When I first started writing this blog, there were a few other bloggers who I connected with right away because it was obvious that we shared a lot of the same values: financial independence, of course, but also looking at that and everything else through a lens of sustainability first and foremost. Kristine at Frugasaurus, who has previously written one of the guest posts in this series, and Ashley, who writes over at Kiwi and Keweenaw, the author of this post.

Not only did it feel incredible to find a supportive group of bloggers that wanted to talk about money as much as I did, but the fact that some of those also wanted to talk gardening and sustainability as well? Let’s just say, I wish we all lived closer.

And now, I’m going to turn this one over to Mrs. Kiwi, and let her tell the story of how she and her husband live purposeful, low impact lives. Plus, they are well on the path to financial independence, and she has been on a mini retirement for most of 2018.

Embracing The Simplicity Of Zero Waste

We have three full 60 gallon garbage cans in our garage right now, but are striving towards zero-waste. That goal of making zero trash? Well, it seems a bit crazy to me. But all of my big, satisfying, life choices have involved a bit of discomfort.

If you don’t know about me, I’m Ashley, and I am enjoying a mini retirement right now, thanks to spending the last few years saving aggressively. I’m mostly spending my time avoiding computers (not counting my addictive smartphone), hanging out with my two dogs and husband, and renovating our home. Like Angela I love to garden and travel (sometimes we are eerily similar). I think I’ve always cared about the environment, and even joined a bird watching club when I was eight that met before elementary school. And I am so far from perfect, but through making gradual changes I’m trying to live sustainably.

Garden Goodies

When we set out to retire early, we first got a bit uncomfortable. We cut so many things from our monthly spending and then lived without them for a few months before slowly adding a few of those things back. I knew we didn’t make as much money as many of the big FIRE bloggers, so living frugally would help shorten our early retirement timetable. While we could have gone out and accepted higher paying jobs with our degrees, we opted to not do that since it would have involved moving away from our families and working in ways that doesn’t quite align with our values.

Initially flexing our frugality muscles felt uncomfortable, but slowly those motions of packing lunch for long road trips, growing a garden, and more much importantly negotiating raises become normal.

Over the last few years we’ve also embraced discomfort when dealing with our trash.

The first time I took the amount of waste we produced seriously was when we bought our house. Coincidentally, it was also the first time we had to pay for our own garbage removal. (Our prior rentals included garbage service.)

I researched the prices and options from the two garbage companies that serve our area, and initially I really wanted to just be lazy and get the smallest weekly cart (which is 40 gallons) at $30/month. It also came with free curbside mixed use recycling service, so we wouldn’t need to sort or drive our recycling to the collection area! But, after much discussion, my partner convinced me that we should at least try out their one lower cost option.

That cheaper option was the bag tag system. We pay $30 and get ten tags we stick on to our own 30 gallon (or smaller) garbage bags. We’ve lived in our house for over five years and have used 62 bag tags, which means that we roughly make one bag of garbage each month. Embracing the frugal garbage option has saved us over $1,700 and challenged us to reduce our garbage production since we are paying for every single bag.

Yes, 62 bags of garbage is way more than zero waste, but it’s definitely less trash that we would have made if we had the convenience of weekly pick up of a giant rolling cart. And we are consistently incentiveized to separate out recycling and compost. So, if you want to make less waste and your garbage company offers something like that try it out! You can always change back to the weekly cart later.

Every few weeks Ryan has to drive our recycling to the collection center, where he sorts and adds it to the giant recycling containers. Fortunately, this is one of my husband’s favorite hobbies since he gets to pick through the recycling and rescue the treasures other people have discarded. This past year he’s snagged a circular saw, hydraulic jack, electric scooter, and many more awesome things that probably shouldn’t have been thrown into the recycling in the first place.

Speaking of recyclying, we keep all of our recycling in containers collected from the recycling center. As tempting as it can be to run to the store and buy all the beautiful organizational systems when you embark on a zero waste journey, that kind of defeats the purpose. Instead we’ve slowly gathered storage containers and garbage bins that others have cast off to hold our recycling.

Groceries and Our Garbage

Living a zero/less waste life often helps us be more frugal, but sometimes it costs a bit more. Honestly, I don’t always make the less waste choice, but I definitely should. Reading the awesome guest post by Budget Epicurean, I’d love to make some improvements to my grocery shopping habits.

Homemade Acorn Squash Bread

I do most of my grocery shopping at Aldi, which uses lots of packaging on all of their produce, dried fruits, and nuts. While I love shopping at Aldi for the price and convenience, I’ve been contemplating sourcing our almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc. from stores with a bulk food section. It’s one of the areas where I’m consistently producing lots of waste (since we eat those foods a lot), and saving the extra few (?) dollars probably isn’t worth it for the environmental cost. We do reuse the baggies to make trail mix that Ryan eats at work, but it doesn’t actually save us a ziplock bag since we don’t buy those. We already buy our rice and beans in bulk 15 lb or larger bags.

So, I’m instituting a personal challenge for the next time I head to the grocery store. I need to visit two stores and price compare the bulk sections for nuts, dried fruits, etc. and then probably just buy from the bins, since we can afford it.

There are many other ways that we reduce waste with our food choices, and maybe some of them may be easier for you to incorporate:

  • Buy seasonings in bulk from the local Indian grocery store.
  • Never grab take out. We always have some leftovers frozen in case we don’t feel like cooking.
  • Grow lots of food in our frugal garden.
  • Cook most of the food we eat from scratch ingredients.
  • Don’t eat meat or dairy products at home, which always have packaging.
  • Make free vegetable stock using scraps.
  • Make our own cold brew coffee on nitro at home to avoid the coffee shops.

Composting Two Ways

One of my favorite ways to reduce our landfill waste is by using our two composting systems. Ryan was super fascinated by vermiculture (worm composting) back when we lived in our rental. So, he built a system using recycled tidy cats bins (we also use those bins to hold our dog food and Christmas decorations – they are sturdy and abundant). Some of our friends refer to our worms as our third pet, since they’ve also moved with us and we feed/water them (though with just scraps).

Compost made by our happy worms

Unfortunately even with six bins of worms they can’t keep up with our food and yard waste, so we also use an outdoor compost pile. And I have to confess, the main reason we are so successful in our composting is because we don’t follow all the rules.

When I started learning about composting I got pretty overwhelmed, and lots of the rules and some of them didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Like you can’t use compost from garden/food waste in the garden, it’s meant for flower beds and such. Well, I’m making compost to help my food garden thrive, so it totally gets used there. Sometimes the need for perfection just makes me not start a project, but when it comes to the environment taking imperfect steps to reduce waste is better than not taking the step.

Our outdoor compost is roughly 3’x8′ and just beyond the fence in the woods so our dogs can’t get into it. We bury our compost waste starting at on one side and working our way to the end, then we start back at the beginning. We complete this cycle probably six times each year, and take from the finished compost each spring.

Outdoor Compst Pile (the leaves just fall right into it!)

Taking that First Step And Then All The Rest

I don’t struggle the most with taking that first step. I have a tendency to take on New Years’ resolutions and commit to things and then watch them go to the wayside when I lose interest. But the nice thing about my zero waste journey is that life kind of simplified as I worked to produce less garbage.

My zero waste path started by trying to live more frugally. I stopped shopping unnecessarily, since that would impact my savings rate and make more waste. In turn, that freed up more time for hobbies and relationships. The cycle has become easier to keep up since I get so much more fulfillment from those areas of my life.

Christmas decorations in Tidy Cats containers

Over time I’ve had to replace things, and I’ve looked for secondhand items that will hold up for many years. My less waste life is a lifestyle change that will continue to slowly progress and improve. While there will be hiccups along the way (I’m looking at you home renovation garbage), that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth working towards. And I certainly don’t complain that I now only have to take the garbage out once a month.

-Ashley, Kiwi And Keweenaw

How do you make less waste? What’s your composting method? How do you embrace sustainability throughout your life?

29 thoughts on “Embracing The Simplicity Of Zero Waste: Guest Post From Kiwi And Keweenaw

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’ve never heard of the tag system. I think we only have one garbage company in our area. Unfortunately, we generate a lot of trash. Everything is packaged these days. I need to research how to reduce these packing waste.
    We are in a condo now and will try to compost more when we move into our duplex. There is a backyard, but the area has a big ummm.. rodent problem. I don’t think we can compost outdoor so we’ll need to figure something out. Maybe the cat litter bins would work. We can stick them in the basement.

    1. Yeah, the tag system sounds awesome! We don’t have that option here either. Perhaps it’s worth passing on the feedback to our company in hopes that they might consider it.

  2. Another terrific post on a topic that is the most important aspect of my daily life. Although lol, the comment about not buying bulk for everything with your own mason jars has me hoping you make that your next personal challenge Mrs.Kiwi.

    One thing that has been bothering me lately though is that most of us frugal simple living types are awesome at recycling but we still produce too much. There are many articles out now pointing to the fact that a majority of recycling now is happening at an unsustainable rate, society just generates way to much crap. So even though it is going into the recycling system, it isn’t being dealt with and/or is building a back log within the system as the sheer volume has driven down the margins for recyclers.

    The best analogy is that the sink is what collects our recycling but the tap is running so fast (plastic/paper/packaging) into the sink that it can’t handle the flow and is just running over the edges. We need to stop the flow because no matter how hard we work at collecting it, the problem is the source.

    1. That is something that seriously bugs me as well! We shouldn’t be proud of the amount of recycling created; yes, it’s better than trash, but the best is to refuse to create any cast offs in the first place. Why I love the 7 R’s of Zero Waste so much – it starts with “Refuse.”

      1. By pressuring governments to keep on top of recyling then we will ensure that policies and options exist to make it viable. As well the onus should be on corporations that produce the products and waste to fund the ssytem to deal with them post consumer as well. The shift from corporations to consumers is wrong when everyone is responsible.

        #1 – reduce consumption
        #2 – recycle as much as possible
        #3 – hold corps and govts accountable through practices & policy

  3. Great blog post – you have the time to focus on important items people usually don’t have time and energy to think about. As I hopefully exit the rat race sooner rather than later – I hope to have posts and ideas like this to share. I learned something new with the bag tag thing.

  4. I don’t have a choice in my garbage removal, it’s part of our property taxes and just included. That said, I get ripped off, they come every week but my cans usually go 3 weeks or more before being full. I think I do a good job of minimizing, but like everyone have room to improve.

    And I really need to start composting, it’s been on my to-do list. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. I feel like you are probably one of the few being ripped off there, unfortunately. I’m all for unbundling costs so people can know what the real number is.

      1. We almost bought our house in the city that includes garbage removalin the property taxes (and meant more things), but in the end we chose not to live there since or property taxes would have been double. Unbundling some costs is good, that’s what made us seriously reduce our trash.

      2. To be honest, I have a hard time thinking of a situation where unbundling costs would be a bad thing.

  5. Great post! I think Ashley and I have a few things in common. I was in a bird appreciation club as a child, and I’m on a mini retirement too 🙂 I used to be very militant about minimising waste when I lived in the UK, but having lived in Asia for the past eight years, I feel quite worn down by trying to making even a small dent in the amount of waste produced on a daily basis. I managed to do my best while living in Thailand (carrying around my own bottle, bag, and tupperware), but now that I’m backpacking I feel quite terrible about all the waste I’m helping to produce, on top of all those carbon emissions…

    1. You definitely do seem to have more than a few things in common! I’ve never considered how difficult pursuing zero waste would be while backpacking. A lot of things that help that require STUFF, and you can’t quite carry that with you.

  6. I LOVE everything about this post! I’ve been a long time reader of TLRE but Kiwi and Keweenaw is all new to me so I’m doing some binge reading there tonight. I get so excited seeing the zero waste and FIRE community collide.

    My county has the bag system, where $9 gets you 11 stickers to put on your own trash bags (must be 30 gallons or smaller). Once a week, a dump truck visits my area for three hours, and I drive my trash to the location for drop off. Ironically, I’ve actually been thinking about switching to the rolling can just because it’s $45 for 3 months worth of pickup so plastic bags aren’t being wasted, and less fuel is being used to haul the trash off.

    Also, I’m glad you mentioned your recycling bins. I’ve been looking to buy new bins, but you’re totally right, that defeats the purpose of zero waste! Second hand it is! Thank you for this guest post!!

    1. Glad I could introduce you to her! She is pretty fabulous 🙂 Well done considering all angles of trash pick up – I feel like transportation costs get left out of the equation much of the time.

  7. We do our best and still end up practically filling that ginormous recycling bin out back every week. On the plus, we compost. And when we don’t compost, we use the city’s fancy new organics recycling! Small but nice win for Minneapolis.

    The recycling thing doesn’t bother me too much, but I’ve come to learn that plastics have a finite recyclability factor after so many reuses. After you turn those milk jugs into park benches, that’s it. Finito.

    1. Yep, recycling is definitely not the end-all solution. The best is certainly just not to create it in the first place. And my area also does compost pickup with our yard waste, which is why I haven’t done my own. So easy and convenient. I love it.

  8. This was an inspiring post, thanks Ashley!

    We’re in a townhouse now and have one small patio and two small balconies, but it’s killing me throwing so many food scraps away! I gotta figure this composting thing out…

    1. Isn’t she the best??

      Compost is certainly trickier without lots of outdoor space, but I do know people figure it out somehow. Good luck!

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