No Wonder You Were Afraid to Ask #44– Jonathan Levy – The Zero Waste Guy!

Jonathan Levy aka the “Zero Waste Guy is an Environmental Consultant from Los Angeles. This is his story.

I was born in the Bay Area but moved to Southern California for college. I wanted to get away, but still have the benefit of in-state tuition. I thought that SoCal and NorCal would be similar, but man was I wrong!

I love making things more efficient. These things could be a business process or congestion on the freeway. No matter what it is, I am always looking for ways to make things run smoother. In business talk we’d say, “minimize cost,” or “maximize throughput.”

I am really proud that I have stuck with my current zero waste path for more than four years. I really want to have an impactful life. I try to always be present, and not get stuck in the weeds. Most people are so caught up in their own immediate needs that they aren’t always mindful that there are seven billion other people out there. I try to be as mindful as possible and wish that more people would follow my lead.

I try to encourage people to live more with less. I know that sounds a bit cliche, but it’s true! Before I started working at the job right before my European and African adventure, I didn’t really care about money or possessions. After only a few months at that job, however, I found myself starting to obsess over stuff. I drove a Civic that was in great condition, but out of the blue, I decided I wanted a BMW. I (fortunately) didn’t buy it, but I used to obsess over it. I even remember one month getting a credit card statement for $3000 (SERIOUSLY)! I was like, “What the heck did I buy?” I was eating out a lot, taking lots of weekend getaways to get my mind off things, and drinking more beer than I probably should have been. My life was out of balance.

Now, I am much closer to the opposite end of the spectrum. I don’t buy much, but appreciate what I do have. Most of my possessions have a story, and I like it that way.

Connect with this Inspirational Soul online, here:

Twitter:  yeah, an inactive account has it without a 1

Let’s get intimate with Jonathan as he answers the Bonus Questions.

Do you recycle?

Short answer: No. Or not really. Packaging has always driven me crazy. From chip bags half-filled with air to individually packaged snaps containerized in additional paperboard or plastic (or both), most packaging is unnecessary. So when I decided to go zero waste, my first objective was to only buy items without packaging.

Most people are familiar with the three-Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but many of us don’t consider how deliberate the order is. We should always reduce first what we don’t need. Don’t buy that fancy new widget just because you want it. Instead, buy it because you need it. We can also reduce by reusing and repairing items that broken. We often find ourselves tossing items that could be repaired.
Recycling should be reserved as a last-ditch effort. Many people do not realize that garbage companies do their best to sort materials by type, then sell them on the open market. If there is too much of a material for sale, the price goes down. Some items, like most plastics, are so low in quality with too much available for sale that they often are just thrown away. Why risk putting a material in a recycle bin that might not be recycled? Instead, I try to avoid using lower quality, single-use items.

What is your favorite Inspirational quote?

For my first job after college, I was a management trainee for UPS in a huge warehouse. Inside the employee break room in a prominent position was the quotation, “What you are when no one is looking is what you will be when you least expect it.” It was there, no doubt, to remind employees who stole packages that if they did it enough, they would eventually be caught. Nonetheless, I took that quote to heart.

I have always believed that integrity is the most important trait a person can have. If you can’t trust me by my word, then can you ever truly trust me at all? I periodically think back to that quote to reinforce a concept that has always been a part of my ethos. I guess on the most basic level, I would be terribly embarrassed and ashamed if I was ever caught misleading a client or one of my friends. Plus, if you cut corners in one area, then you will probably cut corners in other areas too. It’s definitely not worth the risk.

Do you think humans should be concerned about the planet?

Absolutely. This really has nothing to do with global warming or whether you believe in climate change (like it could be a belief!). Instead, I go back to a core principle that I was raised with: leave it better than you found it. Seriously, that’s it, and this concept applies to everything. Why, after all, would you leave anything worse off than you found it?

I use owning or renting a home as an example. If you own your home, you want to keep it well maintained so that it lasts a long time and can either be passed onto your children or sold for at least what you paid for it. If you rent your home, you want to keep it well maintained so your landlord doesn’t charge you for damaging it.

Our planet is on loan from our children and the future generations. How fair is that? Decisions we make today often don’t affect us until further down the road. Why leave Earth in worse condition that we found it?

What is the most adventurous thing you ever did?

In the Fall of 2012, I quit my well-paying job with a well-known American company to take some time off and travel Europe. Most people thought I was nuts, but it was something I had to do. To begin with, I took the job for all the wrong reasons: Salary, title, status… yadda yadda. I ended up only working there for nine months because I just couldn’t take it. For 12 hours per day, I was inside a warehouse around tons and tons of single-use, low quality, disposable stuff. At the time I considered myself to be environmentally friendly (or at least aware), but that job brought to the surface the fact that I just wasn’t doing enough.

My job was to manage the mechanics who maintained the conveyor belts and folk lifts. I felt like I was helping optimize a company that thrived on selling disposable stuff. It just wasn’t me.
I spent three months traveling to a dozen countries, including Morocco. Morocco was hands down the highlight of my trip. It was such a rich country that was like no other place I had other been. Plus, everyone was super friendly.

What has been your favorite age so far?

My favorite age is the age I am right now, so it changes every day. I know there are a lot of people who get hung up on their experiences in high school or college like they are the glory days, but I am happy to be alive, right here, right now. If you asked me 10 years ago when I graduated from college if I thought this was where I would be, I would have said something along the lines of, “Hell no!” What did I know back then, anyway? Haha. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new and to grow. Hindsight is 20/20, right, so there is no point in dwelling on the past.

Do you think you think it’s possible to have your dream job?

Dream jobs are overrated and I don’t think they exist. When it comes to jobs in sustainability, specifically, they are few and far between. What I tell people who are looking for environmentally-friendly work, is that they should make whatever it is they are doing as sustainable as possible. This concept applies to any job. Yes, when it is all said and done, we are replaceable, but doing everything in our power to be the best employee we can be is important.

As it relates to me personally, I do contract work, which means everything is constantly up in the area. I feel uncertainty over when I will get paid, or what my next project will be. It is definitely not an idea, and I wish it was more consistent, but I’ll take this setup every time over a job with a consistent paycheck, but lacks impact or meaning.

What is the number one reason you doubt yourself?

This is the worst question ever! I don’t know why I doubt myself. I don’t know about you, but I am my harshest critic. I tend to focus so much on perfection that I doubt my ability to get the job done. Why am I so self-destructive? The crazy thing is that often things don’t need to be perfect. Instead, “good enough” will do. Wait, this doesn’t explain why I doubt myself!

What is one thing you tell people right now to change the world for the better?

Work on having positive dialogues with others, but especially those of us whose views do not align with our own. Social Media has created this vacuum to where it is possible to only interact with people who share the exact same beliefs as you do. Oftentimes, perspectives that are different are viewed as “too this,” or “too that;” “Too PC,” or “Not PC Enough.”

I used to have a “My way or the highway mentality,” but over time I have come to be much more open minded. Traveling really helps with this. It’s easy to have preconceived notions about another part of our country or the people of another country if you haven’t been there or any of their people.
Take a moment to get to know the people around you. An easy way to start this habit is by saying hello to your neighbor. You might be surprised at how much in common you actually have.

Are you afraid of dying? Why or why not?

I used to be tremendously afraid of dying. I had this mentality that if died tomorrow my life would have been wasted because I would have been unable to have the maximum impact. Now, I think that’s silly. Every day I do my best to have an impact on the people around me. And, although I don’t always immediately (or ever) see the results of my impact, every so often someone tells me that I’ve had an impact on them; that I’ve motivated them to reduce waste, experience more or try something new. It is in those moments that I am reminded that I am on the right path, aka, my path.

The one thing we all have in common is that we will die at some point. Sometimes the timing makes sense, but not always. Because of this inconsistency, there is no point in sweating over something so big that I cannot control.

Would you like to see a different form of government? What would that look like?

I wish that politicians would join forces to create positive change. Republicans were notorious for fighting Obama just because he was a Democrat and my fear is that Democrats will do the same for Trump. We need these people to actually fight for our best interests, not the interests of corporations. Did you know that up until 2013, it wasn’t illegal for our congressmen to participate in insider trading? Nuts, right?

Many people wish we had a three- or four-party system, instead of just two, but I don’t think that is the way either. The Philippines are a perfect example. They had five candidates in their general election and the man who one received only 16% of the vote.

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