Seattle's Child

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zero waste

Stephanie Wall keeps packaging waste out of the house she shares with husband Zach and kids Wesley and Klara. Photo by Joshua Huston

Zero-waste living, even with two young kids

How one local family commits to a low-trash lifestyle.

Stephanie Wall’s home in Shoreline doesn’t have plastic toothbrushes or disposable diapers or a refrigerator lined with one-time-use tubs of store-bought food, all of which you might see in a typical home with young kids.

Instead there are bamboo toothbrushes, reusable cloth diapers and a freezer stocked with canning jars filled with homemade purées and vegetable broth.

That’s because she and her husband, Zach, along with their two children, Wesley, 4, and Klara, 2, practice zero-waste living.

Wall, who is co-founder and chief of staff of the nonprofit group Seattle Zero Waste, explains the lifestyle is about reducing waste. (Her family only has enough garbage to put out a medium trash container a handful of times a year.) But the practice is also very much centered on being a thoughtful consumer.

“It actually starts outside of the home,” she says. “So, refusing things that we don’t need outside of the home, and really thinking about what we consume, what we purchase, because obviously most things come in packaging.”

For Wall and her family, that has meant buying secondhand first. It’s also meant taking the family to the local farmers market every Saturday to stock their kitchen and to introduce her children to the farmers. (During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wall’s husband has gone alone.) 

Their family has also made sure to support local businesses, and when something is broken, rather than throwing it away, they get it repaired. Wall gives the example of recently taking her couch seat cushion to an upholstery store so they could fix its broken zipper.

“Once you start really trying to reduce waste in all ways, not just packaging, you start supporting local businesses and the repair economies,” she says.

In the kitchen, they skip reusable plastics and instead use stainless steel and glass containers, as well as silicone Stasher bags.

When the holidays come around, Wall says, her family and friends have been very good about giving gifts that fit into their lifestyle, including things that are reusable or upcycled (creatively reused), and using reusable fabric gift bags. In the past, her mother-in-law has given each family unit towels to draw on and exchange with each other.

Wall also has asked loved ones for no-waste gifts that can be used or experienced, such as bath bombs or theater tickets.

She has been living the zero-waste lifestyle for more than a decade, ever since she discovered Bea Johnson’s blog Zero Waste Home. 

Wall was raised in a home where her father owned a small business, and her mother made a lot of her outfits and cooked. Not being wasteful was very much a part of their daily life. 

Once she read about Johnson’s lifestyle, she says, “Everything kind of clicked and made sense.”

Her lifestyle also has a lot to do with the environment and trying to make a small difference when it comes to keeping things out of landfills. Her family takes along their own reusable cloth or mesh produce bags, instead of taking plastic bags from a store or stand. There are times when food from the farmers market or CSA comes in plastic bags, so she makes sure to reuse them, lining the few tiny trash cans they have around the house with the bags.

When Wall and her husband had kids, she says, they had to make some adjustments, but after practicing the zero-waste lifestyle for so long, it was a natural switch. 

Today, she makes sure to talk with her children about their family’s lifestyle so they understand it and can incorporate the habits into their own lives when they’re older.

But it’s already clear that they’re getting it.

On a recent adventure on his scooter, Wesley announced he would be making a trip to a Buy Nothing pickup, and then on to the local Goodwill.

More on reducing waste:

How to waste less food: 9 tips and tricks from an expert

This Seattle 6-year-old is so good at recycling, he helps other people

About the Author

Hallie Golden

Hallie Golden is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. When she's not writing, she's out running with her German Shepherd puppy named Wally.