Friday, January 07, 2011

Could we be a zero-waste home like this family in Mill Valley? 10 Tips

Said family is the subject of this Sunset article, and let me say off the bat that I think they're totally inspirational. They produce about one handful of garbage per YEAR, according to the article. ?! It's amazing and a bit intimidating, but hey-- they're like the Olympians of waste reduction. I can admire an Olympian and daydream about flying through the air like an Olympian without feeling terrible that I'm not going to BE an Olympian.

But are we even on the path to being totally zero-waste? Erm, as much as I aspire to it, probably not. We're perhaps too entrenched in our Trader Joe's snackies in their plastic bags. And all the other stuff that makes us so very, very far from a zero-waste home. And even though we recycle diligently, I have to admit that the mom of the household Bea Johnson is right: much of what we put in recycling ends up trashed, so it's best to just reduce that too.

However, I'm not one to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There were so many good tips in there that making even one a permanent part of our household can make a real difference in our waste output. And I was totally on board with her quest to know and love everything in her household. I don't want to have a bunch of crap I don't use or need or even like. (This has been a good way to ruthlessly edit my closet, too.)

So maybe we're not the worst when it comes to reducing waste.  Some examples from the article:

  1. Get rid of the packaging in the kitchen. (Ahem, see note above about Trader Joe's snackies.) But I did just purchase these lovely glass containers with the idea that using them in the pantry would help me be more organized, make the snacks easier to see, keep them fresher longer, and-- here's the less-waste part-- encourage us to buy from the bulk bins at the grocery store, saving money and packaging.
  2. Use good quality and double-duty-ready tools. It's true, we do use our cheese grater as a zester on occasion. Score one for reducing stuff! And we try to buy heavy duty stuff that lasts. Cast iron cookware is an excellent example.
  3. Eliminate paper towels. This was easy because we have so many prefold diapers left from our diapering days, and they are perfect as floor and counter towels. These things have gotten washed so many times and they're still in fantastic condition. If you want to find some, check out what was one of my favorite cloth diaper stores, Cotton Babies.
  4. Eliminate books. Well, in a home where there's a professor, a law grad and two book lovers raising two more book lovers, it ain't happening. The Johnson family gets all theirs from the library. I love this idea for the kids' books, but even then, they have favorites they want to read again and again (and again and again and again). I know it's a privilege to give them access to books like that, but it's fundamentally important enough to who we are as a family that I don't feel bad about this one. On the other hand, I do see the overall point to cut back and to use the library for books that aren't keepers (and to donate books I once thought of as keepers. Sigh, goodbye Trixie Belden YA series.). Additionally, the Kindle has been surprisingly wonderful for storing and toting around a giant book collection without having a zillion heavy books.
  5. Instead of toys, have experiences. While the girls are both at ages where they really benefit from having toys to imagine about and play with (and have to share), I think as they get a bit older, it'll be great to give them experiences instead-- ice skating lessons that P has been asking for, or camping trips and such.
  6. Cut back in the bathroom. No, we are keeping the toilet paper. But she suggests getting rid of makeup, and it's true that I could stand to toss out some older lip glosses and powder I never use. So, check-- there's another place I can reduce some stuff.  And can repurpose! I have some mineral powder eye shadows that are like powder glitter. Barely wear it these days, but mixed with a drop of water, it makes lovely nontoxic skin paint for the girls who love to be glittery.
  7. Clean the closet! Love the idea of paring down in the closet to items I really love. I try to do this all the time and it makes getting dressed easy. Now I have to edit the girls' closet as well! The nice thing about kids' clothes is that they're easy to pass on to others. I can think of some stuff I could still eliminate though. Must get to work on that.
  8. And replace from secondhand stores. One nice thing about living where we do is that great secondhand shops abound. Castoffs from well-to-do women mean fabulous finds!
  9. But here's one of the more extreme examples: They've asked Netflix to find a better way to make their envelopes, since you have that strip of wax paper you have to throw out when you reseal it. ! Maybe I'm thinking small, but I thought the one-envelope-to-send-and-receive idea was kind of brilliant. Ah, I guess there's always room for improvement and always someone who will tell you about it. 
  10. The end of junk mail. Well, in theory. They signed up for DMA Choice to cut back on their catalogs and credit card offers in the mail. Because they seemed to have success with it and because DMA seems to be reputable, I've signed up too. We shall see-- I would LOVE to reduce the amount of paper coming through my mailbox going straight to recycling.
  • UPDATE- We do seem to be getting fewer credit card offers and junk. We still get the grocery circulars (which I abhor), but I think the US Postal Service probably will force us to keep receiving stuff so they can stay in business. I shall keep trying though.
    So there it is: We're not perfect, and we are trying to get better, but I'm not totally sweating it. We're on our way. We'll keep getting our Netflix movies and tossing the wax strip, but maybe we'll cut down on our junk mail. We'll keep buying snacks, but maybe more in bulk. And we'll keep remembering to just buy less. Because darn it, it feels good to have less crap to clean up, more money in the bank, and kids who live to tell about it.