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!

Inspired by role models from the zero waste movement, in 2015 I started to consider what it would take to achieve a zero waste life and household.  Although I have recycled and composted the vast majority of my waste for the past 10 years, I still produce waste destined for the landfill, and the majority  of this waste is food packaging.  

Since my effort to reduce waste in my home, I purchase most of my groceries from bulk bins and the produce section.   I’ve also changed the way my family takes food on the go.  I’ve made simple changes in the way we move through the world to reduce our footprint, inspired by the zero waste movement.  This includes using washable bulk bags, snack bags, and beeswax wrap.  These three types of products help us reduce a huge portion of plastics and other destined-for-landfill materials from our everyday lives.  

In making this shift, however, I found that many of the products for purchase would eventually end up in the landfill.  

Reusable bulk bags with silk screen images, plastic tags, velcro, plastic buttons, polyester thread, or nylon lining (among others)  – these will all eventually end up in the landfill.  I found a need for reusable, washable products that, after their usable life is up, could be recycled or composted without introducing chemicals or other pollutants into the soil.  I decided to start making products that would leave no trace.

The manufacturing process also has the potential to create waste and contribute to pollution.  No Trace’s manufacturing process includes using raw materials with minimal packaging, recycling any plastic packaging, and using fabric and paper scraps for handmade paper.  No Trace products are handmade in Capitola, CA with zero waste and made with all natural, renewable materials.