The Johnson's: The Zero-Waste Family

My supervisor at work showed me this great clip from Vitality on Yahoo! News about The Johnson Family who are a model of zero-waste living. The video snippet is really informative and fairly comprehensive so I highly recommend viewing it for a full run-down of this family's efforts to live waste-free.

After downsizing their home, the Johnson's decided to take greater efforts to downsize their lifestyle and the trash it generated. A majority of their shopping is done in bulk and groceries are taken home from the store in glass containers, mesh laundry bags, and reusable jugs, rather than plastic and paper bags. They use homemade cleaners whenever possible and compost to put old kitchen scraps to good use. Their home isn't riddled with a bit of clutter but rather with clear counters and clean lines. Though the aesthetic that dominates the design of the Johnson home is not my ideal, their lifestyle choices most certainly are.

At one point in the video, Mrs. Johnson shows the camera just how much trash her family of four accumulated in a few months' time. All the trash items can be held in her two hands and probably would not even fill up an average shoe box. In fact, one of the identifiable trash items was a broken wine glass - and that accidental trash item dominated the pile. Obviously their efforts to reduce their waste are truly working if they have so little to show come trash day.

I watched this clip and was truly inspired. I live with my fiance and my cat and try to reduce my waste as much as possible. Here is a family of four generating virtually no waste whatsoever. I felt simultaneously lazy but also inspired by the potential changes I could instill in my own burgeoning home. Though I hope to grow and buy fresh from farmer's markets a majority of my produce in the coming months, mesh laundry bags are a great alternative to the plastic alternatives littered throughout the produce section of most grocery stores. I always try to buy the largest size available of products that don't go to waste, such as shampoos and cleaners, to reduce packaging. But truly buying in bulk further eliminates extraneous packaging - and those unnecessary multiple trips to the store that drain your car of gas.

There are some aspects of the Johnson lifestyle that probably won't be as attainable for the average person as we would all like them to be. Much as I would love to frequent a grocery store whose offerings can be purchased free of packaging, I think the inconvenience of finding and regularly traveling to such a market would outweigh the environmental and moral benefit for me. There are natural markets in the area where I can find a good amount of bulk nuts, grains, pastas, dried beans, and the like, but none within 20-miles of my home. But even if I don't commit to grocery shopping exclusively at markets such as these, I can make other adjustments whenever possible and smarter decisions in conventional grocery stores to come closer to that zero-waste goal.

I know there are plenty of excuses we could all make to justify our inability to commit to a zero-waste lifestyle (in fact, I just made a few in the last paragraph). But I think that this family demonstrates that we need to put some of our excuses aside and determine the full range of possibilities available to us in reducing waste. So I can't feasibly bring home all my grocery items in reusable containers free of packaging. But I can try to buy in bulk to reduce packaging for my essentials. I can make kitchen staples from scratch to further lower the number of packaged items I need to purchase (ie. bread, pastas, crackers, condiments, sauces, dried fruits, etc.). I can bring my own bags and containers to the grocery store, reducing my need to rely on paper and plastic. These small little efforts can add up once they become habitual and routine.

Another way I vow to make my life less wasteful - I'm going to finally start composting. I've been wanting to do it for years but allowed myself to be overly worried about the apparent complexity of the system at first glance, the importance of striking the perfect balance between browns and greens, and the cost of a commercial composter.

I did my research and learned a little bit about worm factories. Vermicomposting is one of the easiest and most foolproof compost methods available today. You simply throw your old kitchen and yard scraps into the composter where specially-purchased Red Wiggler worms do all the work for you. I found this great Worm Factory on Amazon that seems to be the perfect fit - with multiple levels, you can throw in scraps as they accumulate, then remove them layer by layer as the worms work from the bottom layer up to create fresh and beautiful compost. And even better, this system contains all the moisture generated my the worms and allows you to drain it off to use as natural fertilizer. Composting really couldn't be any easier or affordable at just $80 (if you've looked into full-blown compost systems, you know this is quite a steal)!

Though I've long been cognizant of the amount of waste I generate (and proud that my two-person, one-feline household only accumulates about half a trash can full of waste each week), I've long known that there is more I could be doing to reduce, if not utilize, my waste. The Johnson's are proof that nearly eliminating personal waste is absolutely attainable - and that there are no excuses for putting off waste-reduction efforts. I hope you'll take the time to watch the video and commit to at least a few waste reduction strategies. Just think of all the plastic bags, bottles, cans, tins, boxes, papers, containers, scraps, and more that you throw out in a week or even a day. Now imagine how simple and easy it could be to avoid some of that waste in the first place. And think of how joyous it would be if you didn't have to remember to take the trash out week after week!

So what do you plan to do to reduce your waste today?


  1. This has always been a goal of mine as well. I have three kids, and sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by an additional project/plan/output of energy. None the less, I do feel I should reevaluate my habits. I know without too much effort, I could drastically reduce my waste.

  2. your comment was the best! thank you so much for it. :]

    i'd seen a special about a family who was living like this on 20/20 or something. i remember they washed their clothes in the bathtub. and the kid was so excited to jump and splash in the soapy water. it was so neat! people like these are so inspiring. and i'd LOVE to have a compost pile one day. my friend's hubby was growing a garden and they had one. it might sound weird, but i love the smell of them. like really fresh dirt. so clean and refreshing. hehe. i think i need to start w/ recycling. baby steps.


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