Monday, January 9, 2017

Our Attempt at Zero-Waste Living: A 2017 Personal Challenge

It's been awhile! Hello! Dropping in here to leave a note about the latest 'happenings'. Over the past three months, Zachary and I made a spur of the moment decision (back in October) to buy nothing -- nothing new, nothing used. It was a radical attempt to save. With the exception of gas, car repairs, and food, the learning curve challenged us, but it wasn't as difficult as we had expected. Thankfully, both of us are competitive, so neither wanted to be the first to break the challenge. We cut our food budget down by two thirds, and quickly learned that gleaning is a great resource to rescue food from going to waste (all organic fruits and vegetables from Whole Foods, 365, and Trader Joe's).

The effort to buy nothing during the most consumer-saturated time of the year (October through January), forced our hand into clever gifting for birthdays and Christmas, and the urge to buy 'things' became less of an impulse. During this 'buy nothing' endeavor, we became painfully aware of what we spend on a regular basis, and we revisited the drawing board for 2017.

By eliminated extra spending for three months, we looked at needs verses wants. Already trading work for rent, we brainstormed how to live a sustainable lifestyle by trading skills for other goods or services. Although we're not quite there yet, the idea of it all has us fascinated with sustainability and conscious consuming. What is it and how does one achieve it?

A natural off-shoot to this personal challenge is zero-waste living. In November, while researching 'how to make homemade mascara' (I was running low and didn't want to break our 'buy nothing' streak), I found material on zero-waste lifestyles; people eliminating waste almost completely, living on less than a jar full of garbage per year. Mind blown. I couldn't comprehend it, but I liked it. From that moment on, every minute of available time was dedicated to learning more.

Here's a rough go at what zero-waste is and how I'll be going about it:
What is the purpose of a zero-waste lifestyle? To Refuse what you do not need. Reduce what you do need. Reuse by using reusables. Recycle what cannot be refused, reduced, or reused. Rot the rest.

Why am I posting here about it? 1) I'm diving in. 2) Accountability. If I write down my goals somewhere public, I stick to them. Here's a quick and messy post, to get it out in the open. 

Why am I doing it? To save money. To see if it's possible.

What is my goal? To create a simple and whole lifestyle that values people and experiences more than the temporal satisfaction and convenience of the things that we consume.

What do I perceive to be the biggest challenge?
-  Convincing my husband that this is a good idea.
-  Pretending to understand our plastic problem in the U.S.. I don't. I have no idea, and I know that it matters, but I'm not doing this because I'm super Eco-friendly. I'm 99% certain that I will become more-so, so cheers. I'm equally excited as I am nervous, because I know that I'm going to get irritated by what I discover. That's a lot of "I's," and it seems like there's more to unpack here. We'll see. Ramble over.

What do I perceive to be the biggest expense?
Building up our reusable containers / buying stainless steel lunch boxes, etc.

What are my fears right now with it?
I fear that I'll be too hard on myself when I accumulate more trash than intended.

What are my expectations?
- To learn how to make a variety of products; makeup, lotion, laundry detergent, snacks, etc..

- To become more aware of the plastic and paper that we consume.
- To learn how to take advantage of bulk bin legumes, oils, and spices.
- To get in the habit of composting.

My goal is: To attempt zero-waste living for one month. If it goes well, I intend to stretch it over three months, and so on. No long-term commitment here, my goal is to become more aware and see if we're capable of achieving it.

- To use up what I have in my home, so that I can replace goods with zero-waste options.
- Weekly food rescue (I'll explain later); food is already going to waste, trash is inevitable.
- Our 'buy nothing' spree doesn't end for another week, so I will sew my own produce bags, and use glass jars that we already have for bulk shopping. If we decide to continue our zero- spending streak for another stretch of time, we will hold off on accumulating our stainless steel containers and other items. I do have a few Macy's gift cards if I need to use them (we don't count our gift cards as "real" money, because it's not in our bank account).

To rate my progress, I will:
- Blog about it - the highs and lows, what I've learned, my wins and failures, etc..
- Go through our bank statements to see past spending habits (2016 Monthly categories breakdown).
- Keep all of my trash in one place. This includes: everything that money is spent on in the month of January (and thereafter, if continued).

Books to read:
Zero Waste Home by Béa Johnson
Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders 

David Suzuki's Green Guide

Our first tasks over the week:
1) Obtain stainless steel straws (helloooo, gift cards). 
2) Sew produce bags.

I've written out the perceived problems (and their perceived solutions), I have a million questions, and still, I'm finding that the best way to learn about anything at all is to jump right in. So here's to that; to jumping right in. If you know of resources that would benefit us, or if you've dabbled in a zero-waste lifestyle yourself, we are open to suggestions and eager to hear what has worked for you. 

Happy new year! What are your habit changes? Resolutions? I'd love to hear!


  1. This is great! A zero waste lifestyle is a journey that I am pursuing! I hope that this experiment goes well for you!

    I loved reading about your "buy-nothing" during the most consumeristic time of the year!! I would love to hear what you did for "buy-nothing" gifts for Christmas and Birthday!

    1. Hi Katie! That is so encouraging that you're pursuing a zero waste lifestyle, too! When I began, I initially thought it would only be for January, to see if it was possible, but I've caught the bug. I'm loving it.

      Our 'Buy-Nothing' spree was incredible -- probably one of the best decisions that we've ever made. Now that we completed the spree, it has left us questioning every single thing that we intend to purchase. If it doesn't have a purpose, if it will create waste or clutter, if we can borrow if from family or friends, then we don't get it. Amazing! Money stays in the bank!

      Our birthdays weren't too difficult - instead of gifts for one another, we made our favorite meals at home and went on a hike that weekend. Christmas was a challenge, however. We didn't have time to opt out of a gift exchange (we were encouraged to spend $30 each), and I ended up purchasing bath/spa products, and then returning it all before I wrapped it. Instead of gifting what I was going against, I ended up gathering things from home that had not been opened (bath salts, coffee from a recent trip to Norway, etc.), and paired them with a couple of scarves that I loved but knew that this person might like better. Here are the other gifts that we did:
      - Homemade granola and roasted pepitas in mason jars.
      - Gifted Experiences: Hikes, road trips, and two hours at a giant bounce-house for the younger ones.
      - Hand-written letters.
      - For parents and in-laws, we donated to Compassion International for sports equipment for children in developing countries (in the name of our baseball-enthused brother), literacy classes for mothers (our sister who is a teacher), bibles (father-in-law is a pastor), and a water filtration system (mother-in-law does a fundraiser every year for Charity Water). Although we were spending money, we felt better that it wasn't something that we could consume, but help someone else who needed it.