The Suburbs Can Be Zero Waste Too

A couple of years ago, my family decided to make the move from our charming 1920s Dutch Colonial in Minneapolis to the suburbs almost 30 minutes outside the city. This move brought many changes–some for the better, some worse–for our family. We love having more space and a safe cul-de-sac for our kids to play, but we miss the liveliness, diversity, and walk-ability the city offered.

We also miss the co-ops.

Around the Twin Cities metro, I have not found any (correct me if I’m wrong), true bulk stores with a wide array of offerings. (I’m talking not just your typical small bulk section of some flours, sugars, grains, nuts, etc.). Living in Minneapolis, however, we had our local co-ops, where there are bulk sections the likes of which I, having grown up in the suburbs, had never seen.

I remember walking through the aisles of my local co-op for the first time in complete awe. Not only could you get the standard bulk staples you see at many grocery stores, but they had things I didn’t know could be in a bulk section–spices, grind-your-own nut butters, honey, maple syrup, shampoos, detergents, and even cleaning products. I was so excited the first time I bought my hard-to-find Grade B maple syrup from the bulk section, and realized it actually saved me several dollars (maple syrup is expensive, man)!

I became a regular bulk shopper and even started bringing my own containers to refill as often as I could remember. I was becoming a zero-waster before I had even heard the phrase zero waste.

While we lived in Minneapolis, we even learned to compost, as the previous owners had left us their city-issued compost bin, and I was trying my hand at gardening for the first time. It wasn’t always perfect, but we composted as much as we could and were fairly successful. I remember being so disappointed that we were moving away right before they began the city-wide, free, curbside organics recycling service!

No big deal. We’d get a backyard compost bin in our new house and continue what we had started.

Well, it’s two years later and we still have no compost bin. And no free, curbside organics recycling. In that two year span, we had our third child, a job change, took on home improvement and landscaping projects, and of course, life happened.  

I also quickly realized that we made the unfortunate mistake of moving to one of the only corners of the metro that has no co-ops within a 25 minute drive. Ugh. And what kind of environmental advocate would I be if I unnecessarily drove 25 minutes (or more, depending on traffic) each way to get groceries as often as a family of five sometimes needs them. Not to mention, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Luckily, for many Minnesotans, we have a great co-op system throughout much of the state. Even my parents, who live in a rural community an hour out of the city, have a co-op closer to them than I do. Go figure.

Consequently, over the past two years, I found many of my zero waste efforts reverting due to location, time, convenience, and the general chaos of having three small children in a new community.

Recently though, I have found new inspiration and motivation to do better and make the zero waste efforts stick this time (afterall, now I have a name for it, too!).  In 2018, my family has decided to challenge ourselves to further reduce our trash beyond what we ever have previously.

Our goal is to reduce our household trash output by at least 50% (by volume) by the end of the year.  

Each month, I will highlight a different strategy that we use to see how much of a difference each one makes.

Obviously, we will likely make some waste that will not get added to our total since it may occur out of the household (i.e. at work, school, etc.), but we will tabulate all of the waste that enters our home in 2018.

We are also working toward living a more minimalist lifestyle and are continually decluttering and removing items from our home so that we may live more intentionally with less stuff in the future. Most of these items can be sold or donated to a thrift store, but unfortunately, some of it will have to be put in the trash, and we will not include this in our calculations as it is not part of the routine trash from 2018.

I hope to prove, with this challenge, that even “regular” families, living without convenient zero waste resources, can reduce their waste easily and effectively. And we can hopefully get a better idea of which strategies have the biggest overall effect on reducing household waste.

Here’s to a zeroish waste 2018!

Kate Marnach recently moved to the Minneapolis suburbs with her husband and three kids after ten years of city living, and she’s still adjusting. She has a background in biology and a passion for helping the environment, but unexpected health challenges several years ago ultimately set her on a path toward clean eating and zero-waste living. She enjoys spending time outside with her family, hiking, traveling, and staying up way too late (because that’s when the house is finally quiet). In 2018, Kate is hoping to show that even suburbanites can live zeroish waste lifestyles. She also plans to continue her minimalism journey, learn to be a more productive gardener, and join a gym for the free childcare.

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