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Bea Johnson, environmental lifestyle blogger and author of Zero Waste Home, says her family of four's household garbage output plateaued about three years ago and has stayed the same ever since: one quart per year. That's not a typo. During a phone interview, I ask her what's in her "waste jar" for 2013, and she paused briefly as she rummaged through the few debris. "A laminated fishing license, a few bits of plastic from an electrical repair, a piece of cable from my son's bike, and a lollipop stick — probably someone gave it to my son and he couldn't refuse; I understand." That's three months of garbage. It would include butter wrappers, too, the one food item Johnson buys in packaging, since she found it was too expensive and impractical to make, but she's saving them for an art project.
The average American produces over 1,000 pounds of garbage a year, and 10 years ago, Johnson; her husband, Scott; and their two young sons were blithely dragging their overflowing 64-gallon trash cans to the curb in front of their sprawling suburban home just like everyone else. "As life rolled by effortlessly and afforded my Barbie-like platinum-blonde hair, artificial tan, injected lips, and Botoxed forehead," she writes, "we seemed to have it all."