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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stay-at-home mom reduces environmental
footprint, spending with ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle

Cloth diapering has become popular these days, but cloth toilet paper may be where some people draw the line.

Not Christena Little.

Little decided to transition her lifestyle to “zero-waste” nearly a year ago, and hasn’t looked back since.

While she hasn’t made the plunge to cloth toilet paper just yet, it is one of the next steps she plans to take to move closer to her zero-waste goal.


Making her own condiments and deodorant spray and even taking jars to the grocery to transport her meat are just a few of the other measures Little has taken to reduce waste.

“My personality, when I do something, I’m gung-ho, in it to win it,” Little said, though she still continues to work to find the best ways to achieve her zero-waste goal. “It’s still a major work in progress.”

A zero-waste lifestyle involves essentially what its name implies, except Little reminds people that it is more of a “minimal-waste” lifestyle than zero-waste. People who choose this lifestyle live their lives and run their homes in a sustainable manner that produces as little waste as possible.

For Little, this means buying only items that can be composted or recycled, or investing in quality items that can be kept for a long time.

Although the stay-at-home mom first started thinking about downsizing when her first daughter, Mady, was born, it was after the birth of her second daughter, Sophia, when she decided to make the big transition to zero-waste.

Right around the time Sophia, 11 months, was born, Little came across www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com, which is run by a mom who has been living a zero-waste lifestyle for several years.

“The website is amazing. It’s such an inspiration. When I read it I thought, ‘That’s what I want,’” Little said.

After Mady was born, Little found herself spending days organizing her family’s belongings and began to feel trapped by all of the stuff in her house.

“I thought, ‘How crazy is this that I spend two days organizing all my things and all I did was move my stuff from one box to another, from one cabinet to another,’” Little said. “When I had Sophia, I was so overwhelmed. We just had so much stuff I felt like I couldn’t get out of my house, because I do like everything to be organized and no clutter.”

At first, transitioning was a little tough, particularly for Little’s husband, Jeff. The couple had already used cloth diapers with their first daughter, but some of the other changes were more challenging. For instance, Jeff, a pilot, enjoys collecting items from his travels and items that have been passed down to him, so he has a cabinet in their dining room where he keeps those things.

“It was really hard for my husband. He is still transitioning,” Little said. “I had to compromise a bit and realize that this is something that I want to do personally and I can’t push it on my husband.”

Luckily, Little said, her daughters are young enough that they don’t know any different than the zero-waste lifestyle.

At first, Maddy missed packaged snacks such as granola bars and crackers, “but she’s forgotten about those,” Little said. “Now, she likes raw vegetables, fruit.”

Little, who estimates she and her family will have produced around two bags of trash during the last year, still has a trash can in her home, but doesn’t want that to give friends or extended family members the impression that she is OK with them bringing items that can’t be composted or recycled into her home.

Little said that most of her friends and family respect her lifestyle choice and try to bring these items over or will take their trash with them.

Another challenge Little faced while transitioning her home was figuring out what to do with many of the belongings that she wanted to get rid of.

“So I did a lot of research. Unfortunately, a lot of it did have to get thrown away,” Little said.

But after getting rid of those items, she vowed never to buy anything she couldn’t pass down or use for a long time, she said. And she has made a long list of changes in her household to minimize her family’s environmental impact.

She uses compostable toothbrushes, fills her own bottles of bulk shampoo and conditioner from Good Foods Market, makes her own soap and uses biodegradable detergent in a recyclable box – only after a unsuccessful attempt to make her own detergent.

While Little uses little makeup, she does like Origins products because they accept and recycle their used cosmetic containers. She also said that Aveda also accepts empty product bottles in their stores, as well.

Looking at company practice such as these is just another step that Christena has taken to transition to a zero-waste home.

“Once I started, it kind of consumed my whole life in everything that I do. I found it wasn’t just that I was trying to get rid of my trash. Then it went into the practices of a company. I look into everything,” Little said.

In Little’s kitchen, her food is bought fresh – nothing packaged – and she uses every item she buys, reducing trash, food waste and saving money.

“I found that I would be buying all these items that I only needed for one recipe and then they would go bad because I didn’t know what else to use it for. That’s expensive.” Little said. “Cooking is simple. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I think when you have a pantry full of stuff, it is so overwhelming that you don’t even know what to do with it all.”

Additionally, by changing her shopping practices, Little and her husband can afford to feed their family like she has always desired.

“I always wanted to buy organic. I wanted that lifestyle, but I thought we could never afford it,” Little said. “But, by switching to a more zero-waste kitchen, we are able to afford organic, grass-fed meats, all the stuff I always wanted and what I think is important to feed my family.”

One exception Little noted was that her family doesn’t drink cow’s milk, so she still buys almond milk that comes in a container that is only recycled in a few places.

However, Little mentioned www.terracycle.com, which lists collection “brigades” that accept items like this. The specific brigade will send you a box to mail them the items and they either make a new product out of the item or find another use for it.

While Little admits that she and her family are still working towards becoming as waste-free as possible, she is working to hopefully “get there someday,” she said.



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