Zero Waste Lifestyle: time and money consuming?Zero Waste Lifestyle: time and money consuming?

Soon after the New York Times article came out about our lifestyle, I received comments on the blog about time and financial concerns related to the Zero Waste Lifestyle.

“I wonder exactly how much time/money you put into the effort?” wrote Julie K.

Not that I particularly choose to pick on you, Julie K, quite the contrary. I completely understand your concerns and feel that they represent those of many readers. I started out just like you (running an average household that filled a number of trash bags a week), and a few years back, I would have raised the same objections to the Zero Waste lifestyle. I would have let those concerns stop me from making waste reducing changes, stunted by the picture of a lifestyle that seemed so unattainable. But here is what I found out thru the course of our metamorphosis (the quotes all belong to Julie K):

TIME:
Making of balms, cleaners, etc. and sorting through the trash, etc are very time-consuming for many people who work 1-2 jobs”:
  • The 1st step of going Zero Waste is SIMPLIFYING (a bonus if you do work 1-2 jobs and can benefit from any simplification at all), which is figuring out those items that you do need and those that you can live without (remember the 80-20 rule?), and narrowing it down to your personal staples. At one point I made cheese, and then found out that it was not worth the amount of time and money involved when I can just get it from the store straight into my jar. Simplify! You might not need that balm like I do and I am clearly not saying that you should make balm or mustard if you don’t need them! More power to you, if you do not need them!
  • Zero Waste is also an ever changing journey, where one can adapt according to the also ever-changing market and/or family tastes. A couple of weeks ago, a new store opened and I found yogurt in bulk… Do you know what that means? I don’t make yogurt anymore. Also, my son grew out of his taste for soy milk… Do you know what that means? I don’t make soy milk anymore either.
  • “Sorting through the trash”: I don’t have any to sort. That’s the point of all of this. If you stop it before it comes into your home, it does not even need to be addressed.
  • Did I ever mention that I work 4 part-time jobs? If I can do it, you can too… all you need is “to care” to get started.
Many of your readers with little extra time may see some of these changes not as a fun hobby, but rather as a chore”
  • Caring for the environment is neither a chore nor a hobby, but rather a citizen’s duty. Look around, and get informed. Educate yourself about the impact of our society’s wasteful habits, it will soon become clear to you that we can’t keep on doing things the way we’ve done them for generations. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then at least have some compassion for those that will succeed you.
So, how much time do I really spend working on our Zero Waste?
A couple of hours a week, Friday afternoons…That’s when I grocery shop and run errands that might take me to a store. While dinner is cooking, I might squeeze oranges for OJ or once in a blue moon make mustard.
And this blog helps you access information that took me a couple of years to figure out. Now, that’s a time saver!
MONEY:
Many specialty shops like Whole Foods are quite pricey”
  • Whole Foods, you already know, is not my favorite store (see a “Letter to Whole foods” or “Difficult trip to Whole Foods” article). But it is the largest bulk vendor in my town, and many others. So, while I try to shop as locally as possible, I consider it our main option (I have not been to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco for three months). If you have a better (and more ethical) option than Whole Foods, please go for it!
  • In Whole Foods defense though, it is hardly “Whole Paycheck”, if you stay away from the prepared foods and cut down your meat consumption. In the past 2 years, we’ve seen our grocery bill significantly decrease. About a 1/3 less than what it used to be (How did we ever think that packaging was free? Did it ever occur to you that it is included in the products price?)
In the past few years I’ve also noticed a huge rise in the prices at the farmers’ market”
  • Inflation hits not just the supermarket, but every business, and that includes the farmers’ market. As for organic, I believe that they are worth the upfront investment: the more you buy organic, the more likely we’ll see those prices drop. It’s a simple economic rule.
  • Quality veggies and food, like anything else of quality, does not come cheap. In the long run, it is better for you than “Top Ramen” and is worth it, but you know that already.
  • That said, the best time to shop the Farmer’s market is at closing time, when farmers slash prices. They rather sell their produce for less than pack it to take it home!
The glass and stainless canisters you use are expensive when compared to the (free) plastic bags at the store”
  • One does not have to purchase a glass canister to reduce their waste, on the contrary. Please reuse those that you have… That empty pickle jar would be perfect for buying olives in bulk. Many other options also abound in thrift shops. No excuses. I personally have been collecting the french jars mainly from thrift stores for 7 years and have loved their versatility (waterproof, durable, heatproof, freezer compatible, universal and interchangeable tops, and available in many different sizes). But no need to comply: Find what works best for you and your budget.
  • Our stainless canteens are one of our best buys. And so you will hear from those who have made the same investment. Canteens pay for themselves in only a few months from what you saved on water bottles! (Not to mention that bottled water is essentially tap, and that you eliminate plastic leaching into your drinking water.)
  • As for the “free plastic bags”: Nothing in life is free… find out what the real cost of free plastic bags is! (http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=2)

“All the things you do are admirable, but maybe not possible for the average person to take on (at least not all of them at once.)” That last bit in parenthesis is one thing I could not agree more with! Bit by bit is surely the way to do it.
Besides the environmental benefits, is it all worth it? Just for the sake of our health (knowing the outcome of packaged/junk food, and the effects of plastic packaging on our health ;), I would do it all over again. And while I thank you, Julie K, for your valuable comment, I do hope that you too will take steps to reduce your waste… You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find out about yourself.

Soon after the New York Times article came out about our lifestyle, I received comments on the blog about time and financial concerns related to the Zero Waste Lifestyle.

“I wonder exactly how much time/money you put into the effort?” wrote Julie K.

Not that I particularly choose to pick on you, Julie K, quite the contrary. I completely understand your concerns and feel that they represent those of many readers. I started out just like you (running an average household that filled a number of trash bags a week), and a few years back, I would have raised the same objections to the Zero Waste lifestyle. I would have let those concerns stop me from making waste reducing changes, stunted by the picture of a lifestyle that seemed so unattainable. But here is what I found out thru the course of our metamorphosis (the quotes all belong to Julie K):

TIME:
Making of balms, cleaners, etc. and sorting through the trash, etc are very time-consuming for many people who work 1-2 jobs”:
  • The 1st step of going Zero Waste is SIMPLIFYING (a bonus if you do work 1-2 jobs and can benefit from any simplification at all), which is figuring out those items that you do need and those that you can live without (remember the 80-20 rule?), and narrowing it down to your personal staples. At one point I made cheese, and then found out that it was not worth the amount of time and money involved when I can just get it from the store straight into my jar. Simplify! You might not need that balm like I do and I am clearly not saying that you should make balm or mustard if you don’t need them! More power to you, if you do not need them!
  • Zero Waste is also an ever changing journey, where one can adapt according to the also ever-changing market and/or family tastes. A couple of weeks ago, a new store opened and I found yogurt in bulk… Do you know what that means? I don’t make yogurt anymore. Also, my son grew out of his taste for soy milk… Do you know what that means? I don’t make soy milk anymore either.
  • “Sorting through the trash”: I don’t have any to sort. That’s the point of all of this. If you stop it before it comes into your home, it does not even need to be addressed.
  • Did I ever mention that I work 4 part-time jobs? If I can do it, you can too… all you need is “to care” to get started.
Many of your readers with little extra time may see some of these changes not as a fun hobby, but rather as a chore”
  • Caring for the environment is neither a chore nor a hobby, but rather a citizen’s duty. Look around, and get informed. Educate yourself about the impact of our society’s wasteful habits, it will soon become clear to you that we can’t keep on doing things the way we’ve done them for generations. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then at least have some compassion for those that will succeed you.
So, how much time do I really spend working on our Zero Waste?
A couple of hours a week, Friday afternoons…That’s when I grocery shop and run errands that might take me to a store. While dinner is cooking, I might squeeze oranges for OJ or once in a blue moon make mustard.
And this blog helps you access information that took me a couple of years to figure out. Now, that’s a time saver!
MONEY:
Many specialty shops like Whole Foods are quite pricey”
  • Whole Foods, you already know, is not my favorite store (see a “Letter to Whole foods” or “Difficult trip to Whole Foods” article). But it is the largest bulk vendor in my town, and many others. So, while I try to shop as locally as possible, I consider it our main option (I have not been to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco for three months). If you have a better (and more ethical) option than Whole Foods, please go for it!
  • In Whole Foods defense though, it is hardly “Whole Paycheck”, if you stay away from the prepared foods and cut down your meat consumption. In the past 2 years, we’ve seen our grocery bill significantly decrease. About a 1/3 less than what it used to be (How did we ever think that packaging was free? Did it ever occur to you that it is included in the products price?)
In the past few years I’ve also noticed a huge rise in the prices at the farmers’ market”
  • Inflation hits not just the supermarket, but every business, and that includes the farmers’ market. As for organic, I believe that they are worth the upfront investment: the more you buy organic, the more likely we’ll see those prices drop. It’s a simple economic rule.
  • Quality veggies and food, like anything else of quality, does not come cheap. In the long run, it is better for you than “Top Ramen” and is worth it, but you know that already.
  • That said, the best time to shop the Farmer’s market is at closing time, when farmers slash prices. They rather sell their produce for less than pack it to take it home!
The glass and stainless canisters you use are expensive when compared to the (free) plastic bags at the store”
  • One does not have to purchase a glass canister to reduce their waste, on the contrary. Please reuse those that you have… That empty pickle jar would be perfect for buying olives in bulk. Many other options also abound in thrift shops. No excuses. I personally have been collecting the french jars mainly from thrift stores for 7 years and have loved their versatility (waterproof, durable, heatproof, freezer compatible, universal and interchangeable tops, and available in many different sizes). But no need to comply: Find what works best for you and your budget.
  • Our stainless canteens are one of our best buys. And so you will hear from those who have made the same investment. Canteens pay for themselves in only a few months from what you saved on water bottles! (Not to mention that bottled water is essentially tap, and that you eliminate plastic leaching into your drinking water.)
  • As for the “free plastic bags”: Nothing in life is free… find out what the real cost of free plastic bags is! (http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=2)

“All the things you do are admirable, but maybe not possible for the average person to take on (at least not all of them at once.)” That last bit in parenthesis is one thing I could not agree more with! Bit by bit is surely the way to do it.
Besides the environmental benefits, is it all worth it? Just for the sake of our health (knowing the outcome of packaged/junk food, and the effects of plastic packaging on our health ;), I would do it all over again. And while I thank you, Julie K, for your valuable comment, I do hope that you too will take steps to reduce your waste… You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find out about yourself.
  1. Anonymous says:

    May 1st, 2010 at 5:20 am (#)

    What a great response, Bea.

    It really bothers me when people argue that living a less wasteful lifestyle is more expensive, less convenient, and all around too much effort. People who believe that are either ignorant or apathetic. Sometimes it's hard not to get preachy about it, but I truly don't understand how people can care so little about the amount of waste they generate through their consumerism and the impact it has on others and on the planet. Isn't the extra time and energy put into living a greener, healthier, more ethical life worth it for so many reasons? We need to make some serious changes in our worldview.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration!
    Ella.

  2. Anonymous says:

    May 1st, 2010 at 11:22 am (#)

    I love all of your suggestions. You've made me really think about things that have never crossed my mind

  3. bridgmanpottery says:

    May 1st, 2010 at 5:46 pm (#)

    I think your lifestyle and blog are inspiring. It makes me sad to see people think that simplifying and sustainability as something for the elite. It used to be something that everyone did. Today I'm taking the leftovers from the sheets I made (I found 2 king size duvet covers from a boutique hotel at the thrift store and made a set of queen sized sheets) to make bulk bags. I buy quite a lot of our bulk items through a co-op, but whole foods is a reasonable alternative (for bulk). Also, we belong to a CSA, and I've found that if I can save $10 a week during the "off" season, I pay for our subscription quickly. Our CSA is generous enough that I'm able to freeze quite a lot of the produce to eat in the off season.

    Keep up the good work, Bea!

  4. Cindy says:

    May 1st, 2010 at 6:40 pm (#)

    Bea, I appreciate the considerate response that you gave Julie K and the generosity with which you've opened your lifestyle up to your readers. I think it's important to remember that most of us in our 20's, 30's, and 40's were raised with more or less the attitude toward waste that we're generating now and that rethinking how we do things doesn't involve being intentionally "consumerist" or wasteful, just that we were taught a certain method of home management (or not taught at all, or being reactive to overwhelming circumstances, with the same result) and that thinking about your waste output is not just a matter of being more attentive but of creating a completely new way of doing things (like seeing that bulk bins aren't germ central). We've been taught that plastic is good, and to pity those who came before us who didn't have access to this material for keeping foods fresh, etc. When you look in any part of your house and see the super-abundance of plastic and disposable items everywhere, the idea of a zero waste (or even less waste) household can seem completely impossible, especially when you have a busy life and can't keep up even using all the convenience items out there. But I'm feeling very differently these days — only as a result of having it presented to me as something do-able (I might add that the Marin IJ article in which your husband pointed out that your family expenditure had halved was a huge motivator for me and especially my husband).

    I would never have thought that zero waste was possible before being introduced to your blog, but a little bit of research has really opened my eyes not just to the possibilities but to the growing number of people who are working on this problem in their own homes, often with great self-consciousness and embarrassment. For the reader who said that it's hard not to get preachy, I'd like to say, PLEASE, make the effort! Refraining from preachiness to people who may not have had the whole issue presented in an accessible manner WILL make the difference between that person adopting changes and resenting the entire lifestyle. And Bea, keep going, you have a ton of readers and everyone who speaks openly and without embarrassment makes it possible for others to follow your lead.

  5. mary says:

    May 1st, 2010 at 9:32 pm (#)

    I also think it is so strange that this is all so "outside the norm" of what we do. It often makes me sad to wonder how we all became so dependent on so many things that are destroying us (health-wise and environmentally). Just look at the latest tragedy of our gluttonous behavior. (I am referring to the recent oil spill…) I appreciate you putting yourself and ALL of the WEALTH of information you have gained by choosing this lifestyle out there for us. It is a true motivator and a great resource. Sad to see that so many people need to criticize others to feel superior and "right" (I read all of those hideous comments in the online version of the IJ article. Wow. Sad. – thought there were some great ones as well). Anyway, just wanted to say thanks again for sharing your life with all of us. And PLEASE share where you found the bulk yogurt! 🙂 I would love to know!

  6. Anonymous says:

    May 1st, 2010 at 11:04 pm (#)

    Bea,

    I never thanked you for the compost links!

    I finally approached a group that has turned a vacant lot down the street from me into a community garden. I offered to give them my compost and they want me to be in charge of their composting because they haven't actually started yet.

    I'm also going to garden there.

    So now I have to learn more about composting. Anyway, thank you! You've really inspired me!

    -Melissa

  7. Jane says:

    May 2nd, 2010 at 5:59 am (#)

    Sister solider, YOU ROCK!!! Thank you for sharing your experience!

  8. Meg says:

    May 2nd, 2010 at 10:26 pm (#)

    Please Bea. You can't be serious about Whole Foods. WF is not an option if you are on a limited budget and I am not talking about the prepared foods here! Shopping in bulk at CostCo and supplemented by Safeway or similar market in a pinch, is where the rest of the world who is on a budget and also eco-conscious shops. You can get plenty of organic brands at CostCo and whole wheat staples (a fraction of the cost of WF), bulk olive oil, sea sale, baking soda, balsamic vinegar, Lundberg brown rice, frozen organic fruit for smoothies, the list goes on and on. There is also a huge organic fresh food section. They don't even offer the shoppers plastic or paper bags. For those who don't bring their own, there is an area with recycled boxes you can use.

  9. Bea Johnson says:

    May 3rd, 2010 at 3:05 am (#)

    Meg: I am so sorry for the confusion!!! on this zero waste blog, we are talking about BULK BINS, not bulk Costco-style.
    Here, we are talking about bringing your own cloth bags or jars to stores to fill with rice, sugar, flour, meat, etc… to bypass unnecessary packaging. Sadly, Costco, besides not being accessible to everyone, does not (obviously) fit the "no-packaging" bill.

  10. Bea Johnson says:

    May 3rd, 2010 at 3:13 am (#)

    Thanks for great comments/input everyone… and Melissa: I am sooo proud of you. You'll soon be our composting expert!

  11. Alison says:

    May 3rd, 2010 at 4:08 am (#)

    thank you for putting this out there! i get frustrated when i hear those comments. i COMPLETELY agree about the time and money issues… time, yes, i spend more time in my kitchen, but i spend less time sitting in traffic with my three kids in the back seat, and standing in grocery lines. as far as money, i saw our grocery budget (for a family of 5) cut down from $350 a month to $140. we eat almost entirely local and organic.

    the last paragraph also rings true. i began with food, which transformed into cleaning products, which seemed to translate and slide right into the waste issue… i'd like to tackle clothing next… but take one step at a time so you can learn and not get overwhelmed… thanks again for this post, bea! 🙂

  12. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 4:30 am (#)

    I found my first Le Parfait jar at a rummage sale for 25 cent…I'm SO EXCITED!!! Thanks for inspiration!

    ~Kate

  13. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 4:01 pm (#)

    Hi Bea,

    Thank you for your efforts on this blog. I'm a 20 something Manhattan-ite looking to reduce my footprint in a tiny apartment. I'm lucky enough to have a cleaning lady and trying to get her to go-green is tough, but slowly but surely it's happening. I'm also starting a counter-top compost. I'm changing – as you say – bit by bit! It all adds up, right?

    -Amanda

  14. Anonymous says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 4:13 pm (#)

    Bea,

    One question! How do you store vegetables like lettuce, celery, half used onions, etc. in your refrigerator without plastic wrap/baggies?

    Thanks!
    Amanda

  15. Zero Trash Talk - Valerie says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 4:23 pm (#)

    Bea,
    I love reading your real-time zero waste applications and your response to Julie K. was well said.

  16. Elsie says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 4:51 pm (#)

    I think we also need a "how to get started" turtorial. It's all very new to some of us and I dont want to get frustrated and just give up.

  17. Bea Johnson says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 5:23 pm (#)

    Amanda: I store my veggies, straight into the produce drawer of our refrigerator. I keep small loose items such as peas in my reusable mesh produce bag in the drawer. I store cut veggies in a jar, or upside down on a small plate (tomatoe for ex.). I hope that helps.

  18. Bea Johnson says:

    May 4th, 2010 at 5:25 pm (#)

    Kate: you scored! congrats on your 1st Le Parfait 😉

  19. Alison says:

    May 5th, 2010 at 8:13 pm (#)

    No confusion Bea. I totally get your point about what you mean by bulk. My point was to respectfully disagree with you when you wrote "In Whole Foods defense though, it is hardly "Whole Paycheck", if you stay away from the prepared foods and cut down your meat consumption. In the past 2 years, we've seen our grocery bill significantly decrease. About a 1/3 less than what it used to be". I found that (1) bulk food at WF or our local co-op is more expensive than the same packaged food (2) the large sizes at CostCo are far cheaper than either. Is there recycling produced? Yes, but not much b/c of the huge sized I buy and then decant into smaller containers. I know this does not satisfy your criteria. My point is that, like other readers have noted, your system seems to be very expensive.
    But let's figure it out. My average grocery spending (1 adult, 2 kids, total includes 3 home-made lunches every day, zero pre-packaged/cooked food, some froz. fruit, partially organic fruit/veg, very little meat, no paper products, no junk food, frequent entertaining) is $500/month. A CSA pick-up alone is $80/month of the total. I live in Washington DC so know it is more expensive than some places. In the summer with our garden produce we spend less, closer to $300/mo. and in the winter with the holidays and home-cooked gifts, it is more. I don't know how Alison does it on $140! I would be interested to know what you and other readers spend per month and how they can keep costs down while shopping at places like Whole Foods. Thanks.

  20. Lisa Under the Redwoods says:

    May 6th, 2010 at 1:39 am (#)

    I know I would be interested in Allison's grocery spending also. $140 a month for a family of 5 works out to less than $1 a day per person. Maybe if you have a very large garden?? I could surely learn a lot from her.

  21. Bea Johnson says:

    May 6th, 2010 at 5:42 am (#)

    Alison: I am not saying that Whole Foods is THE cheapest option, but I am rather saying that it is not as expensive as one might think. And I find that the $700/month that I spend there on package free products for the 4 of us (2 adults, 2 kids) is completely worth it, for the future of my kids.
    As for shopping in clubs, I do agree that, per pound, Costco might be cheaper BUT I do not aggree that it is necessarily cheaper than Whole Foods in the long run, especially for a small family. We used to shop at Costco. I believe that Costco pushes consumption. They convince you to buy more than you need, leading to food boredom, a race against expiration dates and wasted food (not to mention that some items are not worth the loss of space). That, the lack of generic choices on certain products and their membership fee is how they make business.
    As Nabeel Azar wrote on "My Money Blog": "they have you think that the more you spend, the more you save. Looking at the olives – did you actually want to spend $8 on olives? You probably wanted to spend less than that, which means you’d have been better off buying the lesser quantity of olives at the higher unit price. It’s a matter of determining which is more important to you – spending what you want to spend, or getting the lowest unit price possible. These clubs make you think the goal is always the latter. It sometimes is, but not always."

  22. Alison says:

    May 6th, 2010 at 8:58 pm (#)

    Yes, I completely agree that you need to walk in with a list and stick to it. Like WF, CC is good at offering temptations that one does not really need.
    For your readers on tight food and time budgets, here is my CostCo list for once or max twice a month shopping trips:

    Lundberg brown rice
    Olive Oil
    Balsamic Vinegar
    Saking Soda and White Vinegar for cleaning
    Agave Syrup, Maple Syrup
    Basmati rice
    Dark Choco chips for muffins
    WW flour
    couscous
    Garbanzo and Black beans
    ww Baguettes
    Quinoa, regular and red
    POM juice
    WW tortillas and pita
    cage-free eggs
    Potatoes, Onions, lemons and bananas (I split these with my neighbor)
    By sticking with this list and filling in the fruits, milk and veg at CSA and Safeway, I now have a managable grocery budget though I would still like to bring it down further:)

  23. jill says:

    May 6th, 2010 at 9:10 pm (#)

    (first, I love your blog, even though I'm just on my way and certainly not in a position to call myself waste free.)

    I think the hard work is not changing what we do, it's changing the mental problem solving process for our day to day habits and getting ones head to notice opportunities to do things differently. Because we live in a North American society where we are told what we need (look at the constant product innovations offering solutions to problems I didn't know I had), it's hard to even think "Do I need this?"

    Or, at least, that's what I've been struggling with.

  24. alex gormley says:

    May 7th, 2010 at 12:33 am (#)

    Nice work, Bea. I look forward to all your blogs. I am still trying to digest how, after graduating from the London School of Design, you can pare down your wardrobe that much. Wow.
    Cheers!

  25. Bea Johnson says:

    May 7th, 2010 at 1:17 am (#)

    Alison: Thanks for your shopping list, but this is not a blog that supports packaged goods ;). Your list might be more appropriate posted on another blog about thrifty grocery shopping (one that does not address wasteful habits and unnecessary packaging)?
    Remember, you vote (and support continuation) when you shop. Do you want to see more Costco's flourishing about? I sure don't and do not wish it in my kids future either. My dream is to see more waste-free-bulk BINS (vs."Big Box" packaging) in their future.

  26. Alison says:

    May 7th, 2010 at 2:34 pm (#)

    Hi Bea: Thanks. But this does bother me. The bulk goods you purchase are packaged goods. WF purchases their bulk goods in packages that they then dump into the bulk containers and raise the prices. The rice, for example, is shipped to WF in 25 lb bags from their distributor, Unfi. WF then then throws the bags out.
    By going to Costco, I go back farther on the distribution chain to purchase rice from the wholesale vendor (like WF does)also in 25 lb. bags. The only difference between your method and mine is that you spend alot more money. The exact same amount of waste is produced and actually the WF bulk system has a higher carbon footprint if you take into account the additional transportation costs.
    In short, "Waste-free" bulk bins are not any more waste free than bulk purchases from a wholesaler. Just far more expensive.

  27. Sheila from Baltimore says:

    May 7th, 2010 at 2:42 pm (#)

    Question/Comment about Whole Foods. What do you think about John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods? He will not allow his workers to form unions. He was publicly against health care reform. With Wal-Mart now the biggest organic food retailer (at a fraction of the price of Whole Foods) and Wal-Mart supporting employees rights, this is really something to think about. What did people think of the New Yorker article about this topic "Food Fighter" on January 4th??

  28. Anonymous says:

    May 8th, 2010 at 12:31 pm (#)

    Alison:
    That is right. We don't have a WF 🙂 but at our food coop, the food sold in the bulk containers is purchased in containers/bags and then we fill the bulk containers with that. The reason that it is more expensive is that people can get the EXACT amount that they want instead of buying the quantity that comes in the original container.

    What I do is use 5 gallon BPA-free buckets with these cool screw-on tops (I found these thanks to my Mormon girlfriends) for storing food from the large bags I get wholesale. Then I just fill my smaller containers every few weeks from those.

    Hope that is helpful.

  29. Bea Johnson says:

    May 8th, 2010 at 4:55 pm (#)

    Alison:

    As you already know, refusing is my #1 rule for unneccessary items, but #2 rule is REDUCING for those that are needed – shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc…We have used this philosophy to guide how/where we live – in a small house with very limited storage, including a small pantry. (See the photo of my pantry in Zero Waste Kitchen).

    Your example of rice is a good one – WF does purchase some of their rice in 25 lb. bags. WF also purchases many of their other staples in 50 lb. bags (sugar, flour, salt, oatmeal, etc.) (Note: The original package size is listed on the price tags attached to each bin.) As I do not live in a large house, I would simply not be able to purchase large bags of each of these staples (and frankly, who could?)…WF does it for me – I do not need a xlb. bag of stevia to make our tooth powder – I only need 1/2tsp per month. I do not need a 30lbs box of pecans, I only use one cup around the holidays. I can't use up a 40lbs container of olive oil, before it goes bad. Besides, I would have to carry all that up 36 steps to my front door…

    Additionally, I have a core belief that healthy living comes from a varied diet, which includes a changing menu of grains…Again, as I do not have the space to keep a bulk sized variety of grains in our house, I would be restricting my family to a very limited diet of rice . Maybe that works for you and your family? Or maybe you have a lot of space?

    Lastly, you mention that I spend "a lot more money" – as I said, I spend $700 per month for my family of 4 (myself, husband and two boys) vs. the $500 for your family of 1 adult and 2 kids. On a per person basis, we are about the same…

    I have enjoyed our dialog – but have to move on now 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  30. Anonymous says:

    May 9th, 2010 at 11:37 pm (#)

    wouldnt it be nice if there were ways of purchasing local grains and other bulk items from the growers directly (in northern california we are in mecca…) Also, I have a hard time with the notion of eliminating ones personal need for disposing of trash, but rather dumping that responsibility on someone else (excuse the pun). When we buy in bulk, we need to understand that the food which came into that bin made trash. and depending on where it came from, used fossil fuels to transport. Nothing new to consider here, but important to note that zero waste in ones personal space does not mean that they are not creating waste in the world.

  31. Bea Johnson says:

    May 10th, 2010 at 3:29 am (#)

    Sadly, I agree and am all to aware of the broader impact. In general, I would agree that a large portion of a product's environmental footprint comes from the supply chain that delivers the goods to the retailer and then consumer. For some products, like a pair of jeans, the largest part of the environmental impact comes from the product use phase of the product life-cycle (e.g., washing the jeans)…http://www.levistrauss.com/sustainability/product/life-cycle-jean

    So all I can do is to try to impact the part of the supply chain that I deal with – by refusing un-needed consumption, by reducing where possible, by buying locally if possible, by limiting my travel if possible, by washing my jeans in cold water / air drying, if possible, etc… Maybe it is why my blog is the "Zero Waste Home" and not the "No impact woman" 🙂

  32. Anonymous says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 2:21 pm (#)

    With all due respect, I feel strongly that we all have the responsibility to look outside of our homes as well at all of the places we can make a greater impact, by working together, by writing letters to our elected officials, by working with colleagues to make our places of work and learning more green. Without this broader vision, as Paul Greenberg says in "Hot Planet, Cold Facts", we are making "hipster lifestyle changes", not that these aren't important, but they will not be the game changers that our earth is demanding from us.

  33. sean says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 4:26 pm (#)

    Hi Bea,

    I just sent you a message. I write for AP in New York, I'd love to interview you for an article I'm writing on reducing packaging waste.

    Can you send me an email back on. Take off the 'no spam' at the start of this email address nospamseanpodriscoll@yahoo.com

    Thanks,

    Sean

  34. Bea Johnson says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 4:56 pm (#)

    Anonymous "with all due respect…": stay tuned, I will address your comment on my next article!

  35. Steve Mandzik says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 6:16 pm (#)

    Interesting that you noticed a 1/3 drop in ur grocery bill – have u heard of this study, found that supermarket food is 1/3 less quality than local/bulk items:

    http://www.acleanlife.org/?p=932

  36. Bea Johnson says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 10:35 pm (#)

    Great article Steve, thks for sharing!

  37. Stacey says:

    May 16th, 2010 at 8:18 pm (#)

    I just found your blog… and you totally rock!
    I make my own yogurt, bake my own bread, knit/sew some of my clothing, clean with only baking soda & vinegar, shop for what I need in a thrift store, and work a job that fits into my lifestyle.
    I think my life is much easier & cheaper than when I worked a 'real job' (i.e. a super-stressful one)… because I often resorted to expensive shortcuts.
    I'm not there yet… but I certainly aspire to a zero-waste lifestyle!

  38. Phail says:

    June 6th, 2010 at 5:07 am (#)

    Quote: "And I find that the $700/month that I spend there on package free products for the 4 of us (2 adults, 2 kids) is completely worth it, for the future of my kids."

    Not trying to be argumentative of course — I am a really big "fan" of this sort of method to… shall we call it "home economics." The fact here is, at least for me, that your food budget is apparently about 150$-175$ weekly (as opposed to my 50$ weekly for the same family unit). Is there anything I can do on 1/3 the budget that will help me get started on, at least, a reduced-consumption/waste home?

    In case it matters, as a general rule we try to make our own bread (time due to jobs restrains our ability to do this sometimes), we've used cloth diapers (and have kept the supplies for future use) and my wife swears by her diva cup. We are always looking for ways to manage our waste but our budget, especially after our recent bankruptcy, demands lowest possible direct cost with highest possible direct return (we're talking about 30,000$ gross yearly income) while having no more than we can store in our apartment at any one given moment in time.

    Any advice and/or criticism is welcome, and thank you for being a beacon of hope for all who care to even look at the world's problems!

    – Hick

  39. Heather says:

    June 8th, 2010 at 2:07 am (#)

    I just found your blog; thank you for the inspiration. I have at times been a lot closer to zero waste than I am right now, and I'm inspired to source out new places for bulk (we've moved from the Bay Area, where it's easier, to the Midwest, where it's probably easy, but I just don't know all the ways yet.)

    Hick, above me: It really depends on where you live! When we lived in the Bay Area, we were doing well to spend $700/month on groceries. Now that I'm in a smaller community in the midwest, $500 is indulgent. We could easily do $50 a week if we needed to do so living here. It's always hard to compare numbers if you don't live in the same place. Now, if you do live in the same place, it will probably be hard. I know that as much as I tried, I couldn't get under $600/mo in the Bay Area, and I tried really, really hard.

  40. Bea Johnson says:

    June 8th, 2010 at 2:12 am (#)

    Heather: I could not agree with you more! when comparing grocery bills, we need to compare apples to apples ;). Our family lives in an expensive place… there is no question that people can do much better than $700/month elsewhere.

  41. Anonymous says:

    July 1st, 2010 at 11:31 pm (#)

    Bea,

    Is that a bag for laundering delicates housing your oranges?! How clever!

  42. mgeo says:

    July 25th, 2010 at 6:15 am (#)

    Google for an image of a "tiffin carrier". It is much easier to handle than separate containers, and you can keep them all upright.

  43. Bea Johnson says:

    July 25th, 2010 at 1:46 pm (#)

    One thing to consider… my husband did not like the Tiffin Carriers for their noisyness ;)???!… so we stick to the same canning containers that we use for EVERYTHING: lunch, freezing, cold food storage, dry food storage, picnics, canning, jams, meat, fish, deli, cheese, condiments, money 😉

  44. dining room table says:

    August 18th, 2010 at 7:22 am (#)

    This is post is a must read. I love what it inside this article. This kind of lifestyle is so inspirational and this lifestyle will not just making your life great and you will also helping the world in this simple things.

  45. Jessica Rhodes says:

    March 10th, 2011 at 7:32 pm (#)

    I just watched the video on you and your family. I have to commend you on your work. I think your lifestyle is a great work but I wonder if it is completely possible to live the zero-waste lifestyle where I live (NW Arkansas). We have a Farmer's Market, but it's only open during the summer. Also, there aren't many grocers around that aren't huge chains…mostly Wal-Marts. We have a natural food store, but I've noticed that even though they sell organic, almost everything is packaged. It seems that the south (my area specifically) is all about convenience instead of what is good for the environment. How do I deal with this?

  46. Anonymous says:

    March 12th, 2011 at 6:23 am (#)

    I guess I've been living under a rock, but your video that popped up on my Yahoo was the first I've heard of "Zero Waste". I was so inspired!

    Caring for the environment is, of course, important – but what really appealed to me was the idea of simply ridding my family's life of TRASH. Trash that constantly surrounds us and clutters our minds…trash that fills our space, stinks up the house and basically hangs around long after it was useful.Ugh.

    Although people freak out as though zero waste is some kind of new, crazy idea – it struck me how the reverse is true. I'm 46 and both of my grandmothers were raised during the Depression. This is how they lived. "Zero Waste" was normal and to just use something once and toss it was considered totally unacceptable.

    Thanks for helping to wake up people like me to the truth that a waste free life is truly possible…even in 2011.

    Cara

  47. Anonymous says:

    March 13th, 2011 at 2:26 am (#)

    Hi! I live in Florida and learned about this lifestyle today. I am AMAZED! It's concept is different than anything I have thought about before. It's EASY! It's just a matter of CHANGING the way you look at things. And, even if one did not care about our envoirnment and our beautiful Earth we are ruining, at the VERY LEAST it is a healthier way of living. I Will be starting this new journey tomorrow and I have invited my friends and family to at least start being aware of what they are bringing into thier house and bodies. I am an emergency room nurse and will also be bringing the idea of zero waste to the corporation. EVERYTHING we use we throw away (and all of everything we use in hospitals is trash that COULD be recycled). It is unreal how much plastic from syringes, needles, medicine, IV fluid bags AND ALL of the wrapping ( and they are ALL individually wrapped)is trashed. It makes me sad. At least at home I cam start somewhere! Thank you for your courage. I cannot wait to adopt this for myself and my son! Heather

  48. sharkey1114 says:

    March 13th, 2011 at 10:45 pm (#)

    Just wandering what kind of juice maker you use? Trying to find something simple but not electric

  49. Lisa says:

    March 14th, 2011 at 3:53 am (#)

    What a great idea, zero waste. We too are trying to reduce our impact. In doing so I decided not to purchase anything unnecessary this month. We compost and are set up for recycling. Notice I say set up. We have to take our recycling into town ourselves. This is not normally a difficult prospect as we end up near recycling depots frequently. But it does require planning and forethought. You have inspired me to continue to reduce reuse recycle and add on refuse. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Anonymous says:

    March 16th, 2011 at 4:14 am (#)

    Thanks Bea for sharing your hard earned knowledge with us! Just wanted to mention that even though I spend more on food now, I still am saving money because I am buying what I need, when I need it. Gone are the expenses of ziplock bags, napkins, paper towels, trash bags, more clothes, buying clutter, and the gas to take me there. Thanks for sharing your voice.

  51. Bea Johnson says:

    March 16th, 2011 at 11:52 pm (#)

    In response to product recommendations: Please refer to the blog store. Thanks.

  52. Bea Johnson says:

    March 17th, 2011 at 1:07 am (#)

    Jessica Rhodes: There is much you can do without bulk in yoru town.
    -You can replace all your disposables with reusables (a huge part of Zero Waste)
    -Let your voice be heard: request bulk in your town, write to manufacturers, shop the better packaging.
    -Live by example with reusables (grocery totes and mesh produce bags for ex) will in turn inspire others in your community to change their ways and express themselves.
    -Please refer to the article: Is Zero Waste realistic for your household?

  53. Anonymous says:

    April 7th, 2011 at 6:26 pm (#)

    I'm a cliche poor college student and I somehow manage to live this lifestyle, its pretty fun to, I encourage my nieces to go shopping with me and teach them about being more eco-friendly!

  54. Alternamama says:

    April 23rd, 2011 at 3:06 am (#)

    I would like to eliminate paper towels. We have cut down on using them except to cover food we heat up in the microwave, to keep it from spattering all over the inside of the oven. Any suggestions for an alternative for this use?

  55. Anonymous says:

    May 28th, 2011 at 7:56 pm (#)

    another reason to buy organic over inorganic despite higher prices: organic foods have much more vitamins and antioxidants than non organic food. In my opinion they taste better also.

  56. Anonymous says:

    May 28th, 2011 at 7:58 pm (#)

    alternamama: I use glass lids or ceramic plates over bowls with food. You also could put a bowl over a plate of food.

  57. Margaret says:

    August 9th, 2011 at 7:23 pm (#)

    Just another comment to add to the Whole Foods discussion – I think you have to look carefully at the entire bulk section – just like in the packaged foods, you can buy granola that costs $7 per pound or box, or you can buy granola that costs $3 per pound or box. Overall, at Whole Foods I think I can always find an option that costs less than the cheapest packaged version.

    Anytime I have a "whole paycheck" experience at WF, it's because I bought packaged food or toiletries.

  58. Susan d says:

    August 31st, 2011 at 2:36 am (#)

    Hi Bea:

    Since I have been reading your blog and paying close attention to everything I have read thus far I am amazed at how many opportunities there are almost every day to refuse items. I am also noticing how persistent some people are when offering "free" items. Though I have not met with 100% success in refusing everything I don't want (I am still honing my skills) I have been successful quite a few times. Thanks again.

  59. Nomannic says:

    May 29th, 2012 at 3:04 am (#)

    My family of four (I'm the oldest kid, at 16) lives on TANF ($600 a month), in a very expensive small town, and still manages to make progress towards zero waste. The only change we really needed to make was in our priorities – was the brand new, pretty nailpolish more important than the completely-metal canopener that won't break, and will never need to be replaced again? We started small, with stuff that would save us money (cloth diapers) and simplified what we thought we needed, and used the money we saved to make bigger investments, that would save us more money (like glass jars instead of ziplock – that's $172 saved a year alone, an entire months utility bill!). In the short – and long – run, zero waste has saved us time, money and the planet my little siblings will be growing up on.

  60. Annie says:

    September 22nd, 2012 at 3:02 am (#)

    If you live in an area with a Mennonite/Amish population,look into any of their stores.Here in northeast Iowa,they have their shops on their farms.Yes,you might have to drive a little farther,but you can buy in bulk there.When you can pick up 125 lbs.or more of tomatoes at once and can them,you get several months supply in one trip.I also get 50 lb. bags of flour,corn meal, oat meal, etc. Lots of the packaging can be recycled.I can get bulk spices as well.They tend to sell healthier foods,and other things like sewing supplies,kitchen stuff,big unused pickle jars to use for food storage,canning supplies,really just about everything.And they're less expensive than regular stores.

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