A Pittsburgh native, Shannon Sankey is a poet currently based in Morgantown, WV. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Pedagogy from Chatham University, where she was the Whitford Fellow. She is the recipient of a 2017 Academy of American Poets University & College Poetry Prize. She founded Stranded Oak Press to publish chapbooks by Pittsburgh poets, facilitate community intersections, and support a more accessible poetry scene. Her poems and essays have appeared in print and online literary journals. She practices a sustainable lifestyle and zero-waste mindset. She is disabled-identified.
“Bourdain” / Barrelhouse (forthcoming)
“Sad Sound” / Storyscape
“Drill” / Glass Poetry: Poets Resist Series
WATCH: “Infusion,” a short film / Visible Poetry Project
“Miraculous Bird” / SWWIM
“Infusion” / Rogue Agent
“Groundskeeper” / Academy of American Poets
“Women’s Cancer Center” / Hospital Drive
“Haiku for Mara Flanagan” / Post-Gazette
Collected Poems / Route 30 Anthology
“Dream Book” / Pretty Owl Poetry
“Groceries in Carrick” / Pittsburgh Poetry Houses
“On Steps” / City Paper: Chapter & Verse
“Watching My Mother Sleep” / Pittsburgh Poetry Review
“Thorn Street” / The Rectangle
“Little Prayer” / Atticus Review
University & College Prize, Academy of American Poets (2017)
Honorable Mention, University & College Prize,
Academy of American Poets (2016)
Margaret L. Whitford Fellowship (2015-17)
Gerald Stern Poetry Prize (2015)
Green Scholar Research Assistantship (2014-15)
1st Place, Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Poetry Contest (2013)
Poetry and Pedagogy of Creative Writing. Awarded the 2015-17 Whitford Fellowship.
at West Virginia Botanic Garden
at Penn State Fayette
at Allegheny County Jail
Zero-waste lifestyle to drastically reduce landfill waste, minimize plastic waste, and reframe consumption.
Published in online and print literary magazines. BA and MFA in Creative Writing.
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Co-Editor of Stranded Oak Press, an independent publisher of poetry chapbooks.
SWAPS FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
In early 2017, my partner and I began to research and gradually adopt sustainable, zero-waste lifestyle behaviors to dramatically reduce our landfill waste, minimize our reliance on plastic recycling, and reframe our consumption reflexes.
I’ve aggregated, out of order, the sustainable swaps we made to our hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and living habits in hopes that you might find them helpful. My greatest surprise in this process has been the relative simplicity, affordability, and efficiency of changes that benefit me, my community, and the environment.
While considering which of these measures might suit your lifestyle best, consider my privilege and limitations. My disposable income, time, and access to resources contribute to my sustainability successes. My geolocation in West Virginia, along with my chronic illness, contribute to my sustainability challenges. Not every measure will be possible or reasonable for you and your family. And that’s okay! The primary objective is to start thinking about the whats and whys and hows of your consumption.
Disclaimer: It’s important to note that nothing you see here is particularly revolutionary. Some socioeconomic divisions and BIPOC communities rely on sustainable tools and practices because it’s simply not financially practical to dispose of resources. Your grandmother is familiar with this lifestyle, too. It’s not necessary, in most cases, to buy the items I’ve linked below. A quick trip to the thrift store and some old-fashioned resourcefulness is enough to get you started.
THE PAPER TOWEL PROBLEM
When we started this process, I was most apprehensive about ditching the paper towels. I had to really consider why I was reaching for them. Research led me to find that the pervasiveness of paper towels, like most things, is a product of good advertising. This item represents the ethos of zero waste: why do we purchase something manufactured to be thrown away? Unfortunately, there is no “away.” It’s time to reconsider our tools.
CLOTH TISSUES & BAR SOAP
Old rags, handkerchiefs, and torn shirts make a simple and effective replacement for facial tissue. The used rags go in the bin to be washed once every two weeks. Bar soap is a simple swap: cheaper, unpackaged, and long-lasting.
Bamboo toothbrushes can be composted, saving the landfill a lifetime of your plastic toothbrushes. I prefer this option to dental tablets and chewing sticks. Alternatively, TerraCycle has a recycling partnership with Colgate, if you love your brush.
BULK LAUNDRY DETERGENT
Check your local co-op, or wherever you might find bulk products, for a laundry detergent dispenser/tap. We fill up a small growler of tap-detergent; because it is concentrated, it lasts us for months at a time.
The fashion industry is a primary contributor to landfill waste. Consider a capsule wardrobe: a carefully assembled collection of only a dozen or so essential pieces that will last a long time. When something is worn beyond repair, it goes in the fabric basket to be made into gifts, rags, and whatever we need. Pick up quality pieces from the thrift store; cotton/wool keep micro-plastics out of the oceans.
Cotton napkins replace paper towels. Bulk dish detergent and bar soap replace plastic pumps. Compostable bamboo dish brushes get the job done even better than a sponge. I mix white vinegar, lemon, and water in a spray bottle to clean surfaces. I’m amazed by how smoothly and simply the kitchen runs these days.
Our local co-op has a robust selection of bulk goods, but this isn’t true for everyone. We’re able to stock up on package-free sugar, salt, peppercorn, chia seeds, cacao, popcorn kernels, coffee, noodles, rice, and more. When we’re low on a few things, we come clanking back for more.
Instead of running to the market for water jugs or cases of plastic water bottles, we invested in a spigot filter. Cartridges must be changed every few months, and many companies have recycling programs. There are lower-waste options, too, like simple carbon filters.
We swapped the drip machine for a French press and tea kettle. Now, coffee is more of a ritual and practice than an automatic reflex. No more paper filters! We take our coffee thermoses everywhere. Often, convenience stores and cafes give us discounts for BYO cups.
REUSABLE FOOD STORAGE
Bee’s Wrap is a waxy food storage solution to replace foil, plastic wrap, and snack bags. Simply wrap cheeses, produce, containers, and even loaves of bread with the various sizes. Cold-rinse and wipe to reuse. Cotton produce bags replace the green plastic bags at the market (and they tend to start conversations, too). You can use a nut milk bag to strain blended almonds into fresh, package-free milk (add a little honey, cacao, or vanilla).
HERB / VEGETABLE GARDEN
If you have a little time and energy, consider a small container garden. Pictured are a few of our potted winter plants. We pinch off chive, basil, and sage for cooking to avoid a) packaged herbs and b) surplus waste.
You know those blue plastic bags you get at the market? We recycled about 8 lbs of them when we switched to canvas bags (you can only recycle in designated bins at the market, not in your municipal bin). If we forget bags, we carry food out in our hands. We keep these tools with us to eat on-the-go: steel straws, multi-utensils, and bamboo sporks. Pick up some tiffins to use as take-out containers, and never forget your water canteen!
Glass will last! You can use glass for food storage, fermentation, canning, and more. If we buy a jar, we keep it. For example, we melted down the old wax from our Yankee candles and turned them into food storage jars. It’s not about a consistent or clean aesthetic; it’s about considering carefully the resources you bring in and out of your life.
I try to open boxes and envelopes carefully so they can be reused. I keep an organized collection of zip-ties, a ball of string, a ball of rubber bands, and anything else that sneaks into the house by way of gifts or shipments. I keep a stash of newspaper, too, for lighting the grill and wrapping presents.
We try to shop for in-season produce whenever possible to reduce our carbon footprint, connect with the agricultural seasons in West Virginia, save money, and try different foods. We have a farm share, so we pick up fresh produce from a nearby farm once a week in the summer. We try to limit take-out food and packaged meat to minimize waste. It can be a creative challenge to use up everything in the fridge before it spoils, but it’s worth it. Most households’ primary contribution to the landfill is food waste.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to chat.
Book Shannon for a reading or get in touch about a project. Remote/travel opportunities welcome.