Have you heard about Zero Waste moms, like Bea Johnson? Her mantra is "Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order)." Through her blog and her book she has made it her mission to help other families reduce their consumption and trash. Some of the tips on Johnson's website include drinking tap water out of reusable bottles, using cloth napkins, swapping paper towels for rags, composting any leftover food, and bringing reusable jars to fill up at the bulk bins at the grocery store. She puts the loaf of bread she buys at the bakery in a clean pillowcase instead of a bag. Her family is so successful at the zero-waste lifestyle that they generate a mere quart-sized jar of trash every year. (Um, it's possible my family generates that much every few hours.)
Families like Johnson's live this way because, according to the EPA, Americans generate an average of four pounds of trash per person per day—about a pound and a half of that is recycled—so they refuse the plastic toys the dentist hands out, wouldn't dream of using a toothbrush that can't be recycled, and bring their own containers for leftovers to a restaurant when eating out. Zero-waste families do it to save money, have fewer possessions, and live less cluttered lives. They say the zero-waste lifestyle makes their lives more about experiences, not things.
I love it. It's amazing and inspiring. But, I could never do it.
With an 8 year-old daughter who hoards every piece of plastic she receives in a goody bag, a husband who likes his mainstream toothpaste and shaving cream, and my own compulsive trashing of anything that is cluttering up my small apartment, zero-waste seems like an impossible dream. It is tempting to just throw up my hands and continue taking out bag after bag of trash.
Which, obviously, is just the wrong reaction.
So instead, inspired by this website, I have decided to start packing a less-wasteful lunchbox for my daughter. This means no plastic-wrapped granola bars or fruit snacks, no plastic packs of applesauce, and no plastic forks. I started today by packing an old cloth napkin instead of the usual paper.
I figure that will save 20 paper napkins a month, or 120 before the end of the school year. It's far from zero waste, but it's a step in the right direction. Assuming of course the cloth napkin makes it home and not into the garbage can at school. We'll see.
Tell us: How do you try to reduce trash in your house? Could you ever go zero-waste?
Jenna Helwig is Parents' food editor and the mother of an 8 year-old daughter who likes to keep every piece of paper she has ever touched a pencil to. Follow her on Twitter.