Zero Waste Living

Zero Waste Challenge Updates!



Week 1





A couple weeks ago, the following conversation took place.


Me: “So…..on a whim I applied to a zero waste challenge because I thought it sounded super awesome and something that would be a great learning experience for us as a family. I never actually thought we’d get accepted but well, I just found out that we did.”


Husband: “………………………………..what now?”


Me: “Yeah, I applied. It’s through the county. It sounds really educational and like a great experience for the family.”


Husband: “You just signed us up assuming we’d all be on board.”


Me: “Well, like I said, I didn’t actually think we would get accepted. Plus, it was such a long time ago that I kind of forgot I even signed up.”


Husband: “Ok, let’s look into it.”


Me: “One thing I should tell you is that it is like 8-9 months long….”


Before I dive into the details of what this conversation entails, please note that I realize this sounds like I didn’t really want to sign up or we don’t actually want to participate. This could not be further from the truth. It was just one of those things I saw someone share on Facebook, read about it, thought it sounded awesome, applied, then went on with my day. Until I got the acceptance email a few months later.


So what is this all about?


If you missed my Facebook video, our family was one of about 50 households to be selected in our local county’s second zero waste challenge. This challenge aims to help households reduce waste and develop sustainable zero-waste habits. The challenge also will help the county explore challenges families/households face when attempting to reduce waste to help them fulfill a goal to reduce all waste produced by 75% in 2030.

Here are some specifics about the challenge:

  • The challenge is 8 months long.
  • The first 4 weeks will be spent weighing our waste.
  • The last 4 weeks will be spent weighing our waste to compare with the first 4 weeks.
  • We have been assigned a staff liaison to help coach us throughout the challenge
  • We will be required to attend waste-reduction workshops throughout the challenge to help us learn different strategies and receive hands-on training on waste reduction.
  • We will have assistance in creating a customized waste reduction action plan
  • We have already received a scale to weigh our trash, and will also be receiving a compostable bin, compostable bags, and help guides.
  • The challenge ends on April 30, 2018.


We will start the first of the 4-week waste weighing tomorrow (September 11, 2017). Our first meeting is the second week of October.


How we are feeling:


We are excited and nervous. I have no doubt that these next four weeks are going to be very eye opening and probably a little bit discouraging. I like to think we have always been somewhat mindful of our waste and how much we recycle. However, as life gets busy and hectic as it does, we have definitely moved towards more convenience which has led to more waste.


I think we are also nervous because I think we, as a family, have come to equate some of the more environmentally friendly options as options that cost more money. I am sure that this is not always the case, so I look forward to learning more about how we can reduce waste in a budget-friendly manner.


Finally, two things I think we specifically are looking forward to learning more about is how we can reduce waste in the areas of pet waste (cats and dogs) and also composting. I have always wanted to learn about composting, but have felt overwhelmed by all the information and not sure where to start. I also have been hesitant because we live within close proximity of our neighbors, and I want to be mindful of any odors from the compost pile.


Overall, we are excited and very grateful we get to be part of this challenge. We expect to learn a lot to improve our environmental footprint, and also pass along that knowledge to our son, E.


I will be posting about our entire journey for the next 8 months. I hope you follow along with us. Be sure to subscribe here to follow along (plus, you’ll immediately receive a free, printable 7-day mindfulness challenge and worksheet!)!




Week 2




We have officially made it through our first week and are moving forward with our second. As you can see from the picture above, this first week was all about remembering to weigh trash, recycling, and other items!



Our advisor checked in with us mid-to-late last week and gave us the reminder that we’re probably already taking note of behaviors and habits, but that it is important to keep going as we normally would until the first four weeks is up. That way, we can get the most accurate weights possible.


So far, the trash and recycling we accumulate inside have been fairly easy to remember to weigh. It has been items we are selling/donating, or trash in our car, for example, dog poop from the backyard, and a couple other items that have been more challenging to remember to stop and weigh.


When we started this challenge, I wasn’t really aware of any of the statistics regarding how much trash the average person (in the US) produces in a day/week/etc. I did a little bit of research and the majority of what I found said that Americans produce about 4.4 lbs of trash a day on average.





If this is your first time here (welcome!) or if you need a refresher as to what it is all about, here are the details:


Our family was one of about 50 households to be selected in our local county’s second zero waste challenge. This challenge aims to help households reduce waste and develop sustainable zero-waste habits. The challenge also will help the county explore challenges families/households face when attempting to reduce waste to help them fulfill a goal to reduce all waste produced by 75% in 2030.

Here are some specifics about the challenge:

  • The challenge is 8 months long.
  • The first 4 weeks will be spent weighing our waste.
  • The last 4 weeks will be spent weighing our waste to compare with the first 4 weeks.
  • We have been assigned a staff liaison to help coach us throughout the challenge
  • We will be required to attend waste-reduction workshops throughout the challenge to help us learn different strategies and receive hands-on training on waste reduction.
  • We will have assistance in creating a customized waste reduction action plan
  • We have already received a scale to weigh our trash, and will also be receiving a compostable bin, compostable bags, and help guides.
  • The challenge ends on April 30, 2018.


We started the first of the 4-week waste weighing on September 13, 2017. Our first meeting is the second week of October.


Overall, we are excited and very grateful we get to be part of this challenge. We expect to learn a lot to improve our environmental footprint, and also pass along that knowledge to our son, E.


I will be posting about our entire journey for the next 8 months. I hope you follow along with us.


Week 3



We are on week 3 already! In this post, I share our waste results from the past week, AND, I walk through the super simple 3-step method we use in case you want to start your own challenge or follow along with us as we do ours.


Today we start our third week on the challenge, and here are our results:



We expected our trash count to be a little less this week for a couple of reasons:

  1. We ended up being out a lot so we weren’t home to produce as much trash/recycling
  2. We ended up eating a LOT of take-out. So even though we weren’t making dinner as much, we produced a lot of trash in the sense that take-out produces SO. MUCH. WASTE.  
  3. During week 1 we did a major clean of our fridge and freezer, therefore producing a lot more waste and recycling than normal.



This past weekend, I hopped onto Facebook Live and gave a quick 2.5-minute demo on the method we use to weigh our trash. I thought there may be others out there who fall into one of three camps:

  • those who would like to start their own zero waste challenge on their own time
  • those who want to simply become more aware of how much trash they produce
  • those who would like to do the challenge with us 



Here are 3 simple steps to start your own zero waste challenge:


  1. Get a scale: to start weighing your trash/recycling and other waste, you need some sort of scale (obviously!). Our local county sent us the one pictured above, but you can find them on Amazon fairly cheap. It is helpful to have the ‘hook’since most trash/recycling bags have handles on them. The one linked below was the closest one I could find to the one we are using:

Digital scale – up to 110lbs



  1. Get Weighing – before you throw your waste out, remember to weigh it. Sounds pretty obvious, but it was more difficult to remember then I thought it would be. We had to put a sign up to remind ourselves the first week. If your scale has multiple measuring units to choose from, select the one that makes the most sense to you. We set ours to pounds, put the waste/recycling bag handles on the scale hook (remember how I said to get one with a hook), and hold the scale from the top handle until the screen reads ‘hold’. That is your weight!



  1. Record – find a way to easily record your data. We use a google doc spreadsheet because we can easily access it from anywhere. Do whatever makes the most sense to you whether that is post-its, a journal, or a notebook. 


Beginner’s tip: Before we started weighing, we completed a trash audit (it took about 5-10 minutes) so we could get a better idea of what type of trash we were throwing away the most. The audit really helped us determine how to move forward reducing our trash.

Check out my post here which includes a free, printable trash audit worksheet, and also has 12 resources you can implement in 5 minutes or less to reduce your trash.


***Note – on our scale we have to hit ‘reset’ after each weight. Make sure to follow the instructions on your scale to ensure you are getting accurate readings.


That is it!


As part of the challenge we are in, we are weighing everything for four weeks straight so we can get a good sense of our trash patterns (we are currently starting our third week). In a couple of weeks, we will meet with the challenge coordinators and talk about what our next steps will be to start reducing our numbers. 


If you are thinking of doing your own challenge, feel free to do it along with us and let me know if you start! If I get enough interest I can start a Facebook group to chat about our journey and support each other along the way.

Otherwise, start weighing your waste for a set amount of weeks to get an idea of your waste patterns. After the set amount of time, research a couple of ways you can start reducing your waste. There are tons of articles on Pinterest talking about going ‘zero-waste’ as a starting point. 

Implement and continue reducing, weighing and tracking (we will be doing this part of the challenge for six months). After that set amount of time is up, weigh your waste for the same amount of time you did at the beginning, and then compare how much you’ve reduced your waste!


Week 4


We are starting week 4! The time since we started our challenge has really gone by quickly, and the process of weighing our waste has now become part of our routine.


Here are our results from the past week:


Reflection: We are still in the first four weeks where we are simply weighing and tracking our waste. During the first four weeks, we are supposed to be keeping our waste habits the same. As you can see from the graph above, we have decreased our trash each week! The decrease in trash and recycling between the first week and the second week was explained by the fact that we did a major clean-out of our fridge and freezer (why we decided to do that during our first week of the challenge, I have no idea. Seemed like a good idea at the time). The second week we had more waste because we had a week where we ended up getting a lot of takeout, and takeout produces so much trash! So I would like to think that this week was more along the lines of our ‘normal’, but it just looks like we are already reducing our waste habits, which I don’t think that we are.

We finally meet with our advisor affiliated with the challenge next week, and we are very excited to see what is in store for our next steps! We will finally be able to start actively moving towards reducing our waste.


Week 5

We had our first official zero waste meeting this week and we left the meeting feeling slightly overwhelmed, but inspired to start reducing our waste! My hope with this post is to pass along some inspiration to you. Because of this, I have stuffed this post FULL of resources you can implement today to start reducing your waste along with us!


Before I get too far into the post, here are our waste results from last week:


The Meeting!


Here are some interesting things we learned about waste (note that these statistics were provided for us during a presentation by employees of Hennepin County, MN. I researched the statistics and when I was able to find sources I linked back to them):

  • 50-75% of the ‘stuff’ we purchase ends up as trash within 1 year
  • 80% of waste for a product happens before the final product is produced
  • 40% of food produced is wasted and most people don’t think they contribute to food waste



Here is a rundown of some of the other things we did and discussed:

The 5 R’s: One of the first things we talked about was the 5 R’s. I had heard of them before but had never looked at them in detail. The 5 R’s are (in this order):

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Repurpose
  • Recycle


For this particular challenge, they really want us to focus on the first two, refuse and reduce. A good incentive or reason why is the statistic I listed above (80% of waste for a product happens before the product is even final)! It really resonated with us and is something we want to focus on as we move forward towards implementing our action steps.


Waste Audit: To prepare for the meeting we had to fill out a waste audit. This consisted of going through each waste bin in our house (not physically digging through), and get an idea of what was in it and what item(s) was taking up the most space. We found that food waste, tissues, and toilet paper tubes were the biggest thing taking up space in our trash. All of which we found out is compostable! It was a really eye-opening activity and really helped us create our next steps (read on for more info).


Sorting Activity: Once we were at the meeting we did an activity with our staff advisor where we sorted waste/organics and recycling. It was harder than we thought. We found out that at home we were recycling things that shouldn’t be recycled (ex. toothpaste tubes, boxes that have been in the freezer), and we found out that this can cause recycling to end up in the trash because sorting facilities don’t have the resources to sort through all the items. If they see a bag with an item that can’t be recycled in it, they may just take the whole bag and throw it out. Ouch! We now know that we have to be extremely mindful of what we put in our recycling.



Next Steps: After the sorting activity, we went through our waste audit and from there worked with our advisor to determine 3-5 ‘next/action steps’ that we want to work on the next six months to reduce waste.


The steps are:

  • Composting! We will be provided with a compost bin and we can’t wait to start composting. I will be posting in the future about composting because it is BRAND NEW to us.


  • Reducing food waste. Composting will help this, but we also would like to take measures to reduce what goes into the compost bin (remember the reducing mindset?). Some other things we plan to do to help reduce waste is create an ‘eat me now’ section in our fridge so we know what needs to be used up first (see more info below). Meal planning is another way to help reduce food waste, which we already do!


  • Reducing/refusing packaging. We have gotten into a convenience mindset with food since having Little E. One of the main things I saw in our kitchen trash was packaging from convenience-type snacks. Reducing/refusing this type of waste is something that we can implement pretty easily, I think. It will just require a little more planning ahead. We also will start to be more mindful of packaging we bring home from the grocery store. This will take a little more time and effort, but we look forward to doing what we can.


  • Add organics bins in our bathrooms. We found out that facial tissue can be composted! This was new to us, but when we did the audit in our bathrooms, tissue was predominantly what was taking up space. This should be a quick and easy change to help eliminate some of our bathroom trash.



In addition to working on the 4 steps above, we also have to attend one workshop for the challenge. Some of the topics include reducing packaging waste at the grocery store, backyard composting, DIY cleaners, and more. We are having a hard time deciding which one to attend so we may be doing more than one!


Finally, we will be having an internal waste audit/home walkthrough done by our staff advisor through the challenge. This will happen in January or February of next year. They will walk through our house, see how we are doing with our goals, and then help provide additional ways they notice that we can reduce waste. We were intimidated by this at first, but I think this will be really helpful!


One of the most important things they told us was:


Set yourself up for success.


Yes, that is large and bold. ‘Set yourself up for success’. What does that mean? It means to start slowly. Start with things you can easily implement. If you try to take on too much or try to do really challenging things at first, you may get overwhelmed and frustrated and just throw in the towel. And I know that is not what you want, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. We all have to start somewhere. We all HAVE started ‘somewhere’.



Week 6


Another week, another zero waste challenge update!


Here are our results from the past week:


Do you notice a HUGE jump this past week? Yeah, it was a little shocking. The reason for the jump in trash/recycling was because we celebrated Little E’s birthday over the weekend. We had friends and family over for meals, and we also had gifts for Little E.



For tips on how to reduce gift wrap waste, check out my post with 6 tips to do just that!


Week 7



I want to share some exciting news. We started saving our organic waste this week because we got our compost bin last FRIDAY! Cue happy composting dance!


We haven’t officially started adding to it because it requires assembly, and well, we, unfortunately, haven’t gotten around to it yet. And now as I type this, it is literally sleeting and snowing outside (don’t act so shocked, I am from Minnesota after all).


zero waste, zero waste challenge, zero waste life, how to reduce waste, how to live zero waste


It is so nice to see some numbers in the food waste column finally!


So what are some challenges we have come up against with starting to save food waste?

  • Knowing what type of food waste can go into the compost. Dairy and meat = no. Eggshells = grey area (but we are adding them). For more information on this, here is a GREAT list of 100 items you can compost.


  • Remembering to save food scraps! This one wasn’t quite as much of a learning curve for us as remember to weigh everything was because I have been saving my veggie scraps for years to make my own vegetable stock. But, it is still a habit to throw some of the food waste away in the garbage, so just working towards breaking that.


  • Getting our compost bin built! Ours is similar to the wooden ones in the picture below to help aid in air circulation, but that requires a little assembly.


  • Figuring out what to store our food waste in before we take it out. Since we aren’t actually taking our food waste out yet, we needed to figure out what we could store the food in so it wouldn’t smell up our house. We (pleasantly) discovered using an oatmeal container works great! As of right now, we are keeping our food waste in the fridge until we can get our compost built.


  • Trying to determine how much ‘brown’ we need to balance out our ‘green’ waste. Brown and green what? To have an effective compost pile, you need a good balance of green and brown waste. Examples of green waste are grass clippings and food scraps, brown examples include leaves, cardboard, coffee grounds, etc. To check out a great infographic on composting and the difference between green and brown waste, click here. We are starting to get a good pile of ‘green’ waste, but need to make sure we have enough ‘brown’ to balance it out.


  • Sorting organic waste from ‘other’ waste in our bathrooms. Based on our trash audit we did in our bathrooms, facial tissue and toilet paper rolls were the most commonly found waste items. These items are compostable! This week we have tried (and I’ll admit, not done a very good job) about keeping these items separate from the other bathroom waste (floss, toothpaste tubes). I know, just like the first couple weeks of the challenge, it will be a habit we will develop over time.



I am looking forward to seeing how our numbers continue to go down as we work towards more composting!

Do you compost? And if so, what compost tips would you share with someone just starting out?


zero waste life, zero waste tips, zero waste home,

Week 8

Small changes, big results.


That has been our mantra so far on our zero waste journey. As I talked about in the week 5 update the most hard-pressed advice we were given for the zero waste challenge was to set yourself up for success. Great advice, right? Right. Except when you walk into the grocery store expecting to just magically find alternative ‘zero waste friendly’ options for anything and everything you normally buy, and then get discouraged and overwhelmed when you can’t find ANY ‘zero waste friendly’ alternatives. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…


After the ‘hypothetical’ grocery store experience, I really took the ‘success’ advice to heart. I realized that we were going to have to start with very small changes in order to eventually see big results. And you know what? That is OK because we want to be successful at this and it is just not plausible with our lifestyle right now to make huge changes quickly (due to having a 2-year old, time constraints, resource constraints, etc. etc).


Here are our results from the past week:

I am excited to see our recycling and food waste/organic recycle numbers increase (or stay the same in terms of recycling). The trash number has increased a little bit as we continue to use up our ‘pre-zero waste’ products (see more below on this) and also because Little E has stopped showing interest in potty training and therefore we are going through more diapers again.


Using up our ‘pre-zero waste products’

As we are still in the process of using up some of our ‘pre-zero waste’ items, we have found it is an easier way to review our products and purchases. By looking at one or two items at a time, we can really stop and be mindful about how we move forward to replace them. What we have found during the past few weeks of the challenge is that not only do many of these changes contribute to less waste, they are also budget friendly as well!



Below are some specific ‘small change, big result’ changes we have implemented into our routine.


One important note: where I was able, I added in the cost savings towards these changes as well (these are approximate cost savings). This is in no way an exact science; I just wanted to give a general idea of the monetary results we have noticed as well as reduced waste numbers. I also added in the approximate expense of each item to show that it really doesn’t cost that much more (if at all) to make these changes!

Week 9

Another week, another update!

In past updates, I have listed out all the past posts from the challenge. But as we are approaching week 10 here, that list is getting long. Instead, if you are new or want a refresher, I would encourage you to visit this page where you can find all the updates.


Here are our results from the past week:


zero waste life, zero waste challenge, zero waste, reduce waste


This week was the first week I felt like we were really in a good rhythm with our waste, recycling, and collection organic recycling. We STILL don’t have our compost pile set up (ran into some difficulties setting it up), but we are collecting food waste for whenever it gets built.

A couple notes from last week:

  • Our organic recycling was down because we reduced our food waste in general by utilizing the ‘eat me now’ section of the fridge. We also put produce there that needs to be eaten and used all of it! Additionally, last week we composted our pumpkin guts from carving pumpkins, and that contributed to a lot of the waste.
  • Our trash was down again, which is very exciting. In our kitchen, we didn’t even go through a full bag for the WEEK, and our large trash bin that gets collected each week was only half full. Hoping this trend will continue and we can get a smaller bin (and save a little money!).
  • Honestly, I am not 100% sure why the 1.5+ lb increase in recycling is about. We did do some decluttering/organizing and had extra paper to recycle, but I didn’t think it was enough to contribute to that much of an increase.


zero waste



Later this week we will be attending our first workshop which is about reducing waste at the grocery store. I am really excited for this workshop because this proved to be a lot more difficult than I had thought! Read my experience with this here. I will post what I learn within the next week or two!



Week 10

Here are our weigh-in results from last week:



  • For the second week in a row, we only went through one garbage bag in our kitchen. This has never happened since we have been living in our house  (over two years now). We were taking the kitchen trash out at least twice a week.


  • For the second week in a row, we just barely filled half of our large outdoor garbage bin. If we keep up with this trend, we should be able to call our trash company and ask for a small bin which will save us some money each month!


  • We have resorted to only needing a 16-ounce yogurt container for bathroom trash. The rest of the waste is compostable!


  • We (by ‘we’ I mean my husband) built the compost bin!As I talked about in this post, the bin we received didn’t come with instructions, nor all of the parts. Then the weather got cold, life happened, you get it. However, we have been saving our food waste for 2-3 weeks now, so it was great to get that out of the fridge/freezer and into the bin. We also have a ton of leaves in our front yard (three large trees worth) so it was exciting to be able to finally add some to the bin.


zero waste, compost



  • One of our waste reduction ‘goals’ was to reduce the amount of food packaging we bring into the house. Much of our packaging waste comes from convenience snack foods such as applesauce pouches and cheese sticks. However, we have really tried to make a conscious effort to find alternatives. And truth be told, the alternatives also includes a slight change in routine. For example, we often eat a lot of these convenience ‘snacks’ for breakfast. It was easy to give little E an applesauce pouch, some cereal, a cheese stick, etc, while I was getting ready. But now our routine involves me getting his food prepared, and having him sit and eat the foods. It still is a quick and easy breakfast routine, it just looks different. Plus, less food found (in terms of spilling and crumbs) around the house which makes me happy, but our pets not so happy.


At this point in the challenge – I stopped updating weekly on the blog. We were moving forward with reducing our waste, but nothing out of the ordinary or worth sharing was happening. And I didn’t want to update just for the sake of updating. That being said, I still updated our waste chart, so you can still see our progress week by week. 

Week 12


Welcome to week 12 of the zero waste challenge! If you’re new to the challenge (hello and welcome!) or just want a refresher on any of the past posts, you can find them all here.


Here are our numbers for last week:


zero waste challenge, zero waste life, zero waste tips, zero waste



  • Our trash weight was significantly higher than it has been the past few weeks. There were two reasons for that: first, we obtained the turkey carcass from our Thanksgiving celebration, and after making stock and pulling off the remaining turkey meat, threw the carcass away. This attributed to at least 1/2 of the extra weight. The second reason is we went through our fridge and did have some leftover food waste that couldn’t be composted.


  • Although our trash weight was more, we still only used one trash bag in the kitchen for the week. Our goal is to start to reduce this amount within the upcoming weeks.


  • Our large outdoor collection trash bin was less than half full! This has been the case for a few weeks now. We have been thinking about calling our trash company and getting a smaller trash bin, but for some reason are hesitating. I don’t think at this point we would go back to needing more space, but it has been a hard step to take. However, the motivating factor is that we will be able to save more money per month (view our other money-saving zero waste tips here).

Week 13

Check out the numbers from the past few weeks below:

zero waste, zero waste challenge, zero waste life, zero waste tips



  • Dog waste – We enjoyed a few 50-60 degree days where we kept up with picking up the dog waste in our yard. But then Minnesota weather hit and we immediately (seriously, within like 12 hours) dropped down to 10 degrees with snow. Long story short (what – you mean you don’t want to read about my family’s dog waste regime?), the lack of cleaning up after the cold weather hit resulted in a lower trash number.
  • We have really been focusing on food waste that gets composted and trying to reduce those numbers. I am not sure if that is the main reason for the drop in organic waste, but it will be interesting to watch those numbers.



By creating a ‘eat me now’ section

in our fridge, it really

helps us see what needs to be

used/eaten up before it turns to waste.

Week 19


It has been a while since I posted a zero waste update, but I am so excited to say that the updates are back for good! With the holidays and then illnesses, I decided to take some time off with these posts. And we are at a point in our challenge where we were able to take a break from weighing our trash, so I felt like it was appropriate to take a break from posting as well.

If you are at all curious as to how the holidays went with our new zero waste goals, it went well. We luckily kind of had a test run during Little E’s 2nd birthday party in late October, and we made sure to adopt all of the things we learned during that time to our holiday gatherings and gift giving. You can find more updates on gift giving and celebrations below:


Zero Waste Thanksgiving (the post was written during Thanksgiving, however, the tips are applicable for any gathering)

Zero Waste Gift Wrap Ideas

Zero Waste Gift Ideas


If you’re interested in learning more about our zero waste challenge, you can find all the zero waste updates here.


Here are our updated numbers:



A couple more challenge updates:

We will be having our home visit in a couple of weeks! This involves our staff advisor coming to our house and walking through to give us pointers on how we can further reduce waste. I am excited to see what else we will learn.


We officially downgraded our trash bin size with our trash company! For the past few weeks, we haven’t even been filling our curbside trash bin halfway, so we finally took the plunged, called, and reduced our trash can size to the smallest one available. This saves money and shows that what we are doing is working to reduce trash!



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