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The zero-waste home

See how a family manages to produce only two handfuls of trash per year

Composter; Zero-waste home
Thomas J. Story

Really? No waste?

Béa and Scott Johnson answer some questions about how their household works.

Q/ Do you have a car? 

A/ We have two cars, which we’ve had since before we started this lifestyle. Scott needs one for his job, and I need something once a week for errands. There’s no Zipcar in Mill Valley.

Q/ Do you have a TV? 

A/ We do, for movies, but no television channels. We rent through Netflix—either online or by mail. In the return envelope, I put back that little strip of plastic that is intended to be thrown away. I’ve contacted Netflix, encouraging them to find another way.

Scott: I thought I’d miss sports TV—like ESPN or college football—but I’ve figured out it’s all online and we can stream it. If the cable company did à la carte, we’d be set.

Q/ Do you get junk mail? 

A/ I’ve done dmachoice.org to get off direct mail lists like credit card applications, and there’s catalogchoice.org for catalogs. For first-class mail and third-class marked “address return requested,” you can write “refuse” on the envelope. For other third-class, you must track the sender down via phone or email and tell them to take you off their list. Every time I get something, I tackle it right away.

Q/ What about when your kids are sick? 

A/ Though we have a neti pot [for flushing nasal passages with saline], sometimes we do have to buy medication. It’s less wasteful to purchase a small bottle, and the containers are recyclable. Instead of Band-Aids, we mostly use peroxide, then gauze and paper tape.

Q/ Living like this must take a lot of time. 

A/ I save time. While other people are zigzagging the aisles of the grocery store, I shop the perimeter. The deli and cheese departments take extra time with my jars, but then I shop the bulk-foods aisle for all dry goods. I do the farmers’ market for produce. And I go to malls only occasionally, for shoes.

Sunset readers have been commenting up a storm on our Zero-waste home story. Béa Johnson has responded to some of your comments on our blog--check out more of Béa's take on living simply.

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