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May 25, 2012 at 3:55 PMComments: 6 Faves: 1

The Zero-Trash Family: Could You Do It?

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series

When trash day rolls around, how much trash do you put in the bin at the end of your driveway? I don’t know about you, but at my house, there are weeks when we struggle to limit ourselves to the one bin we’ve been allotted – especially now, with spring cleaning in full swing. But for the Johnson family of Mill Valley, California, that’s not an issue at all. The family of four produces only two handfuls of trash, not in a day or even a month – in a year.

The family does have a recycling bin, but as one reporter noted, they seemed almost embarrassed that they need to have it at all.  “So much recycling really goes to waste, so you need to try to reduce that too,” explains Béa Johnson.

So, the main question:

How do they do it?

On Béa’s blog, Zero Waste Home, she has tons of tips for those looking to reduce waste. She and her family have an ample composting bin, and even buy compostable toothbrushes. (Who knew that those existed?) They buy almost everything in bulk and bring their own containers to the store and the farmers market. Clothes shopping is done at second-hand stores – and even then, only a limited number of items, once per year.

Instead of the traditional 3 R’s, she lives by the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot – “and only in that order,” she says.

…and why?

So what spurred this radical change? Béa once was a nanny for a family that lost their home and all of their belongings in a fire, and it got her thinking about her possessions. She decided she wanted to get rid of excess – to know every single thing in her home. She also wanted to, as she says, offset her yearly flight to her native France. She doesn’t mince words: “I believe that the Earth has been trashed. Enough is enough. How did we ever think that there was such thing as 'away' in the term 'throw away'? We’re all responsible.” So three years ago, she and her husband Scott downsized to a house less than half the size of their 3,000-square-foot former home and began their trashless lifestyle.

Could you?

I must say, I’ve thought of trying to reduce my trash output as well. Not to get too morbid, but if I should die early, I can’t imagine the huge ordeal of having my family go through my possessions. And every time I clean my room, I’m slightly disgusted with how much stuff I own. (It’s that same disgust that makes me want to live in a tiny house.) So to that end, I greatly admire the Johnsons and their commitment to reducing their footprint on the planet.

Looking around their house, though, I don’t think I could go as far as they have. They don’t even own books – they always get them from their local library. I’m all about frequenting the library, but my room would be so empty without the books that line the shelves. They have stories beyond the words written on their pages. I’d like to be able to pass on at least some of my books to my kids someday – to be able to pull out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and say “Look, I got this book at the midnight release!” (Yeah, I’m a nerd.)

So while I do think it would be a great idea to adopt some of the Johnson family’s techniques…you won’t see me giving up my books anytime soon.

For more information about the Johnsons and their trash-free home, check out Béa’s blog.

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  • Wow! That is pretty amazing. Yeah, I feel really bad about our one can per week of trash now.

  • I couldn't be nearly as extreme as that family...but! I do believe in living very simply. I would like to reduce to where I knew everything I owned and more importantly locate it when I need it ha

  • I, as a single guy, only have 1 bag of trash every two to three weeks, but that seems outrageous compared to this family. I guess we all need to try a little harder not to create trash.

  • thanks for sharing this story Laura it does make you think twice. I can't imagine walking into the grocery store with my own containers - to put meat and cheese in. I have them, but I can hardly remember to bring in my cloth grocery bags. It's funny I drive to the store with them in my car but only remember I have them after I'm in the store shopping!

  • Ha! Nancy, I do the same thing. Fortunately, I either recycle the plastic bags or compost the paper ones. Our local store will give you a nickle (cash!) for each bag you bring of your own and use... and I still forget to bring them in from the van.

  • I read about this family in People last year. They have some good ideas, but not having books is not one of them. For something long term like a class, it's far more useful to own or rent for the long term. I still like to look at my old textbooks for ideas and to refresh my memory on certain things. I wish I had kept more of them.
    I really am trying to cut down on the amount of stuff I have, but I fear that memories will vanish if I get rid of them. Like you said, having a few books gives a place a homey feel.
    I read in People that they left behind the packaging to their new computer. I worked at a greenhouse, and we threw a lot of stuff away. I'm thinking that's what the store did; just because it got thrown away by someone else doesn't mean they didn't have a hand in it.
    This gives me inspiration to sort through my stuff again with a view toward donation.

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