Could You Live Without Garbage?

What does a life without garbage look like? If you’re the Johnson family it’s something of a modernist (and minimalist) utopia. Featured on the Today Show (above), as well as in Sunset Magazine, the Johnsons are getting a lot of attention these days for their waste-free ways. And rightly so—this family is pretty rad, and remind us of Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man book, blog and movement!

They don’t buy anything with packaging. They drink wine out of a canter, they take their pillowcase to the bakers to load up on bread, they even keep their bacon in a mason jar. Béa, the mom, who also documents their zero-waste lifestyle on her blog, told Sunset Magazine:

“When we started getting rid of things, it was kind of addictive. In a recession, people are inclined to keep things, but I feel the opposite. The less I have, the richer I feel. Stuff weighs you down.”

I have to admit that I find this pretty inspiring. Siobhan and I were even throwing it around as a challenge idea. So could you do it? Could you live without garbage?

18 Responses to “Could You Live Without Garbage?”
  1. Rebecca says:

    We don’t generate much trash at my house (meaning non-recyclable items). That just sort of happens as part of being environmentally and health conscious. I can’t imagine it would work for me to go as far as the Johnson family though. It’s hard enough riding my husband and son to keep our food and personal products in the clean and healthy range. To eliminate any packaging at all would probably be taking it too far for us. I’m always trying to improve how I and my family do in terms of environmental impact, but I admit “no trash” sounds like something I can’t do right now. I’m very interested to hear how many people think it would be realistic for them.

  2. comagirl says:

    Could I live without garbage? I would certainly love to try. I love those mesh bags for produce. They beat TJ’s compostable bags hands down.

  3. Louise Maine says:

    I find it inspiring as I try to make it a game of using less waste each week. Though I am far from them, I like how they are innovative in what they do. Unfortunately, we do not have bulk foods anywhere near me. I would love to live without garbage! I can tell you it is pretty polarizing when the status quo just thinks it is pretty weird. If your values include being gentler on the Earth then you eventually practice what you preach.

  4. bedesigner says:

    I was actually inspired by No Impact Man last year after watching his documentary and started my reducing waste plan. I don’t think reducing waste is time consuming, but sometimes it’s hard when I got off work in the city and feel like buying something at Wholefoods for dinner when walking pass it. It is very important that you’re prepared for it. You have to be very organized and plan every single meal before you go shopping. Finding places where you can get bulk items and allow you to bring your own containers as well (Some Wholefoods doesn’t allow it because of the law).
    So it does take more time in the beginning when doing all these researches, but once you’re used to the process, it will be easier than throwing away the trash!

  5. candace says:

    I love this idea!! I really really want to give it a try. Here is my question: Where does she get wine that she can put in her own decanter? That;s really what I want to know. Anyone?

  6. Dashaina says:

    I LOVE this idea! J and I actually started talking about this yesterday and are trying to set up implementing it at our house. I think we could totally do it and already do for most of our produce and bulk bin items. What a fabulous lifestyle to teach your children.

  7. Zoe says:

    Wow! I feel super inspired too!

    About a year ago I had my waste down to taking the trash out every couple of months (living alone) and recycling maybe once every couple of weeks… unfortunately with my crazier class schedule this year and living with someone else more and more waste has been working its way back into my life. Looks like it’s time to recommit!

  8. Samala says:

    I’m more curious to know what sorts of personal products her family and she can possibly use that do not come in packaging that includes some throwaway components. (??) Is it all castille soap in recyclable containers and home made cosmetics?

    Also.. what do they do when they’re sick? Are they making cough syrups and head-cold therapies out of herbal remedies? (And perhaps a it too personally: How do they practice family planning without the help of comes-in-packaging the Pill or barrier methods?)

    Inquiring minds need more information!

  9. Louisa says:

    I have been trying to figure out how to do this for a month or so now – you couldn’t have posted this at a better time. I am glad someone is out there leading the charge, and has so many tips for me, who’s just getting started. I am fortunate to live near a whole foods and a co-op with a huge bulk isle. It does not seem daunting to me to live this way at all. I ask myself, do I really need these things that come in packaging – potato chips, plastic bottles of juice? Home made chips are easy, and I’ve been thinking about investing in a juicer to solve the no-juice problem. My grandmother cans her own tomatoes every summer, and delicious jams. I think, once you start looking for ways, living without packaging & trash is fairly easy. Even if you have a very busy schedule, I think most trash can be cut out anyway. Bea is doing it, and says she works 3-4 part time jobs! I noticed another person asked about cold remedies and such… I can’t speak for the Johnsons, but I myself make due without many of the common cold remedies. I just drink a lot of hot things, or garlic broth, to clear my sinuses, and wait it out. I can stand a cold for the short time it lasts. I agree with Bea Johnson, being thoughtful about trash production is part of being a good citizen. The earth isn’t here for humans to trash. It ought to be appreciated and protected.

  10. Sarah says:

    I find this so very inspiring! It’s definitely something I’m working towards, and this has given me the motivation I needed. It’s always great to see more and more people living so sustainably and more simply.

  11. Rebecca says:

    I’ve been contemplating this no trash thing, and I’m wondering if where you live makes a difference in what the best choice is for using paper towels and facial tissues vs. cloths/towels/etc. How does the environmental impact of reusable stuff (like water and energy used in washing) compare to the generation of a garbage bag of kleenex? If I use unbleached, largely post-consumer paper towels, does that somehow balance because I’m doing fewer loads of laundry? Anyone have any info on this issue?

  12. Alexandra says:

    @Samala I’m totally with you! Check out the Sunset Magazine article I linked too though, a lot of those questions are answered I think. (Not the birth control one though:)

  13. Caralien says:

    With the baby, we now have more recycling, but not the much more garbage (her diapers can be composted and we make her food–like ours–from scratch).

    Could I live without garbage? Probably. Without recycling and composting? No.

  14. Rebecca says:

    thank you for posting this! i can’t wait to check out the blog and incorporate what they are doing into my life as well!

  15. Deanna says:

    I personally think with a lot of this stuff, you have to live in certain areas of the country to be able to do this kind of thing. They live in beautiful, sunny California in an obviously expensive house. I don’t know if the same thing could happen in the Midwest where it’s winter and freezing for half the year, or in an urban area where you didn’t have grocery stores with fresh fruits and veggies.

  16. Lindz says:

    Wow! This is incredibly inspiring. My house looks like an episode of hoarders compared to the Johnsons. I can’t wait to read her blog.

  17. LG says:

    I think this is brilliant and truly inspirational!
    I wonder though, why drive a car? What’s wrong with bikes or public transportation? Zero waste is great but car pollution is still a huge problem in terms of environmental impact.
    Still, I wish there were stores next to where I live where I could buy everything by the pound or that I too was wealthy enough to have a garden for composting everything else. Then I’d definitely give this a try.

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