Posts Tagged ‘Zero Waste’

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The Zero Footprint Baby

How do you raise a carbon neutral baby? Should you buy toys? What about relatives who need to fly to visit? If you need a refrigerator, where do you buy the most energy efficient model? The answers to Keya Chatterjee’s questions were far flung: she found some with family members from India, others on the internet, and ended up ordering a refrigerator from Silicon Valley.

Chatterjee, the Director of Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach at the World Wildlife Fund, was kind enough to take time out of her busy work day and speak with DC EcoWomen about the challenges of raising a zero footprint child, writing a book, and juggling a full-time job.

Before the birth of their son, Chatterjee and her husband were already well acquainted with green living. They had no refrigerator, buried their compost, and had solar panels installed in their backyard. “Some people counted calories,” she wrote in her book’s introduction. “We counted kilowatts.” But a baby changed the math. A former employee at NASA, Chatterjee had the skills to do the research and the training to write up the answers she found. “I wrote the book because I feel that climate change is an important issue for parents and there wasn’t really anything out there about the individual choices parents can make,” Chatterjee said. “The more information I was compiling, the more I thought, I don’t want everyone to do all this work.” Thus, The Zero Footprint Baby was born.

The Zero Footprint Baby looks at all aspects of childrearing, starting with pregnancy. And, of course, Chatterjee addresses the issue of diapers.

“It’s actually funny because I realized long ago in my head that it was possible to not use diapers,” she said, “thinking back to how my family members live in India. There are no books about it. It’s just normal life.” Surprisingly enough, diapers aren’t a huge part of the carbon footprint of a baby. “It’s really more the decisions that parents are making,” said Chatterjee. Though she ended up raising her son without any form of diapering at all, Chatterjee found that the size of your house, the number of flights you take (or relatives take to visit you), and medical care are all a much bigger part of the carbon footprint.

She was surprised to find how much the medical system impacted the numbers. The carbon footprint of the United States medical system is much higher than that of the United Kingdom. “It was interesting to read about as I was reading about the medicalization of birth.”

Though Chatterjee decided to breastfeed her baby, her book lists tips for reducing the carbon footprint of a formula fed child. Don’t drive to pick up the formula, buy in bulk whenever possible, and buy brands with as little secondary packaging (like shrink wrap inside a cardboard container) as possible, she suggests. In fact, many of the chapters include alternatives to some of Chatterjee’s choices, and she explains many of her own personal compromises. She and her husband eventually decided to buy a refrigerator to store breast milk, though they purchased a specialty and extremely energy efficient model.

With The Zero Footprint Baby, “My aspiration was to provide a sense of community,” Chatterjee said. “I feel very strongly that people should do whatever they can and not feel stressed about what they can’t do.”

“The biggest challenges were interacting with people around us and explaining what we were doing,” she said. “You put yourself out there, then you open yourself up to criticism.” One of the arguments she heard most was, “Oh, you’re not doing one hundred percent of what you can do… It’s a prioritization question. There will be criticism no matter how you choose to parent.”

Her book is already making an impact: The Zero Footprint Baby was featured as one of EarthShare’s best environmental stories of 2013.

When asked how she managed to transition to such a low impact lifestyle, “We wouldn’t have done any of the things we’re doing if they were hard for us,” Chatterjee said. For example, she explained, her family doesn’t use a lot of heat or air conditioning. Instead, they go to the pool in the summer or museums in the winter. “For us, our lives are much more rewarding.”

Written by Caroline Selle, Zero Waste Girl

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This post was written by DC’s Zero Waste Girl – Caroline Selle.

Sometimes, being Zero Waste Girl is super easy.* I love it when I realize that bar shampoo works better than the stuff in a plastic bottle. However, most of the time zero waste is really hard. Grocery shopping? I give up all the time and buy packaged veggie burgers, desperate for a quick, fulfilling snack. Makeup? I’m trying to find alternatives, but right now it’s my biggest sin.

Now it’s summer, the time of farmer’s markets, gardens, and outdoors entertaining, and I’m determined to redouble my efforts. Inspired by the Zero Waste Home, I planned a zero waste party, just in time for the 4th of July.

Step 1: Invitations

I grew up with the internet, so my first instinct is to send e-invitations. I pulled this party together at the last minute, but there are plenty of cute and free e-invitation websites where you can pull together a more entertaining announcement than a Facebook invite. Follow up with phone calls or text messages for RSVP’s.

Step 2: Set up


There’s a good reason we use so many disposables for parties. People have a tendency to knock over glasses, and depending on the number of guests, there might not be enough glasses or plates. Plus, who wants to do all the dishes?

To make sure you have enough…

  • Forget serving wine in a wine glass or orange juice in a tumbler. The vehicle doesn’t really matter that much, especially on a hot summer afternoon.

  • Reuse glasses. (No, not between guests). Ask guests to rinse off their glasses or plates if there’s a mess or they don’t want flavors to blend. Provide easy access to the kitchen, or offer to take care of it yourself.

  • Ask guests to bring their own.

As a last resort, thrift stores often have great deals on partial tableware sets.


I decided to throw a barbeque, which ended up being rained out. (We used the stove to cook food instead). The day before the party, I cooked the beans for veggie burgers and hummus and made the rolls. You can buy rolls in bulk at most grocery stores in the bakery section. I should have sliced the veggies – potatoes purchased loose at the grocery store and squash from the farmers’ market – ahead of time, but I had work and decided that I could talk to guests and prep some of the food during the party.

The final menu:

  • Raw broccoli and hummus

  • Cheese cubes(Havarti, purchased from the farmer’s market. The only component of the party that came in packaging, it came from a local vendor).

  • Black bean veggie burgers on homemade rolls with homegrown lettuce

  • Cherries and blueberries from the farmer’s market

  • Chocolate covered almonds and salted mixed nuts from the bulk bin at Yes! Organic

Proteins – specifically meat and cheese – are the most difficult to find sans packaging, and to be honest I haven’t yet succeeded completely. I compromise by buying local or preparing a vegan meal.


  • Boxed or local wine. (I still struggle with this one. Boxed wine has a plastic bag inside, and although it uses less energy to manufacture plastic is hard to recycle. I ended up buying sangria from a local winery).

  • Beer in a growler. (There are several DC area breweries that sell growlers and will let you fill them up with the beer of your choice. The party was small, so I filled two).

  • Sun tea (Add mint sprigs, a tea ball with some loose leaf black tea, and lemon to a jar of filtered water. Leave it out in the sun for a few hours. We use ½ gallon ball jars, and the mint adds an appealing summery flavor and also serves as a garnish).

  • Water with sliced cucumber, lemon, and/or mint.


Because this party was last minute, I went light on the decorations. I ended up using potted plants as centerpieces, along with hydrangea flowers purchased from the farmer’s market and candles in clear glass barware. I often use cuttings from herbs that have flowered as bouquets, though the tiny white cilantro flowers will make the whole room smell like cilantro. In the past, I’ve also used white holiday lights, which use less power and look beautiful.

If you’re entertaining outside, citronella candles make great decorations and keep the bugs away (although be careful to purchase ones that use citronella and aren’t just scented like it to get the full insect repelling benefits).

Step 3: Entertain!

I cooked the veggie burgers on the stove instead of the grill and roasted instead of grilling the veggies. We had plenty of glasses, though none of them matched. None of it mattered, though. According to a very informal poll, everyone had fun.

There were a couple of hiccups. During the night and the resulting cleanup, I threw one thing in the trash – the cheese wrapper –  and one in the recycling – the sangria bottle. I lost a quarter of the beer in one growler when it opened on the way home in my car, and I did use a car.

Overall, though, I’m comfortable pronouncing the party a success.

* What is zero waste? Consuming anything will produce some form of waste, but the idea behind zero waste is, as Bea Johnson of the Zero Waste Home puts it, “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.” “Refuse what you do not need,” she explains. “Reduce what you do need. Reuse by using reusables. Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. Rot (compost) the rest.” The goal: consume only what you need and break the chain of events leading to avoidable tragedies like the Bangladesh factory fire (connected to fast fashion), environmental racism (landfills and power plants sited in primarily Black and Hispanic communities), climate change, etc.

Read Caroline’s blog at