammers live in California or big cities, and their access to sustainable options is very different than ours.”

Her Instagram and blog provide ideas for making sustainable choices on an everyday basis. She provides links to products that she uses herself and explains why making the switch to these products is important. For example, in one post, she explains why using a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one is a more eco-friendly choice.

While making a lifestyle change like living low-waste can seem overwhelming, Hester explained how to get started.

“I started making small changes to my own habits,” she said. “I told myself that I would make one change at a time, and as soon as a new habit became easy, I would make another change.”

Hester has plenty of advice for college students thinking about transitioning to a low-waste lifestyle.

“One of the easiest ways to reduce trash in college is to look at your coffee habit,” advised Hester. “Are you throwing K-cups in the trash every morning? Replace your Keurig or use reusable K-cups. Do you get coffee to go every day? Bring your own cup.”

According to Hester, “freebies” given away at campuses can add to this waste.

“Although it’s tempting to take all the cheap freebies that show up on college campuses – like T-shirts you’ll never wear, plastic pens, sticky-notes, plastic cups – ask yourself if you really need that item before you take it,” she said. “Are you taking it because you actually need it or just because it’s free? The ‘five R’s’ of zero waste are reduce, reuse, refuse, recycle and rot [ or compost.] Refusing can often be the hardest habit to form.”

In addition to inspiring others with her blog and Instagram, Hester is a student in the English master’s of arts program and is working on her Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages certification. After graduation, she hopes to become an English as a second language teacher as well as continuing to share her low waste lifestyle.

“I hope that by creating an account that highlights low waste living in East Tennessee, I can inspire other people in this region to join the movement,” Hester said.

To keep up with her low waste experiences, follow her on Instagram @zerowaste.easttennessee and subscribe to her blog https://zerowastetnzoe.wordpress.com/.