By J. Chambless
Karen Jury at the dining room table. (Courtesy photo)
By Ken Mammarella
What’s noteworthy about the Jury-Strode household is what’s not there. Trash.
Landenberg residents Karen Jury and Andy Strode began pursuing a zero-waste life a year ago, when daughter Eve was born, joining Jane, 3, and Smokey the cat.
“I felt compelled to be more mindful of my choices,” Jury said. “Creating so much waste felt wrong. I wanted to create a better world. We were scared. We didn’t grow up on a farm or a commune.”
They both grew up in Chester County and lived most of their lives between Philadelphia and Lancaster County. “We’re not trying to present ourselves as perfect. We do our best,” Strode said.
“We hope our imperfections may be an inspiration for others,” Jury said. “You can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
The bottom line: Over that first year, they cut the trash hauled away by 85 percent, and in March they canceled trash collection. “It will be a great motivator,” Jury said. It will also save them a welcome $120 a quarter – and necessitate occasional trips to the landfill, on top of existing recycling trips.
Two years of living in Thailand also opened their eyes to “the joys of living in simplicity in a shoebox apartment” in Bangkok. “We saw how freeing simplicity was. You value experiences more,” she said. Thailand was also littered, with no infrastructure for recycling. “It offended our responsibilities and our sensibilities,” she said.
Back in the United States, Jury is a course developer at the University of Delaware English Language Institute, and Strode is a project manager at Universal Services Associates in Folcroft, which makes museum exhibits.
Their guide is Zero Waste Home. As author Bea Johnson explains, “Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot (and only in that order) is my family’s secret to reducing our annual trash to a jar since 2008.”
“I was skeptical of everything, more resistant, stubborn, pragmatic,” said Strode, now a supportive participant in what they believe will be a two-year makeover toward that single jar (glass, of course).
“A big misconception is that you’re deprived, living a limited existence,” Jury said, but their homey 1970s split level kills that image, with comfortable furnishings, filled cabinets, art on the wall, books, games and toys. Just no TV, a choice continued from Thailand.
“We don’t have the time,” Jury said. “We’d always recycled. We’re not big consumers of stuff.”
Many household items are reused, purchased at Hill’s Auction before the zero-waste effort began. The dining room has a Craigslist dining room table, a Goodwill cabinet and a high chair from Jury’s childhood.
Plastic in many forms – takeout containers, straws, shrink-wrap, packaging – are unwelcome. “That’s No. 1. Don’t get it in the first place,” Jury said. “It’s really simple.”
Except it’s not. They’ve had to learn where to shop. They’re regulars at buying bulk at Newark Natural Foods in Delaware, the Whole Foods in Glen Mills and, in season, at farmers markets. They’ve had to buy glass, metal, wood and cloth containers and utensils. They followed Johnson’s recommendation for containers from Le Parfait.
They use Bee’s Wrap (cloth impregnated with beeswax) instead of plastic wrap; towels and cloth napkins; wool dryer balls instead of fabric softener, and cloth diapers. They gave up their Keurig, with all of its single-use pods. It’s in the basement, awaiting its fate, along with dozens of CDs and DVDs and other items that they’re not quite sure what to do with.
They’ve had to learn to be proactive when dining out, immediately turning down straws and requesting cloth napkins (if they’re not available, they use towels from the diaper bag). Still, the girls get non-recyclable stickers and other gifts.
Their environmental attention extends outside the house. Just off the driveway is a wooden compost bin and black composting tumbler. They’re on a waiting list for wood chips from the township.
After Strode’s Hyundai Sonata died this year, he bought a hybrid Honda Accord. Jury drives a Honda CRV and anticipates buying a hybrid minivan, preferably when prices decline.
Even though the absence of trash inside – and that hulking bright blue plastic trash can outside – might not be obvious, it’s clearest under the sink, where there are three containers: a big one for recycling, a medium one for composting, and a small one for trashing.
How to join the cause
Karen Jury calls Bea Johnson (https://zerowastehome.com) the mother of the zero-waste movement. She also recommends Lauren Singer, (@trashisfortossers on Instagram and selling the new necessities of zero-waste life at https://packagefreeshop.com). Other key influencers include Anne Marie Bonneau (https://zerowastechef.com) and Heidi Unger (@zerowasteclassroom on Instagram). Jury has just joined a sustainable moms Meetup.com group and invites like minds to connect at email@example.com.
National Geographic in 2018 offered a five-point plan on going zero-waste, in order of importance:
Refuse: Refuse to buy things with lots of packaging.
Reduce: Don’t buy things you don’t really need.
Reuse: Repurpose worn-out items, shop for used goods, and purchase reusable products like steel water bottles.
Compost: Up to 80 percent of waste by weight is organic. But this rarely decomposes in a landfill.
Recycle: It still takes energy and resources, but recycling is better than sending stuff to the landfill or allowing it to become litter.