Bea Johnson lives waste-free with her family since 2008 and is the author of the bestseller Zero Waste Home (Zéro Déchet en francais)
"Since embarking on the Zero Waste lifestyle, our lives have changed for the better: We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff. My goal is to share its incredible health, financial and time saving benefits!"

Is the Zero Waste Home only about waste reduction?

I received a long angry comment this week.

The commenter implied that our household was single minded... “Your lifestyle seems to be very austere” he or she wrote . “I'm wondering if you have a viewpoint on what we are all supposed to be doing here on planet earth? In addition to counting the band-aids in our trash cans, I mean”. Do you think your children find that it's a good trade off... you know for them to become social pariahs in exchange for you indulging your obsession.”

Boy! How did this commenter even get to this blog? Why did "anonymous" even spend time reading it if he or she did not understand the subject of it? How can he or she insult our kids so freely, not knowing them or their social life.

I replied that not every blog is for everyone...

And yet, what sticks in my mind about this comment is: Who does this person really think we are? Does this person really think that we ONLY care about waste?

In other words: Is the Zero Waste Home only about waste reduction? As I mentioned before, if it was not for this blog, I would not even think about waste on a daily basis. No seriously, beside the frustrating unavoidable trash bits, zero waste has become a no-brainer and a natural, unconscious part of our life, it has become automatic. We take our bags / jars and try to make good buying decisions when we shop once a week, refuse the occasional freebies, send an occasional email of complaint, and ask our friends and family to respect our lifestyle when they come. That's it. That's as much time as our family would think about zero waste... had I not started writing (and thus elaborating) about it.

I personally love art, fashion, foraging, homemaking, organizing, volunteering, simplifying,... I could have written a blog on any of these. And yet I chose zero waste. Why? Because in my mind it sums it all up. It has made my art more focused, my foraged miner's lettuce tastier, my thrifting more acceptable, my minimalism more understandable, my homemaking and volunteering more purposeful. For once in my life, it seems that all my interests and talents are connected. Plus, wouldn't it be selfish not to share my trials (Lush deodorant), failures (vinegar hair rinse), successes (baking soda toothpowder) and finds (local bulk stores) with others?

Let's face it. Zero waste is not just about waste: it's about enjoying simple pleasures, eating local and seasonal foods, living a healthier lifestyle, enjoying the outdoors more, getting closer to the Earth, finding fulfillment in volunteering activities, and simplifying your life to make room for things that matter most to you. If it was not for the latter, I would have never found the time to write this blog.

The commenter went on to criticize my refusing laminated school work last June. “Did you know that a lot of parents don't judge their children's artwork on whether it will biodegrade easily?”, he or she asked. “Actually a lot of parents would treasure their childrens' artwork and want it to last forever. But you rejected your childrens' artwork because it had become the wrong kind of trash.”, the commenter wrote.

Is this comment supposed to make me feel some kind of guilt for the laminated work that I refused? I am sorry to disappoint the commenter even further, but I don't. Through my simplifying business I witness numerous homes filled with “heirloom guilt" and I could not agree more with this quote from a New York Times article: "Barry Lubetkin, a psychologist and the Director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in Manhattan, who has observed this [heirloom guilt] in a number of patients [...]. It’s an unhealthy setup, in which people become "slaves to inanimate objects,” he says. “Once you’re defining it as something you can’t get rid of, you’re not in control of your life or your home.”"

Let's say I had succumbed to the heirloom guilt: Was I supposed to bring the laminated piece home (no matter its quality) and add it to a bin full of other laminated school stuff, which would then be passed on, along with the same guilt, to my kids children and grand children? Our life is not about stuff and we're teaching our kids that life is not about stuff. So why should I allow teachers to fill my house with stuff? Shouldn't parents and children have the right to choose what to keep? After all we receive a ton of artwork from school all year long, so why should the one that is laminated be kept? What if your child, was sick and not in the mood or simply botched that particular project? Yet it would get laminated for a whole family branch to keep forever? Does not make sense to me at all.

Let's say my great grand kids felt liberated enough to discard it later: Do I want my kids laminated art to contribute to the great pacific garbage patch? Of course not.

I really don't think I am being “very austere” here and I don't think it was wrong to reject lamination. Quite the contrary, I think it would be more wrong NOT to reject it and allow this wasteful school practice to get out of control.

Accepting is condoning - just like shopping is voting. I cannot ignore (the easy way in life) the negative environmental impact of lamination, not to mention its expense. I would rather our public school money be better spent. If I don't do anything about it, who will? Obviously not the commenter. So, I say it once again: “Be the change you want the world to be” - Gandhi.

The commenter also implied that my son was deprived because he loved band-aids and we ran out... hmmm.

Can one really be deprived of Spongebob band-aids? The Merriam Webster defines “deprived” as “marked by deprivation especially of the necessities of life or of healthful environmental influences”

Are Spongebob band-aids “a necessity of life or a healthful environmental influence”? Maybe to the commenter, but our son does not seem to think so. He has not asked for them since we ran out. Luckily, his livelihood does not rest on band-aids, but rather on more important activities (like playing football with his dad).

And if one dares to say that my children are deprived because we don't have band-aids, can you say that my children are deprived because they also do not have video games (they play outside, build Lego's, or learn to bake or paint instead)?

Can you say that my children are deprived because we don't buy junk food (they eat healthy bulk or homemade meals instead)?

Can you say that my children are deprived because we don't drive them to school in a warm/or air conditioned car (they get exercise and fresh air by riding their bikes instead)?

Can you say my children are deprived because we don't give them vitamins (we believe in a healthy diet and outdoor activity instead)?

Can you say that my children are deprived because apart from a few french comic books they don't have books (the local library has made thousands of books available to them and turned them into avid readers instead)?

Can you say that my children are deprived because they don't have TV (they prefer to watch a commercial free Netflix movie instead)?

Can you say that my children are deprived because we do not keep ALL their artwork (together, we select and store our favorites)? By the way, our staircase is filled with them. See picture above.

Can you say my children are deprived because we don't have trash cans in the house? Seriously.

I guess the answer to the questions above depend on the personal health and life standards you have set for your family.

We are not perfect and we are not 100% waste free. But we love what the zero waste lifestyle has done for our family beyond waste reduction. We hope that many more families will get to discover it for themselves. This is what this blog is really about. Sharing an on-going life changing experience. But my words will only make sense to you if you're ready and willing to accept change. The commenter obviously is not. Are you?

Or if you started already, what has Zero Waste done for you beyond waste reduction?


  1. Anonymous10/21/2010

    What a creative way to show your childrens' artwork!

  2. I wouldn't take too much notice of that commenter. I'm sure if your children did 'without' all those things due to poverty rather than awareness the commenter would be telling you none of that matters and to focus on what is important. I find your blog wonderful and inspirational. I am far from 100% waste free but I do make a conscious effort to reduce our household waste and I get MANY great ideas from your blog.

    As an art teacher I would never laminate a student's work! I only have a few examples of my primary & high school education, thanks to my Mum who would only keep particularly funny/excellent examples. It makes them more special. I know how hard it can be to say no when faced with keeping a student's work so it's great you've been able to put that in perspective. I get the guilts when recycling student work and that's work that they don't want! (I love that a single canvas can be used by ten different students before someone decides to keep the work they painted on it).

    Anyway you're doing a fantastic job and don't let a single dissenting voice get under your skin.

  3. I think you are doing a great job showing your children what matters most. That commenter can leave his/her children a polluted world filled with trash, while you can feel mindful that you have done your best to leave yours with the best world possible.

  4. Lisa Under the Redwoods10/21/2010

    Some people make comments simply to be disagreeable. I wouldn't worry about it. Though I know it really is annoying when someone attacks your parenting style.

    We have been accused of child abuse and torture in an online forum because we make our children live in an 837 sq. foot home. The fact that our house is safe, clean, comfortable (and in the same town as yours) has no merit to our disgruntled poster. The fact that each of our children has their own, albeit small, bedroom doesn't matter to him. Some people are just bitter and want to share their bitter wealth.

    So the only advice I can give is to try your best to ignore those posters, and keep on doing what you know is best for your your family.

  5. Don't worry about that angry commenter.

    One question I have for you is about paper. We use more paper in our house than we'd like to, mainly on grocery lists. I am also a yoga instructor and I write out my sequences and notes for class to carry with me. The I take notes on what worked and what didn't and copy the finalized class format into a permanent notebook. I just can't refine my process enough at the moment to stop using that intermediary sheet of paper!

    Any advice?

  6. Your staircase is amazing! What a great idea to display artwork neatly and with purpose.

    I have one question for you though. I think it's great that you point out unnecessary waste to people, but I'm wondering why you don't take the items and recycle them on your own instead of returning them to the source. For me, I guess I would feel more comfortable knowing that unnecessary waste was reused or recycled by me than returning it to the source and wondering if it would just be thrown away. I realize that returning things (catalogs, ads, etc) makes a big point to the sender, but does it bother you to think that it may possibly go in the trash instead?

    Either way, thank you for your insightful blog! It's made me think twice about many wasteful things we have around our home and change some of my bad habits.

  7. I love the art work on the staircase! I love what you said about how your zero waste lifestyle has made things better, brought things into sharper focus. It just reminds me that doing things from joy and love is so much more meaningful and world changing then doing things from fear and dislike.

  8. What your cranky commenter wrote says more about her than about you. Zero waste is a side affect of living a mindful life. Keep sharing your experiences - I learn from them!

  9. slopegirl10/21/2010

    your website is an inspiration to me, I check often and only wish there were more posts. Like most of the people who comment here, we are like-minded but definitely produce a lot more trash than you... reading your posts reminds me it's a process, and we are not done yet.

    When I get sucked into one of these moment of disposable consumer culture--disposable champagne glass at an office goodbye party let's say (yesterday), I hate myself for going along, and I truly admire you for speaking out about your goals.

    think about all the things that used to be "normal" in our culture that have changed.

    the consumer message is recent, disposable clothing, disposable food, disposable houses, and I for one would not mind seeing the world (or at least our slice of it) change AWAY from this for good. It's a disgusting culture to be a part of. Too often it all slips by unnoticed.

  10. As others have said, I think that commenter said more about herself with those words.

    I admire you and your blog. You've done so much good for your family by showing them what's more important in life. I am far from having a waste-free home, but you've made me more conscious about what I'm throwing away so that I can make changes to reduce my carbon footprint.

    As far as childrens artwork...My mom has saved a lot of my stuff from my childhood, but do you know where it is? It's in a box in the attic. As my husband and I work towards moving and downgrading how much "stuff" we have, I've come to value what is really worth keeping and what isn't. Your staircase is a beautiful means to display the talents of your children and I applaud that idea. A box in the attic that will just be thrown away one day is nothing but a waste of space and resources. I've learned that I don't need a box of movie ticket stubs to remember the past 7 years of dates with my husband, I don't need every essay I made an A on in college to be proud of myself, I don't need boxes of notes from friends in high school to remember the good times in years past.

    Thank you for everything you do.

  11. For me, zero waste is just as much about reducing consumption as it is about reducing waste. For example, if you get a new (blank)- you need to think about how much you use it, what it cost (environmentally and monetarily) to make it, and what's going to happen when you're done (the waste part).
    When you think about all of these things, you bring much less into the house and consume less. I think that's what it's all about.
    In my opinion, if you really need a band-aid, then use one... but do you really need to thoughtlessly bring home countless plastic bags because you didn't take the time to gather some reusable ones? Probably not.

  12. Bea,
    Just remember please, each angry comment you receive, there are hundreds of us who admire what you are doing, inspired, encouraged, and waiting for your next post everyday! like me!

    I do believe that 'HOME' is the most important unit of the 'SOCIETY.' Good and bad start at home. What we do at home is so very important, but at times, it feels lonely. So, this is where your blog and others like yours play an important role. They creat a space where we can share and inspire each other. Important!!
    Thank you for doing what you do, and keep challenging us all.

  13. Anonymous10/21/2010

    Bea, I know that was an unfair attack on your family. But on the bright side, he inspired you to write! :o) I wish you wrote more.

  14. That sounds like a comment from someone who is barely containing his/her ENVY of your lifestyle. The comment was probably hastily written in a tense, cluttered household dependent on consumer debt, thoughtless acquisition, and noisy media distractions.

    I know these kinds of places because I grew up in them. I will testify that it is possible to free yourself of their malign affects on your mentality. I hope the commenter's children, if any, will be able to heal from this too.

  15. Your staircase is such a creative way to display your children's artwork! What is your method of adhering the pictures?

    I found your blog months ago, and have already commented on some of the changes we have made. But in light of this post and that angry comment, I want to let you know again the very positive and healthy changes that have taken place in our home.

    We are not even close to zero waste, but we are making progress. This blog has given us so many ideas and starting points to continue the journey. We also know that making the changes as steps will help them become a lasting part of our lifestyle. We know that teaching our children now while they are young will help them lead better lives when they are living in their own homes.

    Since reading the very first post here, I have begun baking our breads, muffins, pizza dough, rolls, crackers, pretzels, and cookies. We already had a menu plan, but now are better about using it and including plans for leftovers. I have worked to eliminate cleaning products the contain chemicals, and find ones that multi-task. I've discovered a passion of baking and homemaking, which is improving my family's health! I've quit using my dryer completely and hang everything up. If it's a nice sunny day, the rails of our deck work for some items (towels, jeans, bedding). Everything else is hung inside with hangers on a shower curtain rod, or a drying rack. We aren't allowed to have a clothes line here, so I make do in other ways.

    Our purchases are more thought out, and much less impulse. We look for reusable and long-term instead of single-use. We are definitely moving away from consumerism. As someone else said, that itself will create less waste.

    Even the feel of our home is changing, as the items in it need to be used and loved. As we find things that don't meet those two requirements, we pass them on or recycle if possible. Our home is becoming a more peaceful, happy, healthy, and easily maintained place. I have sought out blogs about minimalism to encourage that lifestyle.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this blog and show us that there is a better way. Thank you for encouraging us on this journey. Please continue to share. Many of us look forward to your writings and experiences.

  16. I've enjoyed your blog for a couple of months now, but (in a completely non-angry way) had wondered what life in general looked like in your house. Sorry you got flamed, but this was a very enlightening post!

  17. Though I am nowhere near to zero waste, because of you, I started using bar soaps, hand dry my clothes, composted for the past 5 months, make my own smoothies, use reusable cloth pads (I'm planning on getting the cup soon), use handkerchiefs and avoided plastic whenever possible. I've also become involved in the Students for Environmental Concerns club at my school.

    I've saved so much money from just being thoughtful about my purchases and eating in.

    If it wasn't for this blog, none of this would have ever happened.

    PS: I now cringe when I see my roommates put their lunches in ziplock bags.

  18. Amen, Sister! I love your blog and the ideas you share. I am so grateful that you and your family have taken on this zero waste home challenge and shared your story with me. I have been inspired to reduce my waste . . . e-books, more focused shopping when necessary, more home cooking, gardening, carpooling, just to name a few things. Again, thank you and please keep sharing your ideas with us!

  19. I agree with the encouragement to disregard the negative commenter. Just use the delete button!

    This is not unusual, that a person takes the point of a blog, completely fails to realize it is designed to address a specific issue, like a good blog (!) and attacks because it doesn't deal with a hundred other ideas.

    Heck, a few years ago I was chosen to write a study on a specific subject, and given a grant for that exact purpose, only to be attacked by people telling me I was obsessed! and that I should have taken the money and studied something else. Hello.....

    So, don't worry, stay on your own track, and more power to you. Don't sweat the comments that don't get you! a lot of people not only get you, but benefit from what you have to say.

  20. Hi Bea,
    I have been reading your posts for about 6 months now. I am also (sadly) no where near zero waste. But when I read your posts it gives me inspiration to try to get rid of some of my "heirloom" guilt - I have so much of it. I really appreciate your posts, and have also made changes to my lifestyle - from simple changes about what goes in the trash/composting/recycling, what I purchase at the market, skipping prepackaged single use containers, more cooking and baking at home, meal planning, trying to ride the bikes to school on a regular basis to the more complicated change of trying to change how my family views the things they want vs the things they actually need.
    Thank you so much Bea.

  21. I'd like to echo the other posts. I think your blog is inspiring! We are far from zero waste but have made many, many changes since reading it and I hope you will continue to post.

    My mom inherited a bunch of heirloom furniture that she "can't" get rid of and I've vowed not to do that to my children.

    We have "no gifts" birthday parties and I've had other parents express sympathy that I'm not letting my children have gifts. I politely don't engage in a debate, but privately I'm horrified at the plastic clutter that comes into houses in the guise of "gifts." My children are not deprived because they don't have 15 gifts to open up at their birthday.

  22. Bea, I'm sorry you got such an aggressive post, but I would like to relate my own experience that hopefully will help you see this commenter in a more positive light.

    When I first came across your blog a few months ago, I read a post or two, misunderstood what you were about, made a comment and got what I felt like was a bit of a slap on the wrist in response. So I read all the rest of your posts to see what i was missing.

    What I encountered here really set my hackles up. I had been trying hard to make good choices, and sometimes I felt like the good choices were mutually exclusive. It felt like a whole set of ways in which I had been failing at my efforts, even though I had improved so hugely from years (and states) gone by. But after reading your blog I felt really discouraged, not to mention wasteful and thoughtless, for what I hadn't yet adopted. So the next stage was defensive and angry. I didn't post any comments to the effect that you were an ill-tempered nut job, but I did have quite a lot of arguments with you in my head.

    I wonder if this isn't the perspective from which the commenter posted his/her comment?

    Eventually, I realized that this is all a journey. It took a certain amount of perspective, and accepting myself and making resolutions to keep doing better, and continuing to follow your blog to keep educating myself about what other changes I could make, a little at a time, for my own family, and now, while I still appreciate what you do, and the example you set, I also have to make these choices for our own family, at the rate that we can sustain. But I do bring my own containers for some things, and we are making a significant effort to reduce specific kinds of waste, particularly plastics, although I am not at a stage in my life when I can adopt everything at once. But I doubt that you did either, so I just try to stay mindful of it. Also, we get a really skewed sense of you from your blog. You say that zero waste is pretty mindless for you now, but for those of us to whom this is all new, it looks so foreign that it is difficult to imagine making all those changes so differently. And what you write about is not on our daily paths, so these are changes that would require a pretty large amount of brainpower investment, at least for a while. But at the end of the day, most of us are here because we are aware that something has to change.

    I hope it helps to know that you are having a positive impact on readers even when they give you negative feedback. That commenter will never be able to un-read your words; they'll always be rattling around in the back of his/her brain, and I would be amazed if they didn't have an impact on that person's actions, even though you'll probably never know it.

    So, for maybe the 3rd or 4th time since I started following your blog, thank you for what you do. Learning to live a zero waste lifestyle seemed completely unachievable before I began moving in that direction, but the further down the road I get the more steps I can see in front of me. It may not be as perfect as you, but it's way better than it used to be.

    Best to you,

  23. Dear Bea,
    Like many others, I came across your blog because I am someone that has already made the most basic changes (reusable shopping bags, lunch containers, etc.) and was looking for ways to become take my efforts to the next level. I had been frustrated by working in the field of environmental PR and handing out glossy flyers, "eco-friendly" freebies, and other wasteful products. I needed to find a new community of people that could see irony in something like "green" promotional items! I found it! You also gave me a new perspective, like that filling up my recycling bin every week is NOT an accomplishment! While I haven't been able to adopt all of your changes (yet), I have been able to grab the low hanging fruit - eliminating paper towel and paper napkins with microfiber cloths and cloth napkins (that we already had!), etc.

  24. Wow! Thank you all for your support! Without you this blog would obviously not be worthy.
    I am super impressed with your progress big or small. Zero waste is not necessarily about being wastefree, but making an attempt to get closer to it and making more conscious decisions.
    Cindy you explained that really well, and I thank you for your comment input.
    Rebekah: I am not sure I understand your question, lamination is not recyclable.
    Shell: The pictures on the stairs are collaged. I applied a waterbased adhesive (I had an old can of waterbased polyurethane but you can also use white glue) mixed with water, glued the pictures and covered them with another coat. It dries clear.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. I agree with the other commentors... I think you are very inspirational! Hope to see many more posts from you! :)

  27. What a great post! When you take the time to educate the negative commenters, I not only learn new methods of reducing waste but also learn new ways of articulating its importance to others. Thank you, thank you for your time spent writing this blog.

  28. Wow...some people...but don't worry. People assume they know everything about you because of what you blog...not realizing that it's such a small percentage of your life. Have fun!!! You seem very passionate and we need more people like you in the world. : )

  29. not related at all to your post...

    what do you use in your garbage can? do you buy bags? and what about your recycling?

    i hate the thought of spending money on stuff to essentially, just throw out. like garbage and recycling bags. our city will NOT allow recycling in any form other than in a bag (i've tried to write emails, because apparently it's up for debate once a year when the contract expires). i guess they're concerned with the weather making the recycling into one big mess (although if it's tied together, i don't understand...) as for the garbage: we can get away without the big black bags, but as for our kitchen garbage can, it seems a little more impossible. have you found a good solution? do you use garbage bags? or have you found them non-essential because you are so close to zero-waste? can you recommend a better alternative? (aside from having to clean out the bin every week)

  30. Alison:
    We have made our kitchen trashcan into one large and convenient compost bin (which we rinse once a week after emptying).
    Apart from toilet paper, we have completely eliminated disposable products (like you said buying disposables basically means throwing out money). When we started reducing our waste, we purchased BioBags but quickly realized that trash bags were not needed if you compost. Generally wet items are compostable (and a city compost can compost even more "wet" items). I plan on posting a composting article in a couple of weeks. Compost is a huge part of Zero Waste.
    As for recycling, our city actually prefers that people don't use bags (it takes longer for them to sort). For simplifying reasons and because we only generate a small amount of recycling (wine bottles and some paper), we have cancelled our large city can and set our kitchen recycling bin (with cover) directly on the curb. Fighting for un-bagged recycling in your town would be key to do that, and completely worth the fight! You have our support!

  31. Bea, the simplifying part of your life seems so integral to the zero waste choices you make, I wish you would give that a little more space on your blog as you go forward with your topics. Thanks!

  32. Bea,

    I found your blog a few months back. I'd already started trying to declutter my life. Your blog has been so helpful in keeping me focused and reminding me that spending time with my family and friends is what really counts. And that sometimes all the stuff is what gets in the way. I'm no where near zero waste yet, but getting closer all the time and finding out what really brings me joy, like cooking with my boyfriend with veggies out of our garden. Don't be discouraged by those nay sayers. Thanks for all the inspiration.

  33. All has been said, but thanks once more, Bea! @ Mardhiya and all the ladies wanting to get away from disposable hygienic products, go for it! I am a happy new cup user, a convert already. Just make sure you follow the instructions :-) Cheers to all, it's wonderful to find support and ideas in like-minded people, let's keep it up!

  34. I don't have much to add to the other supportive comments and the thought that your angry email came from someone who was most likely already angry. You were just a convenient target.

    It took me some time to figure out why I find this blog so compelling. I don't have a household of my own, and I live with people who are unmoved by the thought of waste and don't have energy to argue about it. I hope to set up a zero waste household in the future.

    What I like about the idea is that your routines of taking on supplies and using them seem to be connected to one another, and to the seasons. The predominant tone in society seems to be to look at things one at a time, and buy them for no personal reason, and then have to deal with them. By contrast, the things in your home have purpose and meaning. Since I started reading your blog, I have started to see myself being wasteful, and to think about it, for instance the extra time I spend wondering how to throw things out. It doesn't benefit anyone!

    Anyway, thanks for keeping your blog, to me it is a window onto a saner life!

  35. Dear Bea -
    Your art work stair risers are beautiful and such a wonderful idea. My husband and I live on a boat and have no space to exhibit the beautiful art work of our grands. I take photos of each masterpiece and keep a portfolio of each child's work on my computer. I run a slideshow on the monitor that includes photos of whichever grands are visiting, and their artwork.

    Keep up the information and inspiration. Thanks!

  36. Hopefully annoying hateful comments don't discourage you from continuing. So this is not to Anonymous' taste. . . fine!! I love this blog and have gotten so much from your posts. I don't think your lifestyle comes across in a negative or limited way at all. Please keep sharing.

  37. I think it's probably true that the person who wrote you was full of a lot of anger, as well as being rude to you. That said, I also think that your attitude toward your family is more controlling than I would feel comfortable being. I have changed everything I have personal control over to be as close to zero waste as possible. I do nearly all the grocery shopping, so I use my homemade bulk bags (I copied yours. I used old muslin sheets, and they are absolutely beautiful!), totes, jars, and canisters. I do nearly all the cooking and cleaning, so I compost and use natural products.

    However, if my wonderful and generous husband stops somewhere on his way home from work to buy Mexican sweet bread from a local bakery, and it means a plastic bag in my house, I am not going to berate him or in any way make him feel bad for his "sin" of wastefulness. He brought us a treat! Hooray! I do not feel the need to be in control of my husband's habits, life, or, indeed of the choices of anybody but myself. He happily puts compostables in the handy kitchen bin because it is available, and because it means we were able to cancel garbage pickup service to our house.

    Likewise, I feel that the best way for my children to learn about my values is by my example to them through my own actions, not by my enforcement on them of my personal preferences. My children have their own spending money, and they are free to buy whatever they wish. I can refuse the plastic shopping bag to carry their treasures home, but I will not inject my own mandates into their choice of purchase.

  38. continuing...

    My family knows my lifestyle, and the gist of how I feel about the planet. They see it daily. My kids like to help in the garden and spraying out the compost bucket (hoses are fun!), spritzing vinegar and sprinkling baking soda alongside me. I don't need to worry that they're learning some kind of evil lesson about wastefulness from me.

    BUT, I believe children learn to make choices by making choices. Having choices taken from them doesn't help them make choices. It prevents them from gaining practical choice-making experience while the choice is small and trivial, leaving them unprepared for larger choice-making situations when the choices are more significant and/or life-changing. My children are free to watch as much or as little television as they wish. Some days it's many hours, some days it's none. They never feel needy because they're not denied that freedom. They eat a wide variety of foods, and they help fill the grocery cart. Sometimes it's carrots, sometimes it's hot dogs, sometimes it's Tootsie Rolls. They know they have the freedom to choose, and they make choices, instead of living in a reactionary way, They don't need to grab stuff based on limited-time access to it because it might not be there later. They know it really will be there later. If I were to force a certain lifestyle on them because of some belief of mine about the kinds of choices they "should" make, I believe it would actually cause them to lose respect for me and my way of living. I would not, in fact, expect them to want to imitate my life when they are grown. I imagine they would resent me. I know many adults who live this reactionary way, the hurt and unheard child grown up to want to do things any way at all except the way Mom did it.

    Yes, I guide my children. Yes, I talk with them about what I believe is important. Yes, I believe they need me to help them learn about the world. However, I do not need to create arbitrary and artificial limitations on what they can do. Life for a child is already very limited. They are small and society does not grant them much respect. I want to hand them as much control over their lives as I can safely give. As for my husband or my relatives, or any other relationship I have, to me it's just plain impolite to attempt to impose my lifestyle on them. Relationships get higher priority than any rule I've made up for myself about what I will or will not throw away.

  39. I bumped into another blog and read this comment to a post:

    "There is another benefit to this lifestyle that you didn’t mention, and that is the freedom you are modeling for your children. When they see that it is possible and enjoyable to live with a frugal and simple lifestyle, it allows them the freedom, down the road, to explore and choose careers without a concern for the financial compensation. So many young people who would have been brilliant artists, musicians, writers or the like turn away from those paths because of their fear of “not making enough money”. Feeling confident in their ability to live well on little frees them up to choose based on their passions and interests, and not on what society tells them is a “good job”.

    And when they aren’t programmed to feel limited by money, one way or another, chances are there will be plenty of it flowing for them."

    I thought that it would fit here as well!

  40. Sally:
    Zero waste in our home, is not a hobby. It is a family choice, not just mine because I happen to write a blog about it.
    It might have started out as a hobby of mine, but doing it on my own sure was not as much fun, being in some way estranged from the rest of the family. Anyone living this lifestyle knows that it is impossible to run a zero waste home if not all the members of the household agreee to it (I don't know what you do with the hotdog wrappers that you mention, if you have cancelled your trash). But as my husband's comments on this blog have shown, he fully supports our family's lifestyle (we would not be a "united family" nor would we be living a "simple life" had we both chosen different lifestyles).
    If you then say that we, as parents, are controlling because we have chosen a certain way of life for our children, then you can say the same for those who have chosen a religion, a particular diet (and it could be junk food) or an alternative education for their children (and you would be pointing your finger at every parent on the planet). Kids don't have a choice there either, do they? In our case though, the kids think that what we do as a family is rather "cool". I personaly think that it is "bonding" and I really hope that you'll get to find that out for yourself soon.
    I am sorry you have not yet been able to convince your family to get onboard with your zero waste lifestyle, but please don't despair. It is all part of getting there!

    PS: please condense next time you post a comment. Thanks!

  41. I agree with the others. Your blog rocks and I am so happy to have stumbled across it! In fact, it is the only blog I have on the RSS feed...while I only do a fraction of what you do, we have been making changes in this house! Thank you!!

  42. ---If you then say that we, as parents, are controlling because we have chosen a certain way of life for our children...---

    Parents who give their chosen lifestyle or religion or diet or whatever a higher priority than relationships are saying with their choice, "I value this more than I value you."

    --Kids don't have a choice there either, do they?--

    Kids have as many choices as you will give them. Some parents believe kids can make real choices about their lives.

    I think you're inspirational and passionate and probably extremely loving and generous with your family. But statements like this:

    --I have put my family on a waste diet for the past 12 months--
    --I stick to minimal closets: My boys, for example, have a set of 4 pants, 8 shirts, and a dressy outfit for each season.--
    --request no party favor for your child.--
    --I take the opportunity to teach them about eco-shopping (like choosing local products), I let them pick the meat and fish of the week (within financial reason), and treat them to their favorite sweet from the bulk section.--
    -Try no TV/gaming for a while-

    don't look like "bonding." They look like control.

    I've read your post on Zero Waste Kids, including this:

    --That night, we taught the kids the concept of Zero Waste and we received their full blessing and cooperation.--

    If I were a kid whose Mom gets angry about plastic and only lets me choose at the store if it will fit in a glass jar, I'd shrug and cooperate, too. But a choice where on one side Mom gets angry/disapproving of me and on the other Mom is happy with me...that isn't really much of a choice, for a kid.

  43. Hi again Sally:
    Thanks for your response.
    I am sorry that I don't have the time to reply in length to the "ping-pong" details that you mention above. This blog is not about parenting skills. This is a blog that I simply chose to write to share our lifestyle. If you don't like our TV being off, then move on! I am not here to dictate your parenting choices ;): your pediatrician, counselor or friend (whoever you turn to for advice) can do that.
    The world is made up of different people and therefore different parenting. Don't you think it would be boring if all did it the same thing?
    The way we choose to parent our kids works for us and has made us (parents and kids) happier and closer than we have ever been. I hear it thru my husband and kids voices and the choices that they make...
    Ooh, which makes me think that perhaps I should have the kids post someday to testify, thanks for the idea!

  44. Sally: I deleted your comment. Please keep comments and links relevant to the subject of this blog: Zero Waste. Thanks...

  45. Your blog rocks! I'm a 45-year old mom of a 20-year old son who is completely into reducing waste. I won't say zero waste, but fairly close. Kids learn by example, keep being the great example your kids need.

    On a side note, you mentioned in one of your blogs about your immersion blender. What brand/type is it?

  46. Thanks TDC2283! I mention the brand in the comments of Zero Waste Kitchen.

  47. Bea-
    Thanks so much for the info. I knew I must be missing it. Our blender and my mini-food chopper are both on their last legs(they're almost 25-years old, so I guess it's okay), and I really would like to replace them with one item. Your blog is great!

  48. Fantastically stated!!! Your blog embodies all my philosophies... Experience and connection, not things.

    Good work. Glad I found your blog. Add me to your list of avid readers.

  49. I just saw the Sunset article and decided to look through your blog. I have been blogging for 6 years and have run into other examples of nasty and mean commenters... you gave a very graceful reply.

  50. Anonymous12/30/2010

    I think a little happy medium could mom couldn't go ANYWHERE when I was a child without a coupon. As a grown-up i am a huge couponer - but I don't want to be a slave to a single mentality. You can have fun at Halloween even if some of the candy has plastic wrappers. You can get into really cool costumes even if you won't wear them next year (sell them on ebay). Growing up with an all-encompassing perspective can be tough on a kid sometimes and maybe that is what he was trying to say.

  51. Bea,

    I read about you in Sunset Magazine and I was so inspired by that article that I sat down and read your whole blog in one go. I am fascinated and intrigued by your blog and your lifestyle.

    While I’m sorry that you had to endure the harsh criticism of the anonymous commenter I must say that I think your response in this post was my favorite of all your posts. I found it touching, reflective, admirable and definitely inspirational.

    I personally am not ready to take on all the same lifestyle choices you have made, nevertheless, many of them appeal to me. Through reading about your lifestyle I’ve been recently even more motivated to purge. In the last two days alone I have “released” three large bags of household stuff for donation to my nearest thrift store. I’ve also found your approach of refuse first to be a fresh perspective in the collective environmentalist conversation and I am pondering this perspective more and more each day. I really like what you’ve said about the process being bit-by-bit, little-by-little. Each of our journeys are individual and we all have to make the choices that are do-able and right for us.

    On a more tangible topic, I LOVE how your staircase looks. Would you please share with us the materials you use to attach the artwork to the stairs?

    Thank you so much for everything you do both for the environment and for inspriring me.

  52. Bea, I just saw where you had already explained how you attached the artwork to the stairs so no need to respond to that question. I was wondering if you rotate the artwork on the stairs or has it become a fixed display? Thank you.

  53. The drawings are fixed, but you can easily scrapped them off and apply a new picture.

  54. Dear Bea,

    I am grateful that I read your article in Sunset magazine last night. I have asked my husband to read it also and help me to implement the things you share. I look forward to reading all of your blog to get even more ideas and I'm grateful you have this blog. Blessed are your children who are learning that stuff is just stuff, what better way to learn the right priorities.
    I'm also grateful to hear people challenging you. Even though I wish their space could be dedicated to more of your ideas I'm learning that you are not only a good influence on us "Zero Waste" wise you address everyone with respect and kindness.
    Thank you Bea!


  55. Anonymous1/07/2011

    Firstly, I just discovered your blog yesterday, and I am so inspired. You have found such obvious solutions to every problem I've encountered in my attempt to live a lifestyle exactly like yours. I'm so glad you've proven that in can, in fact, be done, with a little awareness. Thank you so much for inspiring and teaching the rest of us by leading by example and sharing the lessons you've learned along the way.
    Secondly, I approve very much of your response to this obviously-ignorant commenter with completely misplaced values. Not only are you passing on good values to your children and absolutely NOT depriving them (I grew up well, with healthy food and a mother with similar values to you, and the lifestyle you provide and encourage for your kids makes my childhood look like a cheeze whiz diet in a landfill backyard in comparison), but you are also doing your part for a healthier planet for your kids' future. I'm sorry that there are people out there who wouldn't see the value of the lifestyle you practice.
    But mostly, thank you for being an inspiration and an education.

  56. What an inspirational blog! I love your ideas and the togetherness its bringing your family. I wish you the best and do hope you continue to share, you have so much to offer:-)

  57. Anonymous1/09/2011

    Hi, I just stumbled upon this blog and I think that your life of Zero Waste is really interesting. However, as I read through some comments and then read the "Comment Rules" which say that it's okay to be critical, I feel compelled to say that I don't think you really believe that it's okay to be critical. You speak about Zero Waste as though it is the only way to live, and while it is something to strive towards, a lot of people, especially those with children, find it difficult to cut everything you deem wasteful out of their lives the way you seem to have done. If this is what your blog is about, I feel that maybe you would be encouraging rather than sanctimonious to these people. Also, the fact that you posted an entire response to someone who criticizes you way of life makes it seem as though you are being narrrow-minded. I guess you'll probably delete this comment, because you view it as a "personal attact" - by the way its "attack." but hopefully you'll understand that even people who support the idea of Zero Waste don't necessarily support the way you promote it as though the decision to live a Zero Waste lifestyle is easy, or black and white.

  58. Anonymous: If you write a blog, you know about "haters". The comment rules are to encourage these "haters" to put their negative energy elsewhere. I write this blog to share MY FAMILY'S EXPERIENCE, I do not write it to dictate what you should do with your own life. Only you can decide what's right for you. Our road to Zero Waste was not easy (figuring out alternatives), but it sure is now, and I am not going to lie about it. I'll say it once more: If you don't like this blog, please don't let it bother you, go elsewhere or write your own! I simply don't have the time to constantly defend my lifestyle to negative commenters that are not open to it.
    (I do consider your comment a personal attack, since you call me "narrow-minded", but will keep your comment here, as an example of un-necessary "name calling").

  59. Anonymous2/23/2011

    i love the art on the stairs too!thanks for all the great ideas, please keep sharing!i actually think your pantry looks like a little bit of art in itself. been wanting a worm bin and more glass jars, thanks for reminding me to do so ; )

  60. "Thrift is poetic because it is not wasteful,
    waste is unpoetic, because is is waste."

  61. Anonymous3/19/2011

    Great response, Bea!!! So sad that others must be negative and critic others choices because they seem unable to just "Live and let Live" :(

  62. Maggie3/19/2011

    just wanted to share some of what i'm noticing in our family since we decided to follow zero waste.
    striving for zero waste in our family life has really begun to change my relationship with food. we strive to buy food that can be put into containers or cloth bags we bring, or that can be placed in paper bags provided by the store. i can't remember the last time i bought random impulse junk food. i've begun to really think about meals and what to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner. gone are the days of frozen macaroni and cheese -- it was pretty darn tasty and this mother of two toddlers that also works 40 hrs/wk certainly enjoyed the convenience of it -- and all the plastic packaging that came along with it. i make my own cheese sauce for pasta (purchased w/o packaging) i've cooked myself, either that night or from a batch i made 1 - 2 days ago and am keeping in the fridge. it only takes about 5 minutes longer than microwaving the frozen stuff.
    our snacks are much healthier -- fruit, nuts, okay okay and the occasional handful of chocolate covered raisins (i'm a total sucker for those, as are the kiddos). and since we don't have random bags/boxes of junk food, the urge to eat simply because we're bored seems to be abating. really, how many times have i found myself standing in front of the fridge with the door open looking for something to eat. and i wasn't even hungry!
    i feel our food is purer, that we enjoy it more, and that the act of cooking together (sometimes the kiddos watch and ask questions and help a wee bit -- only a wee bit, they're still pretty small) is bringing us closer together. we certainly have a good time.

  63. Tracey4/18/2011

    As a teacher, I am always aware of what I send home with kids. I do not like to laminate anything as I know it won't decompose. It is very difficult in the teaching profession to be as green (as I would like) and to have little waste. However, it is always foremost in my mind when I plan my lessons. We as a society have become so obsessed with "things" it is overshadowing what is truly important. Keep on with your message and doing what you do. You are in an inspiration!

  64. Anonymous4/25/2011

    Bea, you are my hero. Seriously. I have officially become one of your fans.

    -Ayuni from Malaysia

  65. Anonymous8/30/2011

    I totally agree with you! This waste madness has to stop, and we are the ones who can make a change. Lots of love, all the way from Culiacan, Mexico.


  66. Bea, I first heard about your Zero Waste concept from the View and I am going through all your blogs in chronological order. Since then I have not brought any more plastic bags into my home, I have now grown accustomed to bringing my cloth bags not just to the grocery stores but also to Target or T.J. Maxx. You and your FAMILY are an inspiration and I'm glad that I can incorporate this lifestyle while our family is still small.

  67. The thought of your son being deprived for not having Sponge Bob Band Aids was laugh out loud funny. : ) thanks again

  68. Anonymous2/11/2012

    Holy Landfill, Batman!
    I recently found out that plastic drinking straws are not recyclable, and neither are plastic lamination sheets - where have I been?? I have been such a fan of lamination (Special Ed teacher here)and now I am stunned and shocked. I am glad I found this blog. Looks like I need to educate myself even further than an M.S.Ed.

  69. Anonymous8/31/2012

    I love the videos and I watch them whenever I am in need of motivation. I'm still decluttering-it's not as easy as it sounds. At least not for me. But I am making progress and alot of that progress is because you've shared your beautiful, uncluttered, amazingly clean home!
    My boar hair broom works 10 times better then my plastic one ever did. Food in glass is 10 times more appealing then food in plastic. My leftovers aren't going to waste anymore and I find I am cooking from scratch more often as it's so much easier in an organized uncluttered kitchen.
    Someday I am going to own what I use. :)
    I love the white metal storage boxes in your laundry room but haven't been able to find them, I don't suppose you have a source for those?