"In a February 2010 issue of The New York Times, I read about a family that did not own a trash can, and thought, “That’s impossible, how could someone live without a trash can?”
Managing the trash was an unfortunate necessity in my household. Filling the trash bin, bagging it, and hauling it to the curb: this was a routine I thought could never change. It was the first of many assumptions I had about zero waste that would ultimately prove to be untrue.
Friends laughed when I told them about my plans to zero waste my home. Out of all of us, I was the last person you would consider to be environmentally friendly. After all, one of my favorite activities was shopping at the mall, not hugging a tree or saving a whale or eating granola. (Silly misconceptions about zero waste advocates, I admit, and ones that were quickly dispelled. I even learned that I like granola.) But, I had recently moved across the country and experienced the horror that is the moving process. Yes, packing up everything we owned into boxes and hauling them into a moving truck was a tedious endeavor, but it did leave a strong visual impression. I had a nice image of just how much random stuff my family and I had accumulated over the years. Half of the items I packed up I do not even remember purchasing, or using, for that matter. I started to look for a better way, and the article on the Johnson family’s efforts arrived at just the right time.
I started applying Bea’s zero waste tips to my household, at a pace that my family and I could adapt to. Our first steps were grocery shopping with reusable bags and jars, and paring down the number of items we already owned. I worked the zero waste concepts in room-by-room, tackling the kitchen first, as this was where we produced the most trash. It was easy to see how much excess we had: three sets of measuring spoons, a junk drawer filled with expired coupons, two rice cookers that took up valuable counter space. I quickly filled up a moving box with stuff and donated it.
Grocery shopping with reusables proved to be less arduous than I had thought, especially after I learned to contact customer service about the store’s bring-your-own container policy. Once I had the store manager’s okay, it was easy to ask the counter service employees to fill up my glass jars with meat, cheese, etc. I even got a store credit for each bag or container I used.
I learned that going zero waste did not mean deprivation, as I had feared. If anything it has actually opened up more opportunities. Healthier meals, more time to spend with the family, a home that feels uncluttered and comfortable to live in, money savings, learning to buy smart instead of buying a lot. More importantly, it has taught me that the choices I make each day do add up to a difference. Naysayers may discourage my efforts by saying one less plastic cup will not save the environment, but they are missing the point. Making the choice everyday to not produce unnecessary waste shows me that I can shake up my old routine, that change is possible, that I can live with less waste. Each time I refuse a plastic straw or ask that my beverage be served in my travel mug, I am standing up for what I believe in and taking action. Working on zero waste in the home has awakened my interest in the larger environmental issues at hand, whether it is reading up on food and agriculture policy, questioning ingredients in personal care products, or getting involved in my community’s recycling practices. It has even opened up my eyes to the amount of waste that I produce at work and inspired me to get involved with a waste reduction committee at my workplace.
What has kept me going with zero waste for more than a year and a half is that it is not just about reducing trash. It has helped me reevaluate what is most important to me—my family and friends—and given me time to spend with them instead of going on an endless shopping spree. I now have more happy experiences to share with my family, a growing interest in the environment, and, thankfully, fewer things to pack up on our