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.

“Green Team” at Holmes Junior High Rocks the R’s

“Green Team” at Holmes Junior High Rocks the R’s

Recently I had the privilege of serving on the Nominating Committee for the Cool Davis’ annual Eco-Hero award. Among the  winners was the “Green Team” at Holmes Junior High. I got the chance to visit the school and talk to the two incredible staff members who have volunteered to lead the team, and meet with junior high students who are working to increase recycling and composting efforts on their campus.  Here is a write up I did for the team for the Davis Enterprise.

Green TEAM Picture Holmes Disposal

Holmes Green Team
By Michelle Millet

Science teacher Martha Quenon formed the Green Team at Holmes Junior High School six years ago with the intention to raise awareness of environmental issues among students. Since that time, the group has evolved into one that has taken a hands-on approach to reducing the amount of waste generated on their campus.

Ninth-grader Hailey Shapiro, a Green Team member, is receiving special recognition for, as Quenon describes, her tireless work toward implementing a sustainable composting and recycling system throughout the Holmes campus. Hailey says one of the biggest challenges she faces is getting other kids to care about recycling.

In an effort to do so, she and Green Team members developed a classroom presentation designed to teach fellow students about the recycling and composting programs.

Keri Hawkins, a paraeducator on campus, took over the reins of the Green Team in January. She has designed garden beds that are accessible to students with disabilities, written and received grants that help fund the gardening and recycling program at Holmes, and facilitated the Green Team’s recycling efforts by instigating their participation in the Keep California Beautiful K-12 Recycling Challenge, a statewide school competition promoting waste reduction and recycling.

Hawkins and the Green Team members have taken several steps to improve diversion rates on the Holmes campus. They color-coded collection bins to be consistent with the city of Davis’ and streamlined the bin locations. They also created 3-D posters to help educate students and staff about what items can be recycled in which bins.

Hawkins hopes that recycling and composting programs will at some point be integrated into the school district’s strategic plan and that their efforts at Holmes can serve as model for other schools to follow.

Zero Waste Shopping for the Organizationally Challenged

When I recently inventoried the contents of my family’s garbage and recycling bins I found that most of what was inside these containers came from food related packaging. For ideas on how to reduce this type of waste I turned to one of my favorite books on this topic Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.

In her book Bea describes how shopping in bulk has allowed her to eliminate most grocery related packaging. She uses cloth bags when purchasing dry bulk items like flour, sugar, beans, and cereal. She puts loose produce in mesh bags, and she brings small jars for “wet” bulk items like honey or peanut butter. She reuses empty bottles for liquids like olive oil, vinegar, and syrup, and large-size jars for counter items like meat, fish, cheese and deli item.

While I think these, and some of the other ideas she shares, are wonderful I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to commit to the level of organization required to shop in this way. These ideas have inspired me though to look for ways to reduce packaging while shopping that don’t require a significant amount of pre-planning.

I’ve stocked up on lightweight nylon bags for carrying my groceries. They can be rolled into a self-contained pocket which makes them compact enough to keep conveniently stored in places like my car, bike basket, or purse.

When I find myself bagless, which occasionally happens when I’m making an impromptu stop for a handful of items, I pass on a bag all together and just load my items directly from the shopping cart into my car.

A little over a year ago we started buying milk in reusable glass containers. When they are empty we put in them dishwasher, which gets them clean enough to avoid lingering orders while they sit on the counter and await to be exchanged for full ones on our next shopping trip.

In my more organized moments I do make it to the store with own containers ready to shop the bulk isles for things like pasta, popcorn kernels, pretzels, cereal, and loose leaf tea.

More often then not, I arrive at the grocery store unequipped to shop in bulk, and find myself shopping the pre-packaged isles where I keep in mind that not all packaging is created equal.

When glass and paper products are recycled, they are made into equally recyclable glass and paper products. When plastic is recycled on the other hand it is really “downcycled” to an inferior quality of plastic that cannot be recycled again. So when I do purchase pre-packaged items, I try and avoid plastic and instead opt to buy items that come in glass or cardboard.

For example I’ll choose items like mayonnaise, mustard, that come in glass jars rather then plastic containers, and I’ll buy pasta that comes in a box instead of plastic wrap. I even found a brand of yogurt I like that comes in a glass container.

I’m always keeping my eye open for other plastic packaging alternatives. At the Davis Food Co-Op I found brands of dental floss and laundry detergent that are packaged in cardboard instead of plastic.

Instead of using liquid shampoo, I’ve switched to a bar shampoo, I also found at the Co-Op.

Shopping at Rite-Aid the other day I spotted small bins filled with completely packaging free tweezers, nail clipper, and nail files.

A favorite after school snack of my sons is a croissant from Nugget. Instead of buying them pre-packaged in a rigid plastic container, I pull a few from the bakery cabinet and put them either in my own bag, or a paper one provided by the store. If my son is with me, I skip the bag all together and just hand one to him.

When we host a family friendly get together I no longer purchase juice boxes for the kids. Not only are they not recyclable, the little plastic straws and plastic wrappers they come in never seem to end up in the garbage. Instead as a treat for the kids I buy juice drinks squeezes, which come in recyclable glass bottles.

Shopping for a dessert to bring to a friends family get together the other day I was happy to see that the Nugget is now offering some of their baked cookies and pies in cardboard containers rather then the rigid plastic ones.

While we are on the topic of cookies, Whole Foods offers what I like to describe as a cookie bar where I can pick and choose from a variety of 10-15 different treats, and load them into my own container, or use one of the paper bags provided.

My family is a long way from living a packaging free life. My daughters favorite yogurt only comes in a plastic container, and my sons favorite bread only comes wrapped in multiply layers of plastic, and on occasion, despite my efforts to avoid rigid plastic plastics containers the desire to eat the baked goods contained in them override my desire to live a zero-waste lifestyle. So while I don’t see myself making my own granola bars any time soon, I will continue to look for things my family can do to lessen our impact by reducing our waste.

Questions, comments, or ideas? Please feel free to contact me at

I’m Not Alone!

Michelle Millet:

Glad to be in such great company. Looking forward to sharing ideas and learning from my fellow zero waste attempting bloggers! If you want to join the group let me know!

Originally posted on Near-O Waste:

I was recently invited to join a network of zero waste bloggers and I must say I was honored. It’s so exciting to connect with other people who are on the same mission! Check out these blogs about zero waste, homesteading, and other similar ventures:

Grunish, out of Oregon (This is the blogger who invited me to join the network. Thank you, Inge, and sorry… I couldn’t figure out how to add an umlaut over the “u” in Grunish!)

Zany Green Quest, out of California

Zero Waste Familie, out of Germany (but if you don’t speak German, good luck reading this one!)

Whistle Pig Hollow, out of Tennessee

My Zero Waste, out of the UK

A Dream Lived Greener, out of Canada

Zero Waste Girl, out of Washington DC

Mixed Media Musings, out of California

Zero Waste Blog, out of Germany

The Homesteading Hippy, out…

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What Should you do When Life Gives You Lemons? Clean your Microwave.


A friend of mine recently gave my a bag full of lemons fresh from his tree. So what do you do when life, or in this case a friend gives you lemons? You make lemonade! (It was delicious by the way).

I knew there were ways to make homemade cleaning products from lemon juice and their peels, which we know had an abundance of, so I figured while I was in DIY mode I’d give a few a try.

Since the inside of my micro-wave looked like it had gotten into a fight with a jar of spaghetti sauce I decided I would start there. Following some instructions I found online I pilfered 2tbs of the lemon juice from what my son had a squeezed for the lemonade we soon would be enjoying, and added it to a cup of water. I placed it the microwave for 3 minutes, and then used the water, after it cooled off, to wipe down spaghetti sauce splattered walls.

It worked amazing well. The microwave looks and smells great.  I’m looking forward to trying out some of the ideas I found.

Question or suggestions? Fell free to contact me at

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.