Family takes on zero waste challenge for the year ... here's their first month's trash!

One month of living zero waste

First, check out my post one week in to the zero waste challenge. 

Back to the one month checkup… Overall, we’re in a good groove now. We’re still learning, still tweaking, still finding packageless sources for our favorite foods and other items, but we’re in a habit now. It feels normal. We’ve got a routine. It happened fast in some ways. But slow in others.

Slowly over the month we’ve identified the stores where we can (and like to) buy certain items. And where we can’t buy certain things. We’ve figured out a good system for storage and only have a few things on our wishlist – including more glass containers that we can use for freezer meals.

…And something big enough to fit a whole chicken. 😉

Less waste, less garbage, less plastic, less trash, no disposable or single-use items … But no less joy, happiness, delicious food, or time with family and friends.

It’s true that the “set-up” takes some time. Even in the last week of January we found a new local, humane-raised meat source. And we hope to continue to uncover local sources for some of the things we’re currently having a hard time finding packageless, like butter (we’re still using Kerrygold), yogurt and bacon.

And now, because I’m sure you are curious, here’s what our trash can looks like after 31 days.

The contents are mostly things that we purchased before we committed to this zero waste challenge. Lara bar wrappers, other miscellaneous packaging, and non-recyclable dog food bags.

But there are some things that we purchased this month that we just couldn’t avoid – namely, receipts (oh so many receipts – most places auto-print, even our local ‘natural/organic/eco-friendly’ store, lame!) and fruit stickers and/or other packaging related to produce. It also includes a plastic Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Powder bag, because I use it a lot for cooking and I have yet to find it in bulk (well, I found it once but for a huge expense and they only had a small jar) or in a larger bag.

This photo makes it look like more than is actually in there. It’s a small bin (7 gallons, and yes, made of plastic) and there is a lot of air. We can smash it down to just a few inches.

One month living zero waste, less waste, plastic free.

Not shown but worth mentioning is that our recycling has also decreased. Our compost, on the other hand, has increased. Obviously in the past we were throwing out more food and other compostable stuff than we thought.

My husband and I both realized we think so much more about waste and especially single-use items (even ones that can be recycled/composted).  We can’t “un-know” what we know now about making choices to make less waste. But at the same time, now that we have some good systems in place, we don’t really think about our zero waste lifestyle a lot. It’s not an all-consuming pastime (or obsession.)

On rare occasions this month I felt a little defeated, wishing I could just pick up something in a package instead of having to search high and low for it. But most of the time I’ve felt empowered, happy that it hasn’t really been a struggle to move towards zero waste, and surprised that many of the changes we’ve made have been easy*.

In the next month or so we’ll start running out of a few personal care items like toothpaste and shampoo and will be trying out zero waste (and “less waste”) options, so stay tuned. Also on my to-do list for the coming weeks:

  • Transition our pup to a new dog food that seems to be a good zero-waste option (given that we don’t have a bulk food option in the area that I’ve found)
  • Get a little more efficient our meal prep and stocking freezer meals
  • Start to tackle junk mail

What do you want to know about our zero waste journey? Ask in the comments or email meredithtested @! 

[Post edited to add:] *We took a lot of steps in 2015 and prior that helped us … more on this in a separate post but basically we have been cutting back on plastic and disposable items for a while before committing to going zero waste.

6 thoughts on “One month of living zero waste

  1. This is so good Meredith-so proud of you! I’ve thought about this and I’m currently writing a post on recycling, waste, composting etc. it’s really opened up my eyes to how much waste one family accumulates. Even though I’m doing better than most, there is so much room for improvement! Thank you for this post! I Amy have some questions for you in the future. 😉

    1. Thank you for the comment, Suzi! We have been trying to cut down on plastic, waste less, compost more, etc. for a while but we were still seeing so much trash in our bin each week. It got frustrating so I decided to press fast forward and jump in to zero waste. The AP article made it real, really quickly! Thankfully my husband was (mostly) on board, and my daughter doesn’t know any better. I don’t think attempting “zero waste” is for everyone, but like I said I’ve been surprised at how easy much of it has been. Most of my family and friends have adopted at least a few of our methods once they witnessed how simple the swaps were. I’m happy to chat any time – drop a question or comment on Instagram or email me 🙂

  2. This is truly admirable. I have often started down this road, but thinking about everything and how it’s wrapped in layers and layers of plastic oftentimes, just makes me feel depressed and futile. And then I go get a Reese’s to help me feel better… !!! Your blog is great inspiration. 🙂 Hopefully will get back on the path. I need to be more diligent with my compost in winter especially! It’s easy to just throw it out with the trash!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! It can be so overwhelming for sure. And yes candy helps 🙂 …Now I just get all of my candy package-less in bulk! Even conventional grocery stores usually have candy in bulk! Hehe. I think that if you make one small change at a time, it becomes less stressful. Commit to using a reusable coffee cup/mug for one month. Commit to refusing plastic/paper bags for one month. Sure your food might be packaged in plastic but you “saved” a few bags, and that’s a WIN! 🙂 We took many small steps before committing to zero waste – small steps are so necessary to keep momentum! I need to write a post about all the smaller changes we made that led us to this point. Eliminating disposables one by one – first plastic bags, then paper towels, etc. made the changes feel easy and we just got used to living without disposable things. Good luck on your journey and don’t beat yourself up if you make “mistakes.”

    1. Thanks for visiting and the comment, Cassy! Yes, TerraCycle is a good program for items that would otherwise be difficult to recycle. It still uses quite a bit of energy to send the materials to them and have them recycle them, however. It might be most helpful when communities/schools/organizations set up brigades versus individuals mailing envelopes of recycling to them, but it’s certainly a good option for many families. I found it to be a bit of an excuse for me to buy still-wasteful things because I could mail things to TC (Tom’s toothpaste, for example). So now I’m trying to think of it as a last resort for unavoidable items that I cannot find zero or low-waste and cannot be locally recycled. It is the only option. We are currently in the Wellness Pet Food brigade, for example, because we don’t have access to bulk dog food and haven’t found a better option (though we’re looking!) I actually have a post in drafts about TerraCycle, maybe I’ll revisit it and publish soon, thanks for the nudge 🙂

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