I built a bench. Two, actually, so that I can cram more people around our dining table for dinners and parties. This is a very simple bench – 2 X 4s, 2 X 3s, 1 X 12s, nails, screws, nothing else. Friends and family have been asking me when I’m going to stain it – it does look kind of naked as is. But since starting No Trace, I’ve started to really think about the life cycle of my things. For example, what will happen to my couch when it reaches the end of its useful life? How about my shoes? My mattress? Many of our non-recyclable possessions will be around on this planet long after we are gone, most likely in a landfill. Manufacturers don’t usually consider the death of their products. Once it’s out of their hands, they lose interest in its fate. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Interface is one of the first companies I learned of that creates truly sustainable products (carpet tiles). Patagonia is also a leader in sustainability, from their sources for raw materials to repairing and eventually recycling worn clothes. Both companies are truly inspiring.

So, this brings me to my new benches. If you keep wood, a renewable resource, unstained and naked, it can be returned to the earth one day. Once it is beyond reuse, you can either compost it in your yard waste bin, your home compost pile, or use it for a fire. If you paint it or stain it, though, it becomes destined for the landfill. Some paints and stains on the market are all natural and biodegradable, but you probably won’t be able to put it in your yard waste bin for curb pick up, and you probably won’t want to burn it either. So I’ve decided to keep the benches naked. The absence of a stain won’t impact how long they last. While they aren’t as easy to clean as a painted or stained bench, I can easily sand down any smudges or smears. Or just sit on the smudges and smears, which is what we currently do (hey, they are reminders of the fun meals we’ve had together). Plus, we have one less bucket of stuff in the garage that isn’t empty enough to recycle. Although these benches are only two of the many pieces of furniture in our home, they are a nice reminder to me and anyone who notices that all of our possessions have a life and a death. If we can plan for their eventual demise, we can help minimize the resources we consume and the footprint we leave behind.

Tell me – do you have any sustainable furniture in your home? Or other products you love for their sustainability? I’d love to hear about it!

Don’t let the title of this post fool you – I confess that we did not have a zero waste Christmas. There was wrapping paper, toy packaging, tape, ribbon, candy wrappers, and more strewn about the house for a few days. My kids each asked Santa for one gift, and those items both came with packaging. They also received gifts from friends and family, which also came with packaging and wrapping. Everything was recycled or packed away for reuse except for a few curling ribbons that were too trashed or small to reuse. We used recycled paper, paper tape, fabric ribbons, and reusable bags to wrap our gifts to one another. But there was still a lot of material that ended up in the recycling bin. Looking at the debris-covered living room, I took away some lessons for next year’s holidays to help us reach a goal of zero waste, while still experiencing the joy and magic of the holidays.

First, next year we are going to leave some reusable bags and fabric out for Santa to use to wrap his gifts. I don’t think he normally does this, but I imagine he will if we ask him too. We can even ask the kids to pick out the packaging they want him to use. Second, we’ll get candy from the bulk bins and give it away in reusable containers, like jars or metal tins, instead of wrapped candy and chocolate bars. Chocolate bars have always been one of my go-to gifts for loved ones, but I have found some pretty delicious chocolate candies in the bulk bins at local food stores In a cute tin or jar, I imagine these will go over just as well as chocolate bars. Third, I will graciously ask friends and family to wrap gifts in fabric or reusable bags. I hate to presume that the kids will get gifts from folks, but it tends to happen. Part of being successful on a zero waste journey is to share your goals with others. Next year, we’ll be better about conveying this.

On a positive note, I did give loved ones some of our No Trace beeswax wraps to help them reduce their waste and use of plastics. They were a hit! In giving the wraps, it also gave me an opportunity to share more about zero waste living and the opportunities that exist for anyone who wants to take a small step toward reducing their footprint.

How were your holidays? Do you have zero waste tips you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!