We love the sound of a zero waste life – no rubbish, no waste, no personal contribution to landfill, and of course the obligatory photo of a small Mason jar with just a few non-recyclable or compostable items. We’ve all seen those photos, and to be honest we really admire people who’ve been able to do this, people like Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers.
However, unlike Lauren who not only lives a zero waste life but has made a living from inspiring others to do so too, we’re still in the process of getting there. This is why, like the popular Facebook group, we call it our ‘Journey to Zero Waste’, because it really is a journey as much as it’s a destination.
Two years’ worth of waste, generated by Lauren Singer, from Trash is for Tossers
Image source Trash is for Tossers
We’re not exactly sure when our journey began, but we do remember taking on a ‘plastic challenge’ when pregnant with our daughter. We saved all the disposable plastic we used for a week, and at the end of the challenge were confronted by an overflowing laundry full of plastic bags, take away containers, water bottles, coffee cups ... you name it, it was there. It was a real eye-opener, and made us consider the disposable nature of modern living. Following that challenge, we didn’t make any real changes to our lifestyle in terms of our purchasing decisions, but we did at least become vigilant about separating out our recyclables from our rubbish.
Another time that stands out on our journey towards zero waste, was when our daughter was about two years old; she was quite sick, and needed one of us to stop work and stay home with her until she was better. With just one income money for new clothes was short, but we up-cycled old quilt covers, tablecloths and even curtains into clothes for our daughter. There’s no doubt our daughter was one of the best dressed kids at playgroup during this time, and what’s even better is that lots of these clothes were passed on to friends’ children, so the original fabrics have now been used at least three times before going to landfill.
Our daughter Ruby, wearing a home-sewn dress, up-cycled from a vintage tablecloth.
Around this time, we decided to upgrade our backyard, and grow our own vegetables and herbs. Shane grew up in the country, and tells stories about his Dad’s garage being lined with big fat pumpkins, and his dad being able to grow anything – even in the Australian outback where water is scarce. Shane’s Dad is now retired, but he still grows a fierce vegetable garden. Shane inherited his Dad’s green thumb, and for a number of years our diet was supplemented with home-grown vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and beans, as well as a variety of herbs. One of our favourite memories is of our daughter making fresh ‘basil sandwiches’ to snack on (that is, basil leaves folded up and wrapped in more basil leaves), and being able to name everything in our herb garden at just three or four years old.
As our daughter grew and started school, and we were both working again, we found ourselves in the strange situation of being quite well-off financially, but feeling very unsatisfied personally. We were surrounded by a lot of ‘stuff’, but much of our time was spent watching TV and mindlessly scrolling through social media – we weren’t really engaging with life or each other. Thankfully, we decided to make some changes, beginning with going TV-free, and including selling our home so we could start a new, simple and more sustainable life ‘on the land’. In reality, we actually just moved 10 minutes up the road, on to a half acre of land, but it may as well have been a hundred kilometres away, it’s so different.
During this time, we also became aware of Bea Johnson and her Zero Waste Home movement, and we started to implement her 5Rs Hierarchy:
Refuse what you don’t need
Reduce what you do need
Reuse what you consume
Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce, or Reuse, and
Rot - compost the rest.
It’s been more than a year since we started our new life on our tiny farm that we call 9 Degrees Celsius, and we’re still in transition – it’s not easy to leave behind a lifestyle you’ve known for decades, even when your values and beliefs lead you elsewhere. We’re still contributing to landfill on a weekly or fortnightly basis, but our contributions have significantly reduced, and we now have a much greater understanding about how damaging our contributions are. As we learn more, work out ways to better implement the 5Rs, and overcome challenges like a lack of time, energy, and money, we’re sure we’ll continue to reduce our waste, and get closer to that zero waste goal.
Our experience is that without a lot of planning and organisation, it is really hard to reduce or avoid waste. For example, to ensure our daughter has a zero waste school lunch, we have to include her lunches in our weekly meal planning. If we don’t do this, then we risk relying on the convenience of pre-packaged items, or even resorting to lunch orders. We also have to allow for enough time in the morning to prepare her lunch, which actually includes morning fruit, recess, a drink, and an after-school car snack, as well as lunch itself. It would be far easier to just grab a handful of items from the fridge and pantry, but what sort of messages would we be giving her about food, health, waste, and the environment?
A typical school lunch for our daughter: morning fruit, recess, lunch and a bottle of water.
As any parent knows, it can be difficult to work out what the ‘right thing’ to do is, let alone actually do it. In our daughter’s case, although she cares deeply about the environment and being a responsible human being, she is a ‘tween’ and also cares a lot about friendships, and being part of the group. Her divided loyalties cause her some angst, and as her parents, we try to be flexible where possible. For example, although we’re fairly strict about school lunches, we still allow her to have items like sparkly gel pens, and a crazy collection of soft toys, which she tells us are necessary for her wellbeing ... even though a lot of this is just ‘stuff’ and is destined for landfill. Zero waste living is a great goal, but so is emotional and psychological wellbeing of our children – sometimes we can’t have both, and we’re okay with that. What we hope is that as our daughter grows and matures, that she will develop her own values and beliefs, including a desire to tread lightly on this Earth.
We mentioned earlier that we also have the challenge of encouraging family to get-on-board with our journey toward zero waste. Shane and I each have different understandings about what simple and sustainable living includes, but generally we are at least both heading in the same direction. In fact, sometimes it’s actually through our disagreements that we find ourselves most creative, and make the most significant progress towards living a zero waste life. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our extended family. Please don’t misunderstand us, we both have wonderful parents and siblings, but we’re all on our own paths in life, and also all show our love and appreciation of each another in different ways. For example, we would love to be able to reduce the amount of gifts given and received, and the waste created at Christmas time. However, when we suggested this in the past, it was not well received. We’ve come to accept that we can only control our own actions, and instead should seek to influence others through our actions, rather than by insisting that others do the same as us. In this way, we’re able to maintain positive relationships with those who mean the most to us – which much like our daughter and her wellbeing, we choose to prioritise, even if that means more items heading to landfill in the future.
We may not have achieved zero-waste Christmases, but we have successfully implemented family ‘gift bags’ that we reuse at each birthday and Christmas, instead of gift wrap.
So, is it possible for you to live a truly zero waste life ... the short answer is yes, but do you really want to? Our view is that rather than commit to a strict zero waste regime right now, it’s probably more useful to embark on your own personal journey towards zero waste living. A journey where you try things out, learn about yourself and those around you, and decide what is right for you. Even if that ultimately means you aren’t able to photograph your life’s waste in a cute little Mason jar, it’s still likely a journey worth taking.
If you’d like to read more about our journey toward a more simple, sustainable, and low waste life, please head over to our Facebook page for regular updates, or to our blog for more detailed monthly articles.
Here are some other places you might find interesting and potentially inspiring information too:
And of course, Amy’s own website: The Good Life with Amy French, where she chronicles her journey toward a more simple, sustainable, and zero waste lifestyle.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and thanks to Amy for inviting us to be guest bloggers ☺
Bonnie and Shane, from 9 Degrees Celsius.
9 Degrees Celsius: Bio
9 Degrees Celsius is the name of a tiny farm in Cherry Gardens, where a small family of three has decided to make a home, and lead a more simple, sustainable, and low waste lifestyle. On just half an acre, 30 minutes south of Adelaide, South Australia, the family is trying to raise chickens, grow their own produce, and tread as lightly as possible on the Earth. In order to document their journey, and encourage others to live a more environmentally conscious life too, the family is sharing their experiences, successes, and failures, on their Facebook page and blog @9degreescelsius.
Bonnie, Shane & Ruby, from 9 Degrees Celsius