Wednesday, March 28, 2018

8 Zero Waste Lies

If you are trying to be a Zero Waste or Trash Fee home you try to reduce the need to use the landfill by refusing, reducing, reusing, repairing, recycling, and donating your household waste to get your output to as close to zero as you can.

There are some in Internet Land who show you how they do it with Pinterest perfect photos of bamboo toothbrushes, stylishly barren rooms, and  haughtily looking down their nose at people who  – gasp! – follow low waste practices because their primary goal is to pay off bills or save money with environmental concerns coming in a close second or even lower down the list.

In my over 10 years of blogging about green living and doing it in one form or another for even longer, I know there are some truths to Zero Waste Living and I also know that the reality is not always what you see in those Pinterest perfect Zero Waste Kitchens either. 

8 Truths of Trash Free and Zero Waste Living


8 Truths of Trash Free and Zero Waste Living
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My family considers ourselves a Slim Trash Bin home and not Zero Waste because there are a few things we don’t want to give up like many health and beauty products when the DIY or hippie versions not only failed but failed spectacularly (as always your mileage may vary.)

I’m not trying to knock anyone who lives or is trying to live a Zero Waste lifestyle. I’ve helped many families work toward that goal but I’m just firm believer in researching what a radical lifestyle change is really like before diving right in.

1. Zero Waste Living does not require you to produce absolutely zero landfill or recycling bin items every day.

Sending zero trash to the landfill is the goal and not the reality.  How you do it is  entirely up to you. Different people have different definitions of Zero Waste Living. Here are a few:

  • For some people Zero Waste Living means reducing their weekly landfill trash by half or to a grocery size bag a week so it takes months to fill a big city garbage bin.

  • For some peoples Zero Waste means reducing their household trash to the point where they put more items in their recycling bin than their trash bin. 

  • Some people think Zero Waste Living requires Plastic Free Living while others do not.

  • And there are some Zero Waste families who believe in sending very few things to the recycling plant and as close to nothing at all to the landfill.

2.  Going Trash Free doesn't not mean you automatically have to live Plastic Free.

Many Zero Waste bloggers do, but personally (and I’m going to get into trouble with the Green Elite for saying this) I think plastic has its place, such as for medical and safety situations.  As much as we don’t like it, some plastic packaging keeps food fresher and reduces food waste. And finally,  sometimes the plastic option is the zero waste option. For example:

Every zero waste tip says to use bar soap instead of body wash in a plastic bottle. Sometimes the bar soap you like/is affordable comes in a non recyclable/compostable wrapper (yes, I know the “correct” answer is don’t buy that kind but bear with me,) Or if you can buy naked or in a box soap, your soap dish is perfectly placed to guarantee bar soap quickly turns into a puddle of goo in the shower – very wasteful.

But, if you are lucky enough to have a recycling program that takes both the plastic bottle and cap (or you save the caps to drop off at an Aveda store or counter) it makes liquid body wash/soap the zero waste option – even though it is not considered “correct.”

Feel free to tell me what I horrible non eco friendly person I am in the comments below.

One week of a family's plastic trash
I saved our plastic for one week and this is the amount I sent to the landfill. 
The other plastic items in my tally I reused.

3 You are going to give up a lot of stuff you used to like to eat, have, and do.

Some of these things may be easier and more desirable than others, like giving up a bad habit you’re trying to break. Some of these may be too difficult or expensive to switch over so you just drop it entirely.

Finally there are things you should drop because they are high waste hobbies that are useful or make you happy. I sew because punching people is frowned upon (and I can alter and repair our clothing) and no matter how careful I am, I will generate more waste than can fit into a Mason jar. I could give it up but I don’t want to (see punching people) – especially when it is an excellent side hustle.


Trash can with fabric waste from a sewing project

Keeping it real. My trash can in the middle of drafting sewing patterns and building a big side hustle sewing and machine embroidery project.

 4. Most Zero Waste families have personal Zero Waste exceptions they  may not tell you about.

Again, Zero Waste is the goal and not the reality. Sometimes, you get sick and need medical services, need to do an emergency home improvement,  or you don’t like to garden or compost, you might be traveling outside of your bubble at home, or make an exception during your otherwise cookie free existence for the One Most Perfect Time of the Year when dairy allergy friendly Candy Cane Trader Jo’s Jo’s are for sale in December. (Actually the cookie thing is more of a making sure my clothes fit thing than a Trash Free thing. Trust me, I love to bake and eating cookies even more!)

It’s all OK. The only thing is the above examples don’t make pretty Instagram stories but photos of compostable bamboo toothbrushes do. (I’m including an affiliate link for your convenience.)


Vegan bread in a plastic bag
We don't eat bread everyday. How do you keep bakery bread from drying out or getting freezer burn without a plastic bag? Seriously. I'm asking. I can't make this one work.

5. You don’t have to keep all of your trash in a jar or even keep it at all.

The only reason many Trash Free people do is that they are bloggers/writers/give speeches and like to keep track of their progress or to use as a visual aid for blogging/social media/books/whatever.

In fact, the amount of waste you produce will most likely fluctuate with the seasons – or at least mine does because I live where we have seasons. Sometimes all of them in the same week!

One Week of plastic trash for a low waste family
This is the plastic  I saved our plastic for a second week after the first Plastic Free Challenge Week. This is the amount I sent to the landfill and recycled.  The other plastic items in my tally I reused.


6. Everything you do is going to take longer because you have to DIY it for every. single. thing. you. use.

Possibly. You don’t have to grow your own food and DIY all of your products but it probably is an easier way to live Trash Free. 

Cooking from scratch can be quick and frankly is a cheaper, healthier, less wasteful, and easier way to deal with my food allergy. How so? Five words: Stir fry and Instant Pot. Or cooking can be incredibly involved like The Art of French Cooking it’s all up to you and how you want to do it.

DIY homemade non toxic dandruff shampoo
Making and using my DIY Dandruff Shampoo  worked but was too time consuming to constantly make small amounts with ingredients that could quickly spoil. I eventually switched to something else.

7.  Sometimes dropping off items for donation and specialty recycling is a pain but you do it anyway.

I know Greenzillas scream that recycling isn’t the answer to our pollution problems but my husband and I keep our trash bin slim by trying to get an extra reuse out of everything within reason. To keep our sanity, we count recycling as part of that philosophy.

For example instead of doing the “correct” thing of buying loads of dairy free butter with a waxy noncompostable  paper wrappers in obscenely small quantities, I buy the big 45 ounce plastic tub (see cooking from scratch and baking.) After riding around in the trunk of my car for a week or more, I finally remember to recycle it through the Gimmie 5 bin at Whole Paycheck, two to four tmes a year. It’s not a perfect solution but given a recycle it over trashing it option, I’ll take recycling and donating every time – even though it can be a pain to remember to do it.

8. Shopping at bulk bin stores, farmer’s markets, and replacing everything you own with the special Zero Waste version is more expensive.

Looks like it. Replacing reusable items you already have with the perfect eco friendly glass, metal, or wood versions seem like the opposite of Zero Waste living to me but then again, I’m the girl the Greenzillas insisted couldn’t reduce her homes’ utility use using new habits, cheap DIYs, and the new non efficiently rated appliances that came with her condo. Spoiler alert: Not only did I prove them wrong but I beat my original 20% goal of lowering my home’s utility use to 32%.



Zero Waste vegetable shopping example
An example of our expensive CSA vegetable share. It was low waste and nice to have fresh veg delivered to the porch every week but it only lasted during the summer. The half share you see in the above photo was way more than two vegetable lovers who cook from scratch could comfortably eat. We haven't bought another one.



The best way to switch to a Low Waste, Trash Free, or Zero Waste lifestyle is to do it like dieting. The habits that that stick are adopted slowly and over time otherwise, just like binge dieting, it is too easy to crash and quit in frustration.

The Perfect Green Living Life (trademark pending) doesn’t exist. Some green living practices or personal preferences may clash with other green practices or might be something you tried and isn’t right for you given where you live, family size, preferences, and a whole lot of other valid reasons. This isn’t an excuse not to try, it is the reality of trying.

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