Green Mama: Waste-Free Home

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

At Peace with Living Green

If you are a diehard environmentalist you may be familiar with the name Bea Johnson. And if you weren’t aware of her before there’s a good chance that name is now ringing a bell with families everywhere.

An Associated Press article that appeared in local newspapers across the country earlier this month documented Johnson’s efforts to create a “zero waste” lifestyle within her home and highlighted her blog ( which documents the past year and a half of her journey. And if the new comments on her blog are any indication of her growing popularity, then it won’t be long before Bea Johnson becomes a household name.

Johnson’s waste-free endeavors put this green mama’s conservation efforts to shame.

Johnson shops in bulk with reusable bags, jars, etc. from home to aid her in her commitment to create a wrapper-free home. According to the article she uses sealable glass jars to house her meat from the butcher and fills reusable bags made from bed sheets with rice, pasta, oatmeal and nuts. She also blogs about her attempts to have a waste-free Christmas and this fashion-conscious mom replenishes her wardrobe each year by shopping at thrift stores.

After reading this article I was inspired to peruse my kitchen to see what extra waste we McIlquhams could eliminate in our home and was both pleased and appalled at what I found.

First I never did understand why grocery stores had plastic bags to house one’s fruits and vegetables. For years I found myself filling a bag with apples only to take them out as soon as I got home to wash them and put them in a bowl on the counter and throw out the bag. Without realizing it our family had eliminated the extra plastic when we switched from buying most of our produce at the grocery store to purchasing it from an organic market in town. The vegetables come in returnable plastic containers or cardboard boxes with no other packaging whatsoever. We recently switched to a cardboard box which we recycle because my husband kept hoarding the plastic containers and forgetting to return them, but I think we may rethink this choice for the future.

Thanks to Johnson I also ran into the grocery store the other day to pick up a red onion and passed on the plastic bag. Why didn’t I figure that one out before is beyond me?

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I looked in the pantry.  When we began this green journey my husband and I began buying larger packaged items forgoing individual packaged snacks like goldfish, chips, granola, bars and fruit snacks. This was both an effort to eat healthier — as Colin Beavan author of The No Impact Man was quoted as saying in the Johnson article “Most of the fattening foods, the bad stuff, come heavily wrapped” — and eliminate the waste our kids brought to school. They began using reusable Ziploc containers instead of baggies and pre-wrapped packaging.

But my recent pantry inventory found some individually wrapped chips, and a closet full of boxes, cans, glass jars, foil bags, etc.

OK I have some work to do there, but awareness is the first obstacle to overcome and I am acutely aware that there is more we can do in the area of conservation and a semi-waste-free lifestyle. I say semi because I am becoming more realistic about our green efforts. Unlike my past posts, I have decided to give myself a break from the craziness of it all. Maybe it was my decluttering efforts that have me in a new state of calm and forgiveness or maybe it’s just the fact that when I look around I see what my family has worked so hard to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time. And it’s pretty impressive.

My children’s efforts to turn off the lights and used electronics resulted in a $50 reduction in our electricity bill over the last two months. Instead of producing a bag of garbage a day we have cut that down to one or two a week. The weather has warmed and our composter has begun to work, and the garden is planted with hopes for a better organic crop this summer than our beginner efforts last year.

And thanks to Johnson’s June 8 blog post I even found a solution to all that school paper waste my kids bring home every day that, though we were recycling, still seemed to be an overwhelming amount of waste. I won’t be making homemade stationary for the teachers this year, but it is now reserved for my green bag of tricks.

So this week I am relaxed, I am somewhat distressed and I am learning that any effort to care for the environment is a good one.

As Johnson said in an April 30 blog post to a reader who saw her quest to live a waste-free life as a time-consuming chore:

“Caring for the environment is neither a chore nor a hobby, but rather a citizen’s duty. Look around, and get informed. Educate yourself about the impact of our society’s wasteful habits, it will soon become clear to you that we can’t keep on doing things the way we’ve done them for generations. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then at least have some compassion for those that will succeed you.”

Well said, Bea.


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games.

2 Comments on “Green Mama: Waste-Free Home

  1. Hey, no giving away my next topic.

  2. Ahhh – finally, you are back to looking at all your family has accomplished. Now if the bear will just cooperate and leave your composter alone! What a beautiful day!

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