I read an article in Sunset magazine (January 2011 issue) about the Zero Waste Family. They are amazing - a true inspiration. While the average consumer throws out "1,130 pounds of waste each year," they (The Johnsons) only throw away "a few handfuls of non-recyclable waste." Wow! I went on to read that the matriarch and instigator of this lifestyle change, Bea Johnson, said,
"When we started getting rid of things, it was kind of addictive....[and] Photos are a good way to keep the memory of something without keeping it because of emotional attachment or the guilt of letting it go." Put another way: Hang onto the photo of your grandmother in her fur coat, but if you never wear the coat, it's just taking up space in your closet.
It made so much sense! I investigated further after reading by going onto Bea Johnson's blog - Zero Waste Home. Again, it was an inspirational process of how they came to live like this.
How do they do it? It's easy, when their mantra is "'Refuse, refuse, refuse, and then reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot [compost],' explains Bea. "The first step is to refuse products and packaging that you'll have to dispose of later."
The 5 R’s, if followed in order, can help you on your waste-reduction journey.
1) Refuse most receipts, disposable single-use items, handouts, freebies, and even gifts that don’t fit your lifestyle.
2) Reduce you consumption of disposables, like razors, or single-use water bottles, and prepackages items. Farmer’s Markets and Bulk stores are the best places for finding sticker-free fruits and vegetables, carton-free eggs, plastic/cardboard free staples. Reduce your need to “stay on trend” with ever changing fashion or home décor and opt for a more timeless, simple style. Anything can be reduced if you really put your mind to it.
3) Reuse anything you can think of. That empty cottage cheese container? Use it to store leftovers or to hold supplies. Use your clean mason and jelly jars to get fresh meat/cheese from the deli to avoid its packaging. Old shirt or pillow case on its way out? Turn it into a grocery bag or alternative to wrapping paper.
4) Recycle. We’ve been beaten over the head with this, but if you manage to stick to the above three first, the hope is that you’ll have less to recycle. Plastic/metal/glass can be recycled, but I’d consider donating unused items to thrift stores a form of recycling as well.
5). Rot (Compost). So much food waste and paper/cardboard items can be turned into usable, fertile soil. The food and paper items that end up in landfills, however, have a hard time breaking down since their natural decomposition is slowed by all the different chemicals and toxins from all the different, inorganic materials.
One of the simple ways that the Johnsons succeed in this is by bringing their own jars, totes, and bags to the grocery store and shopping the outer rims of the store, focusing on the bulk sections and they buy fresh at their Farmer's Market. They avoid anything prepacked like the plague.
The part I liked the most in the article was about their two sons' playroom - "In the playroom there are four bins of toys. The rule is simple: if they want something new to them, it needs to fit in the bins."
On birthdays/holidays, family and friends are encouraged to give gifts of experience, like "a weekend of skiing." And I also liked the fact that each family member has a limited number of clothes, for example their sons each have "7 casual tops, 1 dress shirt, 4 bottoms, 3 pairs of shoes, and 1 pair of PJs per season," - it must make laundry a breeze!
As I read, I thought to myself, "Can I do this? How much in my house is unused? How much do I buy and then throw away? Could I sustain something like this?" Well, I'm sure it helps to have money...I was a little discouraged by this fleeting thought since my husband and I are on tight budgets - very tight. Though Bea did say this process took years and she actually shops second hand thrift stores (which I love to do!). In April, 2010, she only spent about "$40 replenishing clothes for her whole family." So the more I thought, the more I was determined to make this work for my budget, too!
The more I thought about it, the more I got excited and I couldn't wait to get home and donate my unused stuff! The tally totaled eight full boxes of stuff! I was originally going to have a yard sale, but the timing was a little last minute, so I just decided to donate it to a local thrift store to get it all out of my living room. I felt cleansed! Bea was right, it is addictive!
|My tinted bottles|
That article had an impact I hadn't really anticipated. I've started looking at prepackaged things - not necessarily in a new light - but in a renewed light. Though I must admit, that we haven't refused/reduced as much as we could/should, but I have been reusing items in creative and unexpected ways. I've been cleaning and saving our glass and plastic jars when we run out of jelly, or peanut butter, etc. which has come in handy! So far, I've used several peanut butter jars as paint containers for small painting projects and I found a nifty idea for my glass bottles/jelly jars to hang on our balcony garden!
I wish I could shop more bulk foods, but unfortunately there isn't a place in town (that I know of) that has a good selection. However, I have been cooking more with raw foods and I've started bringing my own fabric grocery bags to the store (before we were drowning in plastic bags - however we did use them for kitty litter clean up and for ceramic projects, so it's not like they weren't being used - and then I found out Walmart has a plastic bag recycling program!) and so far I have refused the majority of receipts (a useless waste of paper the majority of the time).
I recently went through all our paperwork, like bills and medical receipts, etc. and filled two huge trash bags with 5+ years worth of unnecessary paperwork to recycle!
For birthdays and Christmas I am going to make fabric totes/bags for gift giving. Last Christmas, 2010, hurt my feelings a little bit when realizing how much pomp and paper and packaging is wasted in this consumerist holiday. Yes, I love a perfectly wrapped present as much as the next person, but if I can wrap in something sustainable and reusable, then, by golly, I'm going to do it! *Update 4/16/17* I pretty much forego wrapping paper as it is unnecessary, like most Europeans do.
I'm excited to see where this journey takes us. I doubt we'll be as hardcore as the Johnson family, but I'd like to be, and I’ve become a lot more conscious about what I bring into my house and what I can prevent contributing to a landfill.
Remember, your dollar is a vote.