I’m not gonna lie. I cannot fit a year’s worth of my trash into a quart-size mason jar, although I deeply respect the people out there who can. I’m working in it.

Each month, my family of four fills up half of the smallest garbage can my refuse company offers (20 gallons). That’s about 2.5 gallons of trash a week, or the equivalent of one kitchen-size garbage bag a month. Not bad, I must say, but also not the best I can do.

Striving for zero waste is like trying to hit a moving target—as it should be.

Why? Because there is no zero.

When I reduce my trash can to the smallest size they offer and still can’t fill it up each week, I feel like celebrating. And when that party’s over, I focus on figuring out how to fill it up even less.

When I reach my goal of being trash-free and give up the curbside can completely, I’ll look at my overflowing bin of recyclables and wonder where I can start to eliminate the need for that too.

But, with life as it is in this oh-so-busy world, I must focus on one thing at a time. And that’s perfectly OK.

I’ve been an environmentalist my entire adult life, having spent over two decades being the weirdo in the grocery store who brings her own shopping bags. Now I’m a weirdo if I don’t (Isn’t that great?).

In recent years, a longing for a better understanding (and practice) of zero waste has opened me up to a whole new level of “green.” I now do my best to think and act circularly. By that, I mean asking how I can be part of a circular system of consumption, instead of a linear one.

Linear = manufacture —> consume —> dispose… end of story.

Circular = manufacture —> consume —> recycle into something new —> consume  —> recycle into something new —> consume —> recycle into something new —>  consume…

You see my point.  

Because there is always waste involved in manufacturing as well as recycling, there really is no zero, but it’s a damn great moving target.

To be unfettered does not mean to be perfect. It means untethering ourselves from the way it’s come to be, trying things we haven’t tried before, and maybe even making some sacrifices that ultimately give us some much-needed hope and make this world a better place for generations to come.

Full disclosure: Aside from being a tree hugger, I just happen to love things– like the same things they’re cutting down old growth forests for. I love clothes and shoes and cute stuff for my kids. I love good cheese, and store-bought almond milk and home furnishings.

And, if you’re like me, I’m here to tell you: you can love, maybe even have, those beautiful things and do this planet a favor.

Here’s how:

  1. Start by questioning what you buy and why you need it.
  2. Follow by saying NO to disposable, single-use items.
  3. Instead, stock up on reusable options.
  4. Compost what you can.
  5. Recycle what you must.
  6. Find a good home for that which you cannot. (We make art from or send to Terracycle the things we cannot compost or recycle locally.)

I firmly believe that with a little effort and thoughtfulness, “zero waste” will soon be as common as “green” became not too long ago, and we will all be laughing at ourselves about why it took so long to make this the new norm.


~Larkin Gayl
Founder, Unfettered Home