Sorry for the hiatus!
I have had a post in drafts for way too long but I just haven’t felt that it is ready yet. It will talk about using negative space in your home decorating. Sounds fun, right? Until it’s ready though I would love to share with you what we have been up to these last few months, besides endless holidays and engagements and photo op drama that is inevitable with small children.
😛 Let’s dive in.
In November I made a conscious effort to ease our family into a zero waste lifestyle. Yup. It was time. What is zero waste? It’s a lot like how it sounds, a life with no waste, as in no irredeemable waste. Everything you own or buy must be used up, reusable or then compostable or at worst recyclable.
It’s a movement that has been around for many years. It started in the 1970s with a company called Zero Waste Systems Inc which revolutionized the world of waste and science by accepting chemical refuse and repurposing it in the scientific and consumer marketplace.
The founder later started another organization called Zero Waste Institute which aimed to find ways to bring productions full circle instead of simply recycling products to band aid their manufacturing impact.
They actually went as far as to reject recycling as an answer at all because it relies only on hope that a product can be reborn and useful, not on need. Their overall outlook embodies the term cradle-to-cradle which is in contrast to most consumer products these days which are cradle-to-grave or production to landfill.
A true zero waste product can be reused until it no longer exists (decomposes/ wears away) or can be remade into itself like metals or glass, hence cradle-to-cradle. Another understanding of the term is that a product should live and be useful for the entire life of its owner, approximately 100 years, to justify it’s existence.The movement picked up speed in the era of social media and the internet in the early thousands and that is when a lot of it became more than just hippies and theory. People all over the globe are sharing their tips, experience, laments and joys surrounding the Zero Waste Movement. All of this information is available in more detail on the Zero Waste Wiki page. I am just consolidating it for you here.
There are many sites, blogs, vlogs and other platforms that spread information about going zero waste. I hope that because many of the current hosts are single or couples that our perspective as a family going into zero waste will be helpful for other families who feel overwhelmed by the idea. As with anything given fuel by the internet, there are a thousand ways people think you are “doing it wrong” so let me just disclaim right here that I will be sharing my opinions including:
a) you don’t have to be vegan to go zero waste
b) you don’t have to be 100% zero waste to participate in the zero waste lifestyle
c) you don’t need to spend a lot of money to suddenly become zero waste
d) you don’t have to jump in over your head all at once. You can step in one inch at a time as far as you are comfortable without shame.
So, with that out of the way, this is how I started:
When Tomte was born 3 years ago I was more money conscious than waste conscious but loved the idea that I could satisfy both ideas with cloth diapering and cloth wipes. I’m not going to lie. It was hard. It was the first time I had ever stepped away from something normal in our American consumerism and not having a friend who was in the same stage as me and had the same goals as me made me feel like I was in an uphill battle.
I felt that I was never as prepared as I wanted to be and because I was already sleep deprived when someone said, “just put a normal diaper on him this time” I would lose a little more willpower to say no every time. I still struggle with diapering since our second was colicky. Because he often never slept more than an hour at a time for the first few months there was no way I could take care of him one on one 24 hours a day. I needed sleep. So I let go of diapering him and feeding him the way I envisioned in order to get healthy myself and recover from the PPD. So far this is a fail in the Zero Waste book but I think it is a valuable lesson for me and hopefully for others too. Just because you can’t go 100% zero waste does not mean you are not invited to keep participating.
This experience got my foot in the door and saving money and not throwing out trash has been motivation for me to make many changes these last few years. Cutting down on trash meant we could get a smaller trash can which cut down on our bill. Because I sewed my own diapers I had a lot of PUL material left over. I made sandwich baggies and wet bags for dirty diapers, swim gear, potty accidents etc. Not needing plastic sandwich baggies saved us money in groceries. Using Tupperware and glass snapware meant I seldom used plastic wrap or foil which saved me money. Making my coffee at home or bringing my own cup for a discount saved me money too. So far all of these changes were more for our bank account than the environment but they all helped both.
It was after Tomte’s 3rd birthday party that I started thinking more about trash and his future relationship with it. I had such a wonderful time planning his dinosaur party. I made many of the decorations myself and I ran many trips to the dollar store to make everything just what a 3 year old would dream of.
I spent about $40 in total. Some of the food might have been more but besides juice, cake and dry ice there was nothing outside of our normal grocery list. The party was so fun! However, taking down the decor and cleaning up the cups and plates afterward I couldn’t help but feel kind of bad. I shouldn’t feel this way! It was an awesome party and we had so much fun! It was all worth it! But I knew that many of the items, balloons, wall stickers, plastic coated cups and plates, utensils and juice boxes, were difficult if not impossible to use again and had a 4 hour life before ending up in a landfill forever. Ugh. Party poopers.
Until then I had thought I was pretty good concerning the environment. I avoid chemicals inside and outside and try to make our garden as creature friendly as possible (aside from me throwing rocks at crows. Yes, but they deserve it.) And I’m pretty good at this recycle stuff too! My husband will tell you- I obsess over what can or can’t be recycled.
But in reality, recycling should be the very last stage of a product’s life, not the second and that idea had never occurred to me before. We all know the phrase: REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE but if we aren’t reducing or reusing or, I’ll throw in, repurposing, then what’s the point? We only need so many park benches made from milk jugs. At what point will we run out of uses for recycled material? When everything we need that can be made of recycled material has been made then where will new recyclable material go? To landfills? Storage? Recycling has been a temporary breather for the world but it doesn’t declutter our lives and it won’t save the planet. Sorry to break the news. (PS until further progress is made, please still keep recycling! I’m not saying to stop! Haha)
So, what did I do to really start acting on Zero Waste ideas? I got to work oiling what we already did do that was waste free.
I reorganized the diaper station to make cloth the forefront and not the back up. I cut up stained sheets into more washcloths for the baby bums, face wipes for feeding time, for messes in the car and kleenex for everyone. I also used other fabric I had for a bread bag, knowing that I was going to switch our grocery habits soon. I pulled out some baby items that I rarely used and decided their fates. A water resistant blanket for diaper changing became additional sandwich bags. An extra prefold went to the bottom of my produce bag (I’m always just in time for the rain storm in the produce section). I organized my totes and distributed them to the cars, the door to the garage and the kitchen. Each bag holds a few more bags and a collection of bulk/sandwich bags for shopping. By reinforcing good habits and making them difficult to avoid they soon became second nature. Having to work harder to make a bad choice is always a good thing.
There are many ways to start going Zero Waste. I chose to start by beefing up what I had started over the past few years in order to get really prepared for what I saw as the biggest obstacle, the grocery list. Being on a budget and not having a large produce heavy farmer’s market nearby, I knew I’d be driving far to visit bulk stores. Our closest bulk store is Whole Foods, or as a dear friend once called it, Whole Paycheck. I’ll get more into food in my next post as well as pantry storage but don’t worry, I’ve found ways to not lose my whole paycheck to couscous and dried dates.
I’ll be adding more pictures of my actual tools, patterns and tricks coming up in more detailed posts. This is hopefully a great introduction to Zero Waste and piqued your interest. I realize that everyone has different talents and sewing might not be your cup of tea but don’t be discouraged. I just used scissors, no hemming, for the wipes (the jersey isn’t unraveling). Baggies and grocery bags can be bought at many grocery and health stores as well.
Please let me know what you think of Zero Waste in the comments below as well as any questions you have on specific scenarios or products. I will do my best to answer them in this mini series. We are still growing and transitioning through this but I have so much information in my head that even if we haven’t made it to that point ourselves I can give you some ideas.