The home that produces almost zero trash and looks like a catalogue photo set

September 28 |
This LOOKS like a stock photo, meant to depict a happy Scandinavian family enjoying their happy Scandinavian lives. It's not. All photos courtesy thezerowastehome.com.
When I think of the type of home that might be a "zero waste" home — where occupants strive to eliminate the everyday disposables that seem sometimes to be inseparable from living — I guess I think of a home far from civilization. Maybe something handbuilt. The zero waste home in my imagination looks a lot like the permaculture-loving straw bale home we featured in April 2011. It's woodsy, it's cozy, it's clearly inhabited by hippies.

Well, finding The Zero Waste Home blog goes to show me that assuming and stereotyping are no good.

This all-white no-clutter house is the California project of the Johnson family. Together, the four of them produce just two "handfuls" of trash each year. Many of their efforts are chronicled on their blog, along with tips for reducing trash, and product recommendations.

Blog author Bea Johnson lays out her home philosophy right at the top of ever page: "Refuse, refuse, refuse. Then reduce, reuse, recycle (and only in that order.)" It's eye-opening! That "refuse" bit takes most recycler's efforts a step farther. The Johnsons refuse quite a bit by doing things like buying groceries in bulk — by taking glass jars to the store and filling them directly.

AND OMG THE HOUSE. I'm not sure if I'm subscribing to their blog to learn more about their zero-waste lifestyle in order to get a better look at the house. And I don't care.

Take a look at The Zero Waste Home. Found via The Week.

  1. THAT SPUTNIK LAMP.

    Everytime I see a beautifully organized cabinet with containers for everything and the perfect stock of ingredients, I just marvel at it as if it's some wild, unobtainable concept. Like, from the future. Or in Martha Stewart's home. But it's do-able, right?
    As far as the concept of bringing your own containers for bulk ingredients… do any of you find that stores give you flack about trying to use your own containers? The one time I tried it, an employee stopped me, looked at me as if I were covered in garbage and told me that I had to use the store-approved containers (plastic bags.) Since then, I've been near-phobic about trying it again. I'd just reuse THOSE, but I'm not sure they'd handle being washed.

    1 agrees
    • This is my dream pantry. Right now it looks NOTHING LIKE THAT.

      I've started accumulating containers for grocery shopping — I'll give you a report. I mean, if it's a huge problem with the grocer they can kick me out, but I have a feeling that preparing myself for patient negotiation might help? I almost never use the plastic bags there, and checkers seem to hate when I bring them six individual pears — understandably!

      0 agree
    • If you shop at places like Wholefoods, or local co-ops, they won't give you flak. I buy my peanutbutter that way and have reused the same jar for years!

      1 agrees
      • That is nice in theory, but there are a lot of places where those type of stores aren't within a hour's drive.

        8 agree
    • After working in a deli… I might understand why. When purchacing the foods, it is usually by weight. When we were weighting things, we would "tare" off the weight of the bag so that the only thing being paid for is the weight of the food. It's minimal but is does make a few cents difference. We knew the weight so we can "tare" off the proper amount for our bags.

      0 agree
      • Mm. I revise my answer — I think the answer is that hopefully your grocery is willing to work with you. I think if I just went to my store and asked about a way to do it, we could work something out.

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      • I used to work at a co-op where people brought in their own containers all the time. They'd just measure tare weight before purchasing, and then let us know when we rang them up. Granted, this was a hippy co-op, but still: it's not a difficult process to get the tare weight for a container.

        6 agree
      • I guess I can see someone mentally clicking that they're being charged for the weight of their container and complaining. For me, though, I'd just accept it as inevitable and move on. I hate paying more than I need to for anything, but it is what it is. I'd be a little more fussy if I were buying truffles or something, I guess. :p
        The store I shop at has a bar of bulk ingredients (almond flour, granola, nuts, dried fruit, etc) and you weigh it yourself. It prints out a label and you slap it on the bag. Given that, I don't know why they'd be upset if I brought in a two-ton weight to pour my cashew butter out on so long as I got it cleanly and safely up to the register.
        I'm probably just going to have to bite the bullet and shop at the local hippy co-op. Out of my way, but at least they have some concept of this sort of thing.

        0 agree
    • I wonder about that too. Also, how do bulk items get weighed accurately if you've brought your own containers (particularly glass ones, which could weigh quite a lot)? Do you get the containers weighed empty beforehand?

      I could see places like Whole Foods or Coops cooperating with non-standard containers, but I couldn't see somewhere like Safeway (which has bulk items) doing so. Shopping exclusively at Coops or Whole Foods isn't in many people's budget, and some areas don't have such stores.

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      • I find the coop I shop at (Rainbow Coop in San Francisco) to be very competitively priced with Safeway.

        Whole Foods, not so much.

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      • Yes, you weigh the container first, or have them do it. You/they write -0.16lb or whatever it is on the containers. Then when you check out, just point out the amount to be subtracted. That's how it works at my co-op. They like you to bring your own container–they give you a 5 cent rebate for every container you bring!

        3 agree
        • That's how I always did it when I shopped at the Co-Op here. Had a lovely, very very old jar I kept hand soap in. Just took it straight to the co-op to be weighed, and they always complimented me on my bathroom soap jar. No fuss, no eyebrows raised about bringing in my own stuff.

          0 agree
    • My co-op doesn't give me any trouble, but I'm sure some more "mainstream" grocery stores do. Those thin bags can usually make it through one washing, at least. Would they allow you to bring heavier ziploc-style bags? If all else fails, save the bags they make you use and find a place to recycle them.

      1 agrees
  2. you can buy a clear, light fabric like organza or something and just sew up a few drawstring bags and use them as produce bags. as long as they're transparent no one is going to care, and it makes grocery shopping easier.

    2 agree
  3. I love pretty much everything they are doing, but all that white practically gives me hives. It's so sterile.

    5 agree
    • Funnily enough there's a post on their blog about that. Or rather about the fact that some people thought the blog was saying you also needed to paint your whole house white to make the zero-waste thing work and kept talking about how much they'd hate it.

      Of course the reality is that the writer just finds it easier to photograph her own house than comb the web for photos of other peoples that still show the relevant details.

      I don't think I could live in an all white house either. In fact on another post earlier today I was talking about how I'd probably make my house black and rainbow themed if I could.

      0 agree
  4. Now for the real challege – zero waste (or near-zero) living without a car and with minimal storage space.

    As much as I love the idea of taking my own storage bin to a wholesale place pick up 5kg of rice I hate the thought of trying to bring it home on the train (or more importantly the 20 minute walk from the station) much more and when I struggle to find space for a 1kg bag in our tiny kitchen I wonder where I would ever keep it.

    I don't think we're doing too badly, the two of us produce about 1 grocery bag of rubbish every two weeks. But I want to improve it and it just seems like all the ideas we're not already applying assume you have plenty of storage space, your own garden to grow food and compost waste and a car to transport everything back and forth.

    2 agree
    • Absolutely. And then there's the debate over whether it's going to be better in the long run to REALLY reduce that last bit of waste you make or to forgo a car.

      It's tooootally different for everyone. We're probably not going to do a ton more to reduce what we throw out in our house, except to improve our composting system. A bag a week for three people and two cats is pretty good, I think.

      0 agree
    • Oh yeah, just to clarify – I'm not trying to suggest that a zero-waste household is impractical or only possible for a few people. I'm also not suggesting everyone should live in the smallest space possible or shouldn't own a car. Or anything else that post might seem to imply.

      I'm just talking about my own situation and bemoaning the fact that the stuff I can't change (tiny flat and no car) prevents me from doing some of the things I would like to.

      0 agree
  5. Ooh, I remember these guys. Yeah. Not impressed. Other rules of the house:

    No art, not even the stuff the kids make
    If you get packaging with something you order, you mail it back. See, now that doesn't actualy reduce waste. That's just making it someone else's problem.
    Can't get new books.

    I'm all for reducing waste, but to do so at the total cost of sentimentally, culture, and finance just seems like a hollow victory.

    4 agree
    • Reminds me of a time I was at a cafe with a friend. He ordered a smoothie and said he didn't want a lid, in order to reduce waste. But they couldn't make the smoothie without the domed lid because of spills and mixing issues. So they made it, with the lid, then took the lid off (and tossed it) to serve him. He felt awesome about himself. Everyone else was confused.

      7 agree
    • Mailing the packaging back is probably worse actually. Not only is there the extra carbon cost of mailing it (mainly as a result of extra weight in the truck) and chances are when it arrives it'll all be thrown out and end up in landfill. Whereas if they kept it they could make sure as much as possible was recycled.

      4 agree
  6. I see that she does not believe in reducing her need for extraneous commas.

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  7. I'm impressed with their efforts, but kids in a pure white house? Not keen at all. It just doesn't look very friendly or cosy or well… home.

    On the other hand the suspended chair is great.

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  8. I will ask here, because I've had no luck at my work (a hippy elementary school that should be in the know). I want to use cloth or otherwise washable/re-useable grain bags for purchasing bulk flour, sugar etc. Does anybody actually do this? I'm afraid cloth bags would let flour out, but I'm not actually too worried about that because I'm just bringing it home and putting it in a jar. I just can't find the kind of bags I'm picturing in my head and wonder if I should just bite the bullet and make some. I bet I could find some old flour bags and use those to make smaller, store use bags…

    0 agree
    • Jessi, go to Etsy and search "bulk bag" and "bulk food bag." That should give you a lot of good ideas about what material and closures you can use, if you want to make them yourself.

      1 agrees

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