Homes are ground zero for ‘Zero Waste’ move­ment

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Kather­ine Roth

Less may be more, but zero is the best of all — at least where con­tribut­ing to land­fills is con­cerned.

A small but grow­ing num­ber of house­holds are join­ing what has be­come a bona fide move­ment: Zero Waste. While their goal of pro­duc­ing no trash at all may re­main elu­sive, some Zero Wasters do come close, win­now­ing their house­hold waste down to a tiny col­lec­tion of non­re­cy­clable and non-com­postable items, so lit­tle that a year’s trash can fit into a shoe­box or a Ma­son jar.

Zero Wasters help each other by shar­ing ad­vice on blogs and in books, over a dozen of which have re­cently come out on the topic. Tips might in­clude where to shop to avoid un­wanted pack­ag­ing, and where to re­cy­cle a wide range of items that most just toss in the waste bin.

“It may be too ex­treme for a lot of peo­ple, but even if you can cut your trash down by even 20 per­cent, you’ll gain 80 per­cent of the ben­e­fits, like sav­ing time and money for ex­pe­ri­ences in­stead of shop­ping for un­nec­es­sary stuff that will just clog up land­fills,” says Bea John­son , au­thor of “Zero Waste Home: The Ul­ti­mate Guide to Sim­pli­fy­ing Your Life by Re­duc­ing Your Waste” (Scrib­ner).

“It’s about a sim­pler life based on be­ing, not hav­ing,” she says.

John­son says min­i­miz­ing shop­ping has meant her fam­ily can af­ford to go on ad­ven­tures like scuba div­ing trips; that makes it eas­ier for her sons to ac­cept wear­ing only used cloth­ing. Buy­ing only used clothes has con­trib­uted to cut­ting their house­hold bud­get by 40 per­cent, she says.

“We can get most brands on eBay and re­quest that they be sent to us with­out any non-re­cy­clable pack­ag­ing. And of­ten the clothes and shoes are al­most like new,” says John­son, who started writ­ing about her zero-waste ef­forts in 2008, when the move­ment was still young.

El­iz­a­beth Graves, ed­i­torin-chief of Martha Stew­art Liv­ing mag­a­zine, says Zero Waste is “def­i­nitely” a move­ment at this point.

“We have found that mil­len­ni­als in par­tic­u­lar are in­cred­i­bly mind­ful about how they live, and liv­ing with pur­pose. And that’s why Zero Waste is re­ally speak­ing to so many peo­ple,” Graves says. “More and more peo­ple are show­ing that while it’s in­tim­i­dat­ing at first, it can be done.”

The mag­a­zine’s Change the Day se­ries re­cently fo­cused on “Zero Waster” Lau­ren Singer of Brook­lyn, N.Y. In­spired by John­son, Singer started her own blog, Trash is for Tossers, with tips on how to re­duce waste, and even an on­line store, Pack­age Free Shop, fea­tur­ing only sus­tain­able prod­ucts that need not end up in the trash and that can be de­liv­ered with min­i­mal — and fully re­cy­clable — pack­ag­ing.

Many busi­nesses have be­gun try­ing to re­duce pack­ag­ing and mak­ing it more eco-friendly.

“I won’t sell any­thing that has pack­ag­ing tape or plas­tic,” Singer says.

She claims she’s now able to fit six years of trash into a sin­gle Ma­son jar.

“I re­al­ized that I can make a huge dif­fer­ence even as one in­di­vid­ual,” she says. “It’s em­pow­er­ing.”

The mantra of Zero Wasters is Refuse, Re­duce, Re­use, Re­cy­cle and Rot, adding a cou­ple more “r’s” onto the clas­sic three. They refuse dis­pos­able con­tain­ers and straws at restau­rants, and have made an art form of ap­proach­ing store man­agers and oth­ers to re­quest that food be wrapped in pa­per or put in glass con­tain­ers they’ve brought from home.

Amy Korst, au­thor of “The Zero Waste Life­style: Live Well by Throw­ing Away Less” (Ten Speed Press), notes that once food is buried un­der plas­tics and other items in a land­fill, it no longer com­posts as it nor­mally would. That’s why it’s so im­por­tant, she says, to dis­pose of food and other com­postable waste sep­a­rately.

Each com­mu­nity re­cy­cles items dif­fer­ently, so the first step is to check with your lo­cal san­i­ta­tion depart­ment to learn what can be re­cy­cled and how.

“You might be sur­prised at the things that can be re­cy­cled,” Korst says.


Lau­ren Singer of New York claims she’s now able to fit six years of trash into a sin­gle Ma­son jar.

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