Simple Year 5: Where we’re at in our zero waste journey

Since our zero waste year ended in May 2017, a few things have changed. I’m no longer striving for zero waste, but rather minimal waste. One thing I learned over the course of my year is to make peace with what is available to me and our situation as a family. I can’t get to zero, but there is still so much I can do. So much that our family can do.

green leaf plant

Incidentally, this is WordPress’ idea of “minimalism.” Photo by Faraz Ahmad on

Abby may like her packaged granola bars, but she’s a dedicated secondhand shopper, packs lunches in containers and takes her reusable water bottle with her everywhere. She recently added a coffee canteen to her possession for tea emergencies. (You can lead your kids to coffee, but you can’t make them drink.) In short, she’s taken on aspects of our zero waste year that work for her college lifestyle. As she nears adulthood, I’ll be interested to see how much farther she’s able to take minimalism and zero waste.

Johanna has also become a secondhand fanatic (“It’s cheaper AND better for the environment!”) and continues to use her own water bottle and lunch containers daily. She loves straws, so we’ve compromised with a paper variety I can compost. As an artist, she has a lot of pens and sketch books, among other paraphernalia, in the household. And that’s not very low waste. But, like Abby, she’s found a way to take what she learned during our Simple Year and make it her own — and I have to believe this will serve her well as she grows up.

Eric has been awesome. He has reusable grocery sacks in his truck and has no problem buying unpackaged anything — he’ll take a container to the meat counter or grab a bunch of loose grapes and put them directly into the cart. He packs his lunch to work each day in reusables and has given up paper towels in favor of cloth. He uses handkerchiefs and brags about my minimalism at work functions (which I find funny, since he’s also a minimalist). Lest you think he’s too perfect, he still loves to go to The Store That Must Not Be Named and pick up twice-wrapped toilet paper and value-pack cereals. But he also picks up the cardboard-only bath soap we started using during our year and makes his own salad dressing mixes using spices from the bulk bins. 

I continue to be a staunch minimalist … and am trying to figure out how to continue to be low waste in light of the food sensitivities I was recently diagnosed as having: Corn, wheat, gluten, beans and lentils, cane and maple sugars, yeast, nightshades, artificial anything and peanuts, to name a few. Because my diet is limited, I’ve been searching for options that I can eat, and have let a few packaged items into the house out of necessity. 

While I’ve given up trying to find a makeup that meets all my lofty Simple Year criteria, I have whittled my collection down to foundation, eyeshadow and mascara. Coconut oil is my go-to makeup remover and body moisturizer (and I can reuse the glass jar it comes in), and I am able to get bulk shampoo and conditioner, castile and dish soap.

And I still own my “dumb” phone, which only texts or calls. My friends are horrified by my lack of technology, but it’s entertaining to watch people’s faces when they see that thing come out of my pocket. I shop at local farm stands and farmers’ markets and bought a farm share for the first time last year. I’ve quit counting the number of items I have in my closet, but am most comfortable with a small wardrobe. And I’ve decided that, for the most part, homemade products are NOT the way to go, for a variety of reasons. I buy detergents and sink cleaners, but still make my castile and water counter cleaner.

In short, I’ve (mostly) found peace with my Simple Year project’s lofty goals and the reality in which we find ourselves today. It’s a journey, not a destination. Our year opened my eyes to the nuances of zero waste and how, like minimalism, the movement is what you make it.