A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to a talk given by Bea Johnson. Bea is french but living in the states, has a husband, 2 kids, a dog and produces one single jar of waste per year… PER YEAR. The contents will surprise you: a balloon that landed on her property; toothbrush bristles; a photo greeting card; stickers from fruit and veg; 1 band-aid; a piece of ducktape among other random things! If it was my jar it would have surely been full of sweets wrappers!
WHY Zero waste?
There are a hundred reasons why you would go zero waste. Different kinds of plastic can degrade at different times, but the average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years. It can even take some bottles 1000 years to biodegrade!!! Which means that our planet is full of ever-expanding landfills, our oceans have whole plastic islands floating around. This waste creates greenhouse gas emissions with harmful climate-altering impacts.
On the other hand, there are also more selfish reasons. Since going zero waste, Bea and her family have cut down on expenses by 40%, which has freed up time and money for adventure. When asked how her kids cope with zero-waste living, Bea insisted that they have gained and not lost, she said “My kids and I have been able to do things that most people never get to do—we’ve snorkelled between two continents; we’ve gone ice climbing; we’ve gone bungee jumping and skydiving. We’ve discovered a lifestyle that is rich in experiences instead of things; a life that is based on being and doing instead of having,”. Having less also means simplifying your life and letting stress levels go down.
How does she do it?
Ever since I read the book Cradle to Cradle I was very aware of the trash I was producing and had a keen interest in reducing waste but while I tried to find little things I can change in my lifestyle to limit my rubbish I never considered I can even think about going full-on Zero Waste. It just felt too overwhelming and as if I would have to stop experiencing life to the full. However, Bea’s strategy to reducing waste at her home transforms the subject from daunting to exciting. She has 5 simple principles when it comes to trash:
- Refuse what you do not need.
- Reduce what you do need.
- Reuse by using reusables.
- Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
- Rot (compost) the rest.
The first step of the process of going Zero Waste is to learn to say no. This involves saying ‘No’ to junk mail, no to freebies. Nowadays we are constantly bombarded with marketing luring us into buying things that we don’t really need and every time we purchase something we create demand for that object to be reproduced. By refusing we are voting against the certain wasteful product instead of paying to feed the landfill with our hard earned money. Packaging usually cost between 2% to 40 % of the price of products. Beauty products, however, could cost as much 3 times the price of what is inside them (read more about this HERE.)
Reducing the material things that you own can be very liberating. Decluttering will help you get rid of the things you don’t really need but can’t bring yourself to throw away and will boost the 2nd hand market. For example when you don’t need 500 different product to clean the floor, bathroom, kitchen surfaces etc and you can clean your whole house with just vinegar and baking soda. Reducing is also about finding multiple purposes for things you already use for example you can also use baking soda to brush your teeth and scrap your toothpaste. Regarding her wardrobe Bea is convinced that we only use 20% of it and all the rest of the clothes is saved for ‘What if’ occasions such as: what if I gain weight; what if I lose weight; what if there is a fancy dress party; what if … what if… what if… so at the moment her family can fit their whole wardrobes into a carry on suitcase each. In the kitchen Bea got rid of all of her utensils, figured out what she really needs, she says she figured she only has one hand so she doesn’t need more than one wooden spoon kitchen got rid of her utensils and just has one of each.
Reuse is all about swapping what is disposable for something that can be reused. Here are some examples from Bea’s home:
- A jar full of handkerchiefs that can be washed and reused has replaced the tissue box.
- When it comes to dishwashing, the disposable sponges have been replaced by wooden scrubby or metal scrubby.
- Disposable food storage items have been replaced by glass jars.
- Plastic shopping bags have been replaced by cotton bags.
Bea’s second rule of reusing is to buy Second hand in places such second-hand stores, eBay, Amazon.
Living a Zero Waste lifestyle does not really mean you will recycle more. You only recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse. Bea also advises that plastic should be avoided at all costs as they are not only harmful to our health when they have been manufactured but they are also detrimental when we come to contact with them as plastic toxins leak into our food (read more about their effect HERE). On the other hand not all plastic is recyclable and the one that can be recycled is turned into a product that can no longer be recycled so the lifecycle of the product reaches its end and this product will end up in the landfill anyway. Avoiding plastics means you have to rely more on other materials that can be recycled more effectively such as glass, wood, cardboard, and metal.
Rot is the very last rule of the zero waste lifestyle and it involves composting. To get a better idea of what you can compost you can read: 100 Things You Can Compost .
Her tips to start off
- Follow the 5 rules in order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot
- Read her book Zero Waste Home and resources from her website .
- Look up bulk stores in your area with Bulk Finder.
- Join the Zero waste community for support.
- Visit her store for the some Zero Lifestyle necessities. However, she advises to buy them second hand if you can.