New Year’s Resolution #zero waste

Striving for Zero Waste: One Davis Family’s Resolution

I can’t remember the first time I heard about the concept of Zero Waste, but I remember being intrigued by the idea. A little internet research on the topic lead me to an article in Sunset Magazine about the Johnsons, a  family living in Mill Valley, who manages to only generates about 2 handfuls of trash a year.  Béa Johnson’s blog documents how they have achieved this seemingly impossible feat and after reading it left me to wonder,  could my family do the same?  Truth be told, it seems unlikely. Organized, self-disciplined, and the willingness to sacrifice convenience for a greater for a higher cause, characteristics that seem essential in accomplish this goal, are not ones most often used to describe me. After coming to terms with this fact, I asked myself,  should the likely failure of achieving zero waste stop me from trying to achieve this goal? The answer, I’ve decided, to that question is no.  So while my family’s new years resolution of generating zero waste might not be a realistic one, I believe attempting to do so will have a significant and positive impact on my home, on my community and on the world, making it worth the effort even if the goal is not achieved.

When trying to reach any seemingly impossible goal the best strategy seems to be breaking the process down into manageable pieces.  I turned to Béa Johnson’s writings on how to live a zero waste life for advice on how I should get started. Her recommendation is to start with these basic tenets. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot. Below are some of the ways my family is  addressing these tenets as we live our day to day life here in Davis. I hope in sharing them I will educate and encourage others to join us on the path to zero waste.

Refuse:  Bea’s advice “refuse what you don’t need”.   Unwanted mail is the first thing in this category I’ve decided to tackle. My “junk mail” is largely composed of catalogs, credit card applications, and solicitations from charities that I’ve previously donated to.

To reduce the number of unwanted catalogs we receive I went to this website, where I created a free account, that allows me to opt out of receiving unwanted catalogs.

I learned how to stop receiving prescreened offers of credit  by visiting the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website which  directed me to this website where I was able to opt-out of the lists used by companies who offer credit.

To figure out a way to stop receiving solicitations by mail from charitable donations I visited this website: which laid out steps I could take to decrease the number of mailings I receive from these types of organizations.

Reduce: Béa Johnson recommends “reduce what we do need by donating or selling anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for us to live comfortably.”  While this approach seems extreme I think the concept is worth contemplating, and while doing so I realized that all the unnecessary stuff my family owns,  seemingly to make our lives more convienant, have had the opposite effect.  As I mentioned organizational skills are not a strong suit, so getting rid of stuff we are not using leaves fewer things for me to organize and keep tack of, making it easier to find the things we need.  By donating some of the unnecessary and unused objects in our home I hope to simplify our lives while making resources available to those looking to buy second hand.

Reuse:  While many objects can be used, my initial focus is going to be on bringing my own reusable bags to the grocery store.

Soon the city of Davis’ single-use bag ordinance will be put into place. This ordinance bans the distribution of single-use carryout plastic bags and requires merchants to charge a 10 cent fee for paper bags. The fee is designed to encourage consumers to bring their own bags, or request that fewer be used to transport their purchases. This strategy has worked effectively in other communities and I’m confident Davis will see similar results when this ordinance goes into effect.

Like many I have the best intentions when it comes to bringing my own bags. The problem I face is that I often forget to, or I make an impromptu stop at the store and don’t have my bags with me. To address this I’ve purchased some nylon bags, that can roll into a built in pocket when not being used, making them small enough to fit into my purse. I also acquired some small cloth and mesh bags to use for produce. (I can also use these bags for the pastries I sometime purchase at my favorite coffee shop, to go with the latte, that I’ll have them pour into my reusable mug,  when I manage to remember that as well.)

Recycle: To better educate myself on the city’s recycling policies I visited the City of Davis’ Recycling Program website at: I was surprised to learn how many things can be recycled, ( a lot of which my family was frequently throwing into the trash)These items include many plastic food containers, shampoo and laundry detergent containers, dvd’s, and children’s plastic toys. I encourage anyone who is interested to visit the site to learn more about what can and can’t be recycled, and how to properly depose of potential hazardous materials.

Another great resource that combines recycling and reusing is Freecycle whose official mission is “to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community”.

Freecycle works like a free Craiglist, you go online and post any items that you no longer want but think someone else might find useful. I’ve found this service particularly useful for large or bulky objects I don’t want to lug to the thrift store. My experience has been that I post an item, and within hours, and sometime minutes,  I’ve arranged for someone to pick it up. So far I have found new homes for numerous items including a rocking chair, kid’s water table, tomato cages, and 200+ used file folders, and have met a lot of my Davis neighbors in the process.

Rot: Or basically, “Compost anything that can be composted”. Composting presents a huge challenge for us, mostly because the amount of food scrapes generated by my family is more then we are able to effectively compost. Plus I’ve never seem to be able to get the ratio of wet to dry materials correct, or achieve the optimal temperate for the process to work correctly.

There is a solution on the horizon for those of us wishing to divert our food scraps from the landfill but are, like me, composting challenged. It comes in the form of the green waste containerization program that the city of Davis is now contemplating. Moving from the open yard waste colloction system that the city currently uses, to a containerization program, would allow for the addition of food scraps and other compostable materials, potentially diverting about 30% of household waste from the landfill to a composting facility. (Council will be deciding on this issue later this year, and I encourage anyone who supports this effort to contact their council members and let them know).

I have no illusions that a year from now I will be writing an article saying that in 2014 my family only generated 2 handfuls of trash.  I’m hoping I will be able to say that my family significantly reduced the amount of trash we were responsible for sending to the landfill, and that we’ve learned new ways and our implementing new strategies to reach the seemingly impossible goal of zero waste. Here are some great resources for anyone wishing to join us in this endeavor.

Reducing Waste in Paradise

This past Christmas my family had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii where we spent 10 lovely days at a resort on the island of Oahu.

This was our first extended trip since taking on the challenge a year ago to reduce the amount of waste we generate. So in preparation I did some internet research looking for tips on how to minimize our waste while traveling.

While I did find some useful suggestion, like bringing our own utensils and snacks to the airport, they weren’t always practical ones.

I have a hard enough time keeping track of my boarding pass, and my ID at airports, so it wasn’t realistic to think that I would remember to bring our own utensils, much less remember where I packed them.

Assuming that I found the time to prepare snacks, in between wrapping last minute Christmas presents, packing, and cleaning the house enough that my friend, who was house sitting, would not be afraid to use the bathrooms, I’ve travelled with my kids enough to know that they were going to be far more interested in buying snacks at the airport then eating anything I brought from home.

Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of not generating any waste on our trip I decided to take a similar approach to reducing waste while traveling as I did when I took on this goal at home, which was start simple, and focus on what I could realistically do, instead of feeling guilty and overwhelmed by what I couldn’t.

So while I did not bring our own utensils or snacks, in order to avoid purchasing a bottled water, something I have resolved to no longer do, I did pack an empty water bottle in my carry on bag, which I planned to fill once I got through security. The person that worked at the establishment where I purchased my kids bagels, which of course tasted better then any I would have brought with us from home, was happy to fill up my water bottle upon request.

I’m hoping more airports will soon follow San Francisco’s lead, and encourage passengers to bring their own water bottles, by installing “water hydration stations” on the airside part of their terminals.  These water fountains dispense water vertically making it easier to fill water bottles.

In order to avoid using the single-use packaged toiletries provided by hotels when traveling, I usually fill my own airline approved size containers with shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. But because this trip was 10 days long I needed more then 3-ounces of shampoo, so one of the first things I did when arriving in Hawaii was head to the store where I purchased all of the above-mentioned items in larger more efficient packaging then the mini-variety the resort offered.

If I wanted to enjoy a tropical beverage by the pool, which I frequently did, I had little choice but to drink it out of the single use plastic cups provided by the resort’s poolside bar. When ordering I did ask the server to hold the straw, which I didn’t not use, and the lid, which was not necessary. This might not seem like a significant amount of waste reduction, but when you take in the number of Mai Tai’s I enjoyed into account over 10 days, it started to add up.

The first time my kids ordered their favorite lunch at the pool, chicken strips and french fries, the food came with plastic utensils, a knife, spoon, and fork, wrapped in plastic. Since these utensils were not required to eat chicken strips or french fries, I requested that they not be included the subsequent times we ordered this meal.

When we go out to dinner, whether we are on vacation or not, I have noticed that restaurants often serve kids drinks in single-use plastic cups, with lids, instead of the reusable and sometimes breakable glass variety that adult drinks are served in. While I understand this practice is prudent for younger children who tend to spill and break things, at 8 and 10 my kids are no more likely to do so then the adults at the table. When I remember I request that they be served their beverages in “adult” glasses.

There is no doubt about it, we generated a lot more waste during our day vacation in paradise then we do at home. It seemed at every turn and at every stage of our trip, from the airport, to airplane, to the resort, I was throwing something into the garbage. While I tried not to feel guilty every time I sent another item to the landfill, I was conscious that I was doing so, which would not have been true a year ago. My hope is that this increased consciousness will lead me, and my family, to discover new ways to reduce our waste whether we are at home, or in paradise, and inspire us to make the effort to do so.


Plenty of Plastic to clean up after my Pouch.


When the City of Davis was considering banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags by retailers, one concern that came up over and over again from dog owners was what would they use to clean up after canine companion. I thought of this today, almost 7 months after the plastic bag ordinance was put into effect,  as I was trying to stuff another bag into my already full nylon bag holder, where I store bags for use on the walks I take with 75 pound labradoodle.  If not the single use variety what’s filling up my bag holder? There is the plastic bags that my son’s favorite bread comes in, as well as the ones the poppyseed bagels he loves come in. There are also the bags that protect my newspaper on rainy days, and ones that I occasionally put produce in when I forget my usable ones. So fellow dog owner living in single use plastic bag free zones, take heart, there are alternatives for cleaning up after your best friend.

Yolano Climate Action Marches for Climate Change

On February 7th, thousands of people are expected to take part in The March for Real Climate Leadership: Our Water, Our Health, Our California.  The march, organized by a broad coalition of environmental groups across California, demands that Governor Brown take real action against fracking.

Californians Against Fracking, one of the event organizers, states, “If Jerry Brown wants to be a real climate leader he must stop enabling the biggest climate polluter by yanking his support of oil refinery expansion, blocking dangerous bomb trains, and putting a ban on fracking and other forms of dangerous and toxic fossil fuel extraction.”

Advocates claim that Californians are threatened by fracking in numerous ways, including exposure to toxins for those living near drilling sites, potentially explosive trains carrying crude oil through populated areas, air and groundwater pollution, and increases in overall methane emissions.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release oil and gas.  It is an extremely water intensive practice, using hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water to frack a single well. It utilizes a mixture of chemicals, many of which are toxic or are known to cause human health problems. The practice also produces large amounts of waste water that must then be disposed of. The wastewater contains harmful components such as high salt content, naturally occurring radioactive material, and heavy metals such as arsenic. Recently in Kern County, waste water from at least nine fracking wells containing high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates  was injected into high quality water aquifers making the water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.

The March for Real Climate Leadership website:, states, “The California climate movement is showing up in force on Governor Jerry Brown’s doorstep, to let him know he is not a climate leader if he continues to allow fracking to expand in California. Amidst the worst drought in California history, expanding fracking and shipping in tar sands and oil from the Bakken shale, is not climate leadership, it’s more of the same.”

February’s planned march follows a similar one that took place in New York last fall where an estimated 311,000 people participated, including former Vice President Al Gore, secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who presided over the United Nations climate summit meeting, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently announced that he was committing the city to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

The Yolano Climate Action, a local organization whose purpose is to bring together groups and individuals concerned by the climate crisis, is organizing ways for Yolo County residents to participate in the march, which will begin at 11:30, in Oakland at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza.

Cool Davis Board Member Lynne Nittler states, “As a climate activist, I need to surround myself periodically with hundreds of other like-minded individuals who care enough about our obligation to the future of this imperiled planet and the life on it to devote their time to slowing climate change.  I attend marches like the March 7th anti-fracking march not just to communicate to our governor that many of us want him to ban fracking, but also to remind myself that a movement is steadily building, swelling in numbers and growing wiser in strategy even as the urgency of action increases.”

On Saturday, January 31 a stencil/poster making party will take place from 10:15-11:30 in the Blanchard Room of the Davis Library. All are welcome and encouraged to bring any of the following:  a white board, poster board or cardboard, colored felt markers and your verbal cleverness and artistic talents.  Some white boards, exacto knives, scissors, rulers, felt markers, chalk, stencils (Stencils Against Fracking has teamed up with the March for Real Climate Leadership and has designed a limited-edition stencil for use to encourage communities to come to the march) will be provided.

The group is also helping to coordinate bus and train transportation to the event.


Three buses leaving from Sacramento will pick up passengers in Davis at the Ikeda Park-n-Ride at 8:30 a.m.. They will arrive in Oakland with enough time for people to get food and use bathroom and return to Davis approx 7:30. Bus tickets range $15, with a few available for $3 for those who need them.  You can get more info and buy your ticket here:–davis-825128


Travel by Amtrak: There are multiple trains leaving Davis and arriving at Jack London Square. The Amtrak station is about a mile walk to Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, where the rally begins and is about a 15 minute walk from Laney College, where the rally is to end. Roundtrip fare is $54. Senior fare is $50 roundtrip.  Many Davisites are planning on taking the train that departs Davis at 9:30 and arrives to Jack London Square at 11:06. For a full list of train schedules visit the CoolDavis Website:

For more information about the event, or to learn ways you can get involved contact:

A Weeks Worth of Waste

It’s been six months since my family has taken on the challenge to reduce the amount of waste we generate- it’s probably more accurate to say that it been 6 months since I decided we were going to take on this challenge-my family has been kind enough to humor and support me in this effort.

Now that summer is here and I have a little more free time I decided to do something I’ve been thinking about for a while -conduct a personal waste inventory.

“ A what”? My husband asked with a slight look of concern on his face asked when I brought up the idea. I explained that I wanted to track every piece of waste we generated in a weeks time, which included everything that went in the trash or recycling bins. So like the good sport he is, he got a pad of paper and a pen and placed it on the counter near our waste receptacles.

As a side note, we compost our food scraps, and since I am not a detail orientated person anyway I decided trying to document all of our food waste would result in me becoming overwhelmed with the process and quitting within 24 hours. (I did track any non-food scrap material that got put into the compost pile).

Thanks to the comprehensive curbside recycling program offered in Davis there are very few items that we found we had to put into the garbage instead of the recycling bin. In the week we tracked my family of four threw away 27 individual pieces of garbage.

A majority of these items were non-rigid plastic food packaging, aka plastic bags or wrappers. The other items included some foam from our couch, the dogs summer project is apparently to systematically shred this piece of furniture, a broken pottery bowl that my son made, this fell victim to the dogs tail rather then his teeth, a useless by design one and half inch marker that somehow ended up in our house, a bread tie, a deodorant container, and empty heartworm medication tab.

Because we compost we are able to divert a lot of waste that would otherwise end up in garbage, including all of our food scraps. This week we also composted 7 paper towels, 3 cardboard blackberry containers, and 2 paper plates from when the kids got pizza at the pool, a paper bread bag, and 7 Popsicle sticks.

When I first encountered the idea of Zero Waste I made the assumption that as long as something wasn’t going in the trash it didn’t count against my zero waste effort. What I’ve come to learn is that while recycling is a much better alternative to the garbage can, it is not always a great one, especially in when it comes to plastic.

Plastic is often “down-cycled”. When materials like glass, aluminum, or paper are recycled they are made into products that can be recycled again and again. This is not usually the case with plastic since its quality degrades every time it is recycled. So very few of the plastic containers collected for recycling are actually made into similar or recyclable products again, plus not all the plastic that heads to the recycling center actually gets recycled. If there is not a market for it ends up in a landfill or an incinerator.

For these and other reasons I’ve made a serious attempt over the past 6 months to reduce my purchases of items that come in plastic. Honestly this has been my biggest challenge, plastic seems to be everywhere and in almost everything.

The beer I bought I bought at the Farmers Market came in a plastic cup, so do the fruit icy that my kids get, which also come with a plastic spoon. Most berries that I find in the grocery store come in plastic containers; this week we recycled 2 strawberries, a blueberry, and a black berry container. Then there are my son’s favorite yogurt 4 containers of which we recycled this week.

For all of my efforts to avoid plastic it still made up the greatest percentage of items my family discarded this week.

In January I took a few steps to limit the amount of unwanted mail we received in the form of unwanted catalogs and credit card offers. I registered at, a website that allows me to opt of catalogs and a website allowed me to opt out of prescreen credit card offers Since doing so I’ve noticed a huge decrease in the amount of mail we receive and thus a huge decrease in amount of materials that were going straight from our mailbox into the recycling container.

That being said we still receive unwanted mail in the form of local advertising and flyers. But like with plastic most of paper recycling this week was in the form of product packaging.

Tracking my family’s waste for a week, while a little tedious, ended up being an educational and worthwhile exercise. It made us more conscious and aware of the waste we were generating, where this waste came from, and where it was ending up.

In closing I’d like to thank the city’s Conservation Coordinator Jennifer Gilbert for being such a great resource when I have had questions about our recycling program. I’ve also found the answers to a lot of my waste questions at the city’s website:

If you would like to follow my families Zero Waste efforts please check out my blog

Water Stations- Are they really the best options?

My first response this past Friday when my family and I arrived at Community Park to watch the fireworks and spotted an Aero Pure Water Station was to think what a great idea. The water trailer provided 8-self fill stations that, according to their website, had enough water to fill 4,000 half liter sport bottles. At first this seemed to me  a great environmentally friendly alternative to disposable water bottles.

But something about it just didn’t sit right with me, and it took me almost 24 hours to realize exactly what it was, which is this:  How and when did we get to the point where the environmentally friendly option for providing water become loading it into a trailer and hauling it 40 miles to place that already has access to perfectly safe drinking water? 

I tried to think back to when I was my kids age and remember how I managed to stay hydrated without access to single use plastic bottles or water trailer filling stations. If I’m remembering correctly I think it may have involved water fountains or just not having water available at every moment. When did this change and how did get to the point where American’s used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year?  And why, when we have access to safe public drinking water, are people willing to spend up to 1000 times more for bottled water?

One of the top reasons people give for drinking bottled water instead of tap water is that they believe it is safer. In reality this is not true.  

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which carried out a four-year review of the bottled water industry, concluded “there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle, it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap.”  

In a lot of ways bottled water is less regulated then tap water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sets the standard for tap water, requires that municipalities have their water tested every year by a third party certified laboratory and that the tests be made available to the public.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water.  Because it regulates bottled water as food it cannot require certified lab testing or violation reporting. The FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where the water came from, how it has been treated or what contaminants it contains.  Furthermore  FDA rules do not apply to water packaged and sold within the same state. 

Bottled water started to become popular in the U.S. in 1977 when Perrier was introduced to urban areas. It remained a niche product until the early 90’s when bottles made from PET plastic, which was lightweight, cheap and clear became available. It was at this time that Coke and Pepsi got into the business of selling water. Ironically Coke’s water, Dasani, and Pepsi’s water, Aquafina, the number one and two bestselling brands originate from municipal supplies. 

Many blame the marketing efforts of these two companies for the sharp increase in popularity of bottled water. They are reported to have spent tens of million of dollars on advertising pushing their product as a safer, tastier, purer alternative to tap. 

When I was 10, my daughters age now, I did not carry a water bottle around with me every where I went. My mom did not pack one in my lunch and I didn’t take one to summer camp. I don’t remember this being an issue. If I was thirsty in public, I drank from a water fountain-an option that has become decreasingly unavailable over the past 20 years. 

I would like to see us get back to place where the environmentally friendly option for providing “free” water at public events is one that does not require it to be shipped in a truck 40 miles, but instead comes from clean, well maintained, functional water fountains.  No bottle-resuable or not-required.