Our Zero Waste Journey

In 2013, my sister told my husband and I about an article she had read in the SF Gate about a family of 4 living in Mill Valley, California who managed to produce only a small jar of trash FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR!  What?  How was that possible?  We all began to puzzle over the daily ins-and-outs of their lives and ask ourselves, "what about toothpaste?"

"What about laundry?"

"How do you get takeout?"

"What do they do with the artwork their kids bring home?"

"Or egg cartons?"

You get the picture.  The list went on and on as we tried to fathom what their lives must have looked like.  My mom, sister and I began lovingly referring to the heroine of this Mill Valley family, Bea Johnson, as The Oracle.

I purchased Bea's book and read it cover to cover, then I went out and purchased 5 more.  I kid you not!  I wanted to spread the word!  I wanted our friends and family to be a part of the movement she had created.  So, I gave it away as gifts and placed a few copies in the Little Free Library in front of our house.  Was I crazy?  Yes, maybe a little.  But you should really read it, if you haven't already, and then you'll see what I'm talking about! (And no, I don't get paid anything for saying that!)

As we all began to attempt to change a few things in our lives here and there, we would ask each other, "What would The Oracle do?" and look back to her book for reference or seek insight from the many bloggers that are now out therem as well as find tips and tricks on Pinterest.  

My husband willingly piled our to-go containers into a basket and headed off to Whole Foods where he received sideways glances from butchers when he asking them to put the chicken straight into his glass container, or comments from the cashiers about how beautiful the bulk goods looked in the mason jars, and answered questions from strangers about what he was doing with "all those jars".  More often than not, he returned feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride.  And the more he went, the easier it became.  People would give him familiar knowing smiles and the cashiers no longer hesitated when they saw the long row of jars and cloth bags on the conveyor belt.

"It's easy", he'd say, without a hint of sarcasm.  Me, on the other hand, found myself feeling very shy and awkward handling our jars and bags, figuring out tare weights and forgetting to label those bulk bin codes only to delay the cashier and the folks behind me at checkout.  So I was struggling and content to allow my husband to do most of the heavy lifting in the grocery store.

Our One Week Zero Waste Challenge

As we dipped our toes further and further into the water of the Zero Waste lifestyle, we decided to put ourselves to the test with a 1 week challenge to see how little waste we could produce.  We chose a glass container, albeit a large one, so as to not over-commit ourselves, and let the week begin.


It was SO hard.  At every turn we were faced with challenges.  You order a drink at a restaurant and forget to ask for no straw, your pen dies, in a moment of weakness you eat that candy that's been floating around in your purse for a month (yuck, I know, but we all do it) and have a wrapper left behind as evidence.  Still, we managed to make some very significant changes to our daily habits and at the end, only a quarter of the jar was filled!  We were so proud of ourselves, but we were not even close to The Oracle status and yes, my homemade dishwashing detergent, which left us with foggy wine glasses, did grant us more than a few heckles from our friends (I'm talking to you, Warren).


On we went,  trying to do as much as we could to decrease the amount of household waste we produced.  We joined a fish CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Real Good Fish, which delivered sustainable fish to our local cornerstore weekly, but was not zero waste.  We weighed that with the benefit of eating fresh local fish that was sustainable and decided to continue.  The CSA gave us more fish than our family of 4 could eat, which led to setting up weekly dinners with our neighbors revolving around preparing and eating the fish we received that week.  It was awesome!  And would later snowball into a weekly standing dinner date among our friends.


Then we decided to travel!

This was a decision we came to slowly over the course of a few summers of renting out our home while we traveled.   We learned about Somewhere Slower, a blog about a family of 5 traveling around the world in 2015 and as we followed them, we began to ask ourselves if we would ever be able to do that with our kids.  Could we really?  How could we leave our work?  Pay our mortgage?  Leave our family and friends?  Would the kids be safe?  Would our jobs take us back?  As we began to tackle each of these questions and make the financial calculations (we were still paying very costly student loans), we decided that it in fact made more sense for us to move out of our house and travel than it did to stay!  What?  I know!  But renting our house made that much sense.  So we finally had that defining moment when we looked at each other (out of excuses for why we couldn't do it) and decided, definitively, that we would do it.

Now here we are, 10 months later in the 7th country we've visited.  We have had so many adventures,  many tears, challenges, laughs, boo boos, poor nights sleep, successes, spectacular sunrises, and even more unbelievable sunsets.  It has been a wonder.  Difficult to describe.  But I'll leave that for another time.

Back to Zero Waste

It was a conclusion to return to our efforts that we came to slowly as we traveled.  And now we are working to find the products, shops, routines, and habits that were so much easier in our day-to-day lives at home.  We are balancing the desire to produce less waste in unfamiliar territories, while also giving ourselves the freedom to explore these new sights.  It has only been a handful of weeks and already we are finding it very challenging, but also rewarding when we succeed in having a trash-free day or when someone asks us about our to-go container and we can spread the word!

Off we go!