The very beginning

This is our attempt as a traveling military family to live the zero waste lifestyle.

This isn’t a recent idea, but it is an improved one. Brought up in a recycling family, I started my first recycling program in high school. I placed plastic-lined boxes beside each trashcan with a homemade sign that read, “Please place all cans, cardboard and plastic in this box. I’ll recycle it.” Each Friday my dad picked me up from school and emptied them with me. They were almost always full of trash.

In the military, I was the only cook in the missile field who recycled. The other cooks and facility managers made fun, telling me I was making my life difficult. Difficult was the word they used. To me, it was normal. The guilt of throwing recyclables in the trash kept me from sleeping at night. 

I ran everything through the dishwasher with the dishes, stuffed it in three brimming garbage bags and took it with me. I didn’t have a car and had to wait to find someone to take me to the recycling center on base.

The dorm manager constantly ticketed me with failed dorm inspections, claiming “bags of trash” as the reason. Every week, I walked into his office to explain once again, “It isn’t trash, it’s recycling. I don’t have anyone to take me across base to get rid of it this week.” He never offered. It drove my roommate crazy.

It wasn’t until I got married, that I was officially introduced to composting. In the middle of Washington, D.C., in his backyard, the man composted. I thought he was an absolute genius.

Between composting everything and recycling everything else, we generated such a small amount of trash; I didn’t see a need to pay for trash pick-up by the city.

Some cities combine their recycling and trash pick-up programs. Others combine trash pick-up with the use of city water. The next city we move to though–I might just be able to cancel trash pick-up, altogether.

When I saw the video clip of the Johnson family and their “zero waste lifestyle” from the Today Show, I now had a word for it. The lack of clutter, the orderly, organized,smooth run of things in their household. Aha! I’ve found what I couldn’t put into words. Zero waste lifestyle–generating absolutely no trash. That’s the goal.

Granted, it’s a bit more of a challenge as a military family when we’re constantly moving. There aren’t always bulk stores near by, or a chance to plant a garden, with every move it’s different. But as the Marines say, “Improvise, adapt, overcome.” We can do this.

The more I read and the more I research, I’m finding there are SO many more things we could be doing. It’s exciting and fun to see what we can implement next.

Made with berries I picked in the backyard.

Banana nut muffins made with nuts I found in the yard. I cracked them open with a rock!

Yummy berry parfait!


11 responses to “The very beginning

  1. I’m excited to read further postings. It sounds like you have always been dedicated to a zero waste lifestyle. I’m interested to see how you overcome challenges in trying to maintain this lifestyle 🙂 If you can do it on a military base, anyone can do it, right?

    • Thanks for the encouragement Regina! It’s so much fun! I’d like to check out your blog about recycling! What’s it called? How do I get there?

      • I JUST started my blog, so there is only one posting right now (shameful, I’m working on it now!). It’s at It is focused on recycling in Portland, but a lot of the advice/findings can be applied nationwide. For example, my curbside recycling doesn’t accept plastic bottles under 6 oz., so one of the options is to bring prescription bottles to Target or drop boxes at Whole Foods, depending on the # plastic.

  2. I think this is fantastic, and I can totally understand your challenges–when I was in the Navy and went cranking underway on deployment I was *horrified* when I ended up working nights–when the trash was appropriately disposed of, in full accordance of policy (yeah, right).

    While we try to minimize waste as much as possible–mainly by reusing and re-purposing as much as possible (I’ve even made our own produce bags from clothes that aren’t quite good enough for the Goodwill, baby wipes from old baby blankets, and washable “kleenex” from an thrifted linen tablecloth), I’m not sure we can get to zero waste in an apartment with two small children!

    • You’re doing fantastic! You sound like you’re well on your way with all these creative ways of reusing. That’s the main thing, you’re trying.
      I LOVE the idea of making cloth produce bags. I’d never thought of that! I’m going to try that one. I’ve been using a reusable bag for bottles of wine for my produce, but I still have to take everything out one at a time to weigh it. (I’m sure it drives the people crazy in line behind me.) I like your idea much better! If you have more ideas, let me know! I love this! And the kleenex from the tablecloth. Genius.

  3. Ha! I had to laugh after reading this because I just recently left you a comment suggesting you visit Bea Johnson’s website. Duh. Please forgive me for not starting at the beginning. 🙂 You’re way ahead of me!! I love your blog and can’t wait to keep checking in to see how you’re doing.

  4. Bethany, I appreciate that you’re giving me suggestions at all! I wonder how many folks Bea has influenced. What I like the best is that she’s humble, and makes it clear that she’s not telling anyone they should live like her, it’s just what she’s doing. Of course, we want to live like her! I read your post where you talked about her clutter free home and how alluring it was. I read your posts to my husband at night before we go to bed. We feel like we know you!

  5. Thanks Aunt Pat. Did you like the part where I cracked open the nuts from the front yard to make the muffins? My man said, “Did you put that on there? People are going to think you’re a nut.” I said, “Well…..”
    ha! I’m slowly learning life is too short to care what people think.

  6. one word…INSPIRATION!!!

  7. I love your innovation making do with what you have and making it work is superb! I love the nuts from the yard and cracking them with a rock, that’s perfect. Keep up the great work and what you are doing you have a great outlook and reusing and recycling and making our world a better place one family at a time. If you can do it, we all can do it too!
    p.s. All my crafts I make on my blog are from recycled trash. Rather then throwing out the packaging that I sometimes incur, I use it for my art projects. It started as I couldn’t afford art materials but enjoyed creating. Desiring not to waste and recycle and reuse I found a use for the packages and reinvented them into beautiful creations. Take care.

    • Thanks so much! It’s all so much fun, isn’t it? I’ll have to take a look at your art projects. Maybe I can find something to make with all this hard-to-recycle plastic!
      Thanks again for the encouragement!!

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