Learn how Katelin Leblond and Tara Smith-Arnsdorf turned their noble environmental aspirations into reality, with kids, husbands, and pets in tow.
On Earth Day last year (April 22) two women from Victoria, British Columbia, said goodbye to their trash cans forever. They removed the cans from their homes, replaced them with 1-liter glass jars (later increased to 2 liters, about a half-gallon), and officially embarked on their mission to produce as little waste as possible.
Tara Smith-Arnsdorf and Katelin Leblond are not crazy green hippies who live off-grid, alone or removed from healthy society. They are two young women with children, husbands, dogs, and homes. Their lives appear utterly ordinary, which makes their Zero Waste lifestyle even more impressive.Over the past 12 months, both Tara and Katelin have successfully limited the amount of trash produced by their households to a single jar. It’s looking pretty full now, as you can see in the picture below.
As the first anniversary of the official start to their Zero Waste journey approaches, I spoke with them to find out how the experience has been so far. They explained their criteria: “If at the end of an object’s life, it has to be thrown away and cannot be reused or composted, then it is considered waste.” An item that comes in cardboard, for example, can be composted, which means it is acceptable.
I was intrigued to learn about their Top 10 lists, which contain items they cannot live without. The idea is not to make Zero Waste insufferably tricky and unpleasant for the family, but rather to be an ongoing goal. They strive to replace or remove some of those Top 10 items over time with reusable alternatives. Items on the list include hair elastics, batteries, French’s mustard, makeup, etc.
Tara and Katelin emphasize the need to use what you’ve already got and to live as simply as possible. This philosophy is reflected in the name of their website, PAREdown, where they posted the following description:
“It’s simple: make do with the items you have in your home; replace only when the item is broken or does not meet the need it was designed for; with a little creativity another household item may easily perform double duty. There are many tempting shiny and pretty sustainable products out there to buy. But if buying them means tossing something you already have because it isn’t pretty, that isn’t zero waste!”
I asked what the most significant challenges have been. “Other people” was their general answer, which includes husbands, kids, relatives, teachers, and friends. Both Tara and Katelin have learned over the course of the past year that it’s impossible to monitor and control the behavior of people who do not feel as strongly about living Zero Waste as they do, who forget about the ‘waste rules’ in their homes, who fail to understand them or even respect them. While Katelin said she does send guests home with their leftover plastic, she will try to relax more in the next year while still making her waste-free desires known ahead of time (i.e., calling parents to explain that their child does not need a post-birthday loot bag).
Reactions to their Zero Waste lifestyles have been mixed. People express vocal support, but there are relatively few others actively doing it. They have experienced an uncomfortable sense of “Zero Waste shaming” at times, when people exert pressure on them to accept gifts for the children, even after refusing them.
Referring to the recent struggles with chocolate handouts during Easter, Tara said:
“The holidays are an opportunity to create traditions that are different for our kids now that the Zero Waste lifestyle has been established. It might look different [from what we grew up with], but it’s still pretty good. Our kids are not deprived.”
The kids have become little anti-plastic ambassadors themselves. “The kids understand all about plastic,” Katelin said with a laugh. “My four-year-old is better than my husband [at saying no]!”
It made me think of something she wrote in a blog post, drawing attention to the importance of discussing these crucial global issues with children at every level:
“As parents we want our children to be taught about recycling, composting, endangered species, conservation of energy and water. But the next step is teaching them about personal consumption and how our everyday habits contribute to the overall problem. The greatest lessons we can instill in our children are to live simply, consume less, and to give more than you take.”
Tara and Katelin have a list of long-term goals in addition to their daily ones. They hope to get a large supermarket on board with Zero Waste shopping. They want to launch petitions, do presentations at schools, initiate a “ban the bottle” campaign in Victoria. Their journey has just begun and I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from these two women who are so determined to make a difference in the world.