This summer on our epic trip out west, we spent some time with my sister and her family. She knows all about our frugal ways and thought we would enjoy a book she was looking to banish from her home. Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson recalls her family’s personal journey to producing zero trash by using the 5 R’s (in order).
The most important ‘R’ of Johnson’s plan is to ‘refuse, refuse, refuse’. If you can keep items from entering your house to begin with, the battle is already won. As a parent, I have learned that for every one child, there is about 10x the amount of toys, clothing, and paraphernalia. Once a kid outgrows something, it seems like every parent is looking to ship it out of the house, and who better to send it to than you, the parent with the younger child. Saying “No thank you” is one of the easiest ways to limit the amount of waste your home generates. Of course, if you truly need it, you can accept something. Just think long and hard if little Timmy really needs a 6th pair of pants or toy #84.
Reducing the demand for certain products, Johnson harps on single use plastics (SUPs), will reduce their production and that helps to ultimately keep our landfills emptier. When the cashier at the store asks if you’d like a bag, or throws your single item into a bag, first refuse, then reduce the demand of sups by using your own canvas tote. While many plastics can be recycled, recycling still takes energy in the form of transportation and processing. Also, some plastics are down cycled, meaning that they can only be recycled once in their lifetime. Johnson recommends using metal and glass containers in lieu of plastic ones as those materials are longer lasting and have better recycling attributes.
This summer we have been doing quite a bit of reusing in the form of scavenging furniture and reselling it. Just yesterday we picked up a nice drop down table that was destined for the landfill. We’ll probably get 40-50 bucks for it. Most of the items that we resell require zero elbow grease beyond taking pictures of them and posting an ad online.
Another area closer to home that we have started to reuse is with cloth napkins. Shae found a super clearance sale and picked up 16 napkins for a total of $1.50. They look and feel more upscale than disposable paper napkins and are good for our pocket book and environment!
Recycling is the fourth ‘R’ and Johnson seemed to have a fairly negative view on recycling as a whole. Personally, I love recycling. Our municipality has a single stream program, meaning you just toss anything and everything that is recyclable into a 96 gallon bin and wheel it to the curb every other week for pickup. Easy peasy!
You’ve refused what you could, reduced what you couldn’t refuse, reused and repurposed items in your house, and recycled but you still have some trash. Anything that has trickled this far down stream in a zero waste home would be compostable. Of course, I am not as dedicated as Mrs Johnson, so I still have some trash at the end of the day. However, we were inspired by the book to start composting. We asked around and did some research into the different styles of composting. What we ended up settling on was a milk crate system.
Our system is based off this Instructable. We bartered books (that we were going to get rid of anyway) for milk crates. As a side note, please do not steal milk crates from the back of stores. They are set out there for the truck to pick up and return to the dairy. The rest of the material for our compost system we had lying around so it didn’t cost us anything extra to set this up.