Lessons learned

It’s time to apply for The Simple Year 6! Click HERE for details, or check out “The Handoff” link above. Deadline is April 15. 

I just finished rereading my very first post on The Simple Year, and it makes me laugh a little — the Trisha who wrote that wasn’t so sure zero waste was possible, but was just optimistic enough to give it a try. The Trisha of today (wait, should I be talking about myself in the third person? That seems kind of weird) is completely sure that true zero waste isn’t possible (well, right?), but is encouraged enough to keep on trying to get there (with the understanding that I won’t be able to get to true zero. I’m okay with that).

A couple of photos I never got around to using that exemplify the “too expensive” problem I still have on the zero waste front: A half gallon of milk in a glass jar runs $6.19 plus deposit …

... And a gallon of milk in a plastic jug runs $4.29 (recently raised from $3.99). Pet peeve. And an example of doing what you can with the resources you have available. Uh, I hope.

Here’s what I set out to do this year (and maybe I’m jumping the gun a little with this recap because I’ve still got a few weeks left):

I’ve been dabbling in zero waste for a couple of years, but I’ve been pretty lazy about it. Maybe not so much lazy as easily distracted and frustrated – in our neck of the woods, package-free items are sparse, and some of what is available has been vetoed by the family or is too expensive to really be an option.

But is it that my choices really are sparse, or is it that I’m not very observant? What is the definition of zero waste? What would happen if we buckled down and tried to live a true zero waste lifestyle?

So that’s what we’re going to find out: What is possible in a small town and with a family.

The first thing I learned is that our package-free choices really weren’t as sparse as I thought — I just had to look at the aisles differently. There is plenty of unpackaged (albeit sticker-ed) produce available at the store; farm stands, while open only seasonally here, have even more options (and no stickers). Our bulk aisle has a plethora of herbs and spices, a nice selection of dried fruits and nuts, some baking items, and all the dried beans you could ever want. The relish bar means I can get items like feta and olives package-free (small jars), and even the deli and meat counters offer alternatives to products wrapped in plastic (bigger jars). Getting up the nerve to ask to have my jar filled was uncomfortable at first — well, I don’t like to make a scene — but once that routine was established (and everyone but Mr. Plastic* was onboard), it wasn’t a big deal anymore.

The second thing I learned is that you have to be really, really organized when it comes to zero waste shopping — you can’t just run into a store and buy something. I’ve always carried reusable grocery bags in the trunk of the car, but now I had to think about jars and bags for bulk and produce. Sometimes that was really inconvenient. Sometimes it still is. There’s no time for getting frustrated or lazy — it’s a Mad-Eye Moody “Constant vigilance!” kind of ordeal. And I think having a line that you don’t cross — no jar, no item — makes the decision easier somehow.

And the third thing? It is possible to get your family mostly on board, although Eric is better about it than the girls. (Ahem, looking at you specifically, Abs.) Examples:

  1. Eric went to the store Thursday to get salad stuff (hey, it’s Lent, we’re all eating more salad) and was very pleased to show me the bunch of grapes he’d plucked out of a bag and put straight into his cart. He also bought a loose cucumber, head of cabbage, pepper and an onion.
  2. Abby went to the store Sunday afternoon with a friend because they wanted to make chocolate chip cookies for a teacher. She came back with a plastic pouch of brown sugar “because your brown sugar is weird.” (IT IS NOT!) She also bought two packages of chocolate chips. And not even the all-natural ones that I can eat. Um, not that I’m bitter about all the wrong things …

(If I can brag on my one true love for a moment, Eric is awesome about choosing unpackaged items at the store; he’s even gotten containers filled at the meat counter. And he keeps a nice collection of bags in his truck. That makes me so happy — he gets it!)

So it turns out that in my couple of years of struggling along on the zero waste front, it really was that I wasn’t being very observant — so no wonder I was easily distracted and frustrated. And “buckling down” turned out to be easier than I expected, although having to be accountable on a blog really helped on that front. 😉 Without any excuses to fall back on — totally impossible, too much work, nothing available — we had to just … do it.

Having a family makes it more of a challenge, but I feel like the hard part of this journey is past — expectations and routines have been established, and all we have to do now is just continue on this path. We’ve cut our garbage pickup to twice a month — it fits into one standard kitchen-type trash bag, which includes cat waste — and our recycling, which is also picked up twice a month, has gone down, too, a bonus I was not expecting.

It’s been a great experience. This is a good place to be.

*Mr. Plastic now ignores me completely when I walk up to the meat counter, which works out just fine for both of us. He simply refuses to not put items in plastic before decanting into my jars, but that’s fine because literally every other person back there is perfectly willing to do so.

Next up: My notion of zero waste is ever evolving …

5 Responses to Lessons learned

  1. It’s so interesting to read your take on ‘yourself’ then and now. I’ve had a similar experience in that I discovered a lot of options when I started looking for them, but which I discounted in the past. I think I’ve mentioned that I didn’t try zero waste initially because I was living in London and had no bulk dry goods options (and produce tends to be more plastic-packaged there, too). But there is so much else I could have done, if I’d really tried, and there were even options there that I don’t have here in the USA – like a sweet local fishmonger and butcher. Anyway, my lesson to myself is not to make a snap judgment about how zero-waste it’s possible to be, but really look and think creatively!

    • It is interesting how you start looking at zero waste differently the more you engage — suddenly you see all kinds of options. And I love this: “… not to make a snap judgment about how zero-waste it’s possible to be, but really look and think creatively!” That’s a been big lesson for me this year — it’s not a race or a contest, it’s just how much I am able to do in my own situation. Maybe the best thing I learned all year!

      Thank you for all of your comments this year — you’ve added so much to the conversation! (Not to mention your awesome sewing guest posts.) A little early for me to be saying good-bye, but I don’t like good-byes, so early suits. 😉

  2. “Having a family makes it more of a challenge.” I’ve noticed that too! My family is becoming increasingly vigilant about things I’m getting rid of. They noticed that I got rid of the decorations above the kitchen cabinets, and have requested their return. However, they’re part of the reason I do what I do, and they do make the process more interesting — especially when they support you like your wonderful husband does!

    • Oh, families! I’m going to write more about this for tomorrow’s post, but anyway, it definitely adds another layer to any project. I had to laugh at this: “… they’re part of the reason I do what I do …” RIGHT?! My kids decided that maybe minimalism was genius when my parents / aunts were going through my (Depression-era, lived there 60 years, total hoarders because you might need something someday!) grandparents’ house a couple of years ago, and saw the truckloads of crap that had to be dumped, the additional truckloads headed to Goodwill, how much everyone else in the family was taking (I ended up with a cute pitcher — everyone kept trying to get me to take stuff, but you know what I wanted? To walk into that house and see my precious grandparents again. Who cares about stuff?), and how there was STILL so much leftover for a garage sale. Abby actually thanked me because she and Jo are not going to have that burden. Um, not to mention the positive environmental aspects. 😉

      When I got rid of the decorations above our kitchen cabinets, no one noticed at all — but maybe that’s because the girls were younger (it’s been a few years, Abby was probably in middle school, which would have made Johanna early elementary). I think mostly it’s just that new stuff is scary; the girls were not feeling it at the beginning of this project, just because they were so worried that life was going to change dramatically FOR THEM. (Which is why giving them a bye item turned out to be a really good idea — gave them some sense of control.) I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised how that’s not been the case. Life is pretty much like it always was, sans garbage.

      Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to write a novel. But I’m going to add that I’ve enjoyed and appreciated your comments this year, too, and your positive, supportive attitude.

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