22 July 2013

Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Path to Happiness

Written by Published in Urban Living

In the USA each person generates an average of 4.5 pounds of waste every day. Not so at Bea Johnson’s and her family, who lead a Zero Waste lifestyle, producing only just under 1 litre waste per year. The recently launched book on Bea’s experience gives us tips on how to do the same. The mother of two talks about her motivation, the benefits of having a waste-free and simplified home, and finding the right balance

Sublime: Was there a turning point in your life that made you decide to lead a Zero Waste lifestyle?

Bea Johnson: It is downsizing that triggered our rethinking. The transformation was not overnight, but rather gradual. It took two years for us to go from living the ‘American dream’ to choosing a more environmentally friendly way of living.

It all started when we decided to move from a large home located in a bedroom community – where we needed the car to go anywhere – to an active downtown. We first lived in a small rental with only the necessities while searching for the perfect house. During that time, we found that by living with less we had more time in our hands to do the things that we really enjoy doing. So when we bought a house half the size of the previous one, we paired down dramatically, letting go of about 80% of our belongings. We then researched and read about environmental issues to find out more. What we learned motivated us to change our lifestyle for the sake of our kids’ future. My husband quit his job to join a sustainability start-up, and I implemented sustainable practices into our daily routine.

S: Do you do all of this for yourself or for the environment?

BJ: We embarked on the Zero Waste lifestyle because of environmental reasons, but its hidden benefits are the motive why we stick with it. What I love most about it are two aspects: one is our newly-gained simplicity – cleaning is straightforward now, picking up the house only takes a few minutes and housework and professional work have become much more efficient. The other aspect I appreciate is how Zero Waste has brought the family together. We have more time together, spend it wisely and play more. We focus on experiences instead of stuff. It has even allowed us to travel more by making it easy to let our home when we’re gone. The short-term rentals fund vacations and family getaways.

zero-waste supplies

SWhat are other benefits of your lifestyle?

The Zero Waste lifestyle is not only good to the environment, it improves one’s overall standard of living. We are much healthier and save an incredible amount of time and money. Did you know that 15% of the sales price of a packaged product covers the packaging itself? It basically means that we used to send 15% of our income to the landfill! Zero Waste has also brought beauty into our life. Glass jars are so much prettier than disposable packaging. The savings and benefits of the Zero Waste lifestyle are so great that I beat myself for not doing it earlier and I could not envision myself going back to the way I used to live. I wish everyone realised and enjoyed the great hidden benefits of it.

zero-waste kids-wardrobeSYour lifestyle is very strict. Is there an in-between or do you think it's either all or nothing?

We do not find our lifestyle strict, we actually find it quite freeing. If it were strict, it would not be pleasant, it would not be sustainable and we couldn’t have stuck with it. We don’t find our way of living extreme, just different from others. What seems extreme to us is the way the general public consumes nowadays.

Our major challenge was finding balance though, figuring out what works for us and what doesn’t. At first, I googled alternatives and tested many recipes and how-tos – I eventually got too wrapped up into homemaking. At one point, I made cheese, bread, yogurt, soymilk and even butter myself. Some of these ideas were too excessive, too time consuming, and we later dropped them for the sake of simplicity. For example, we realised that there was no need for us to make bread if we could buy it unpackaged directly from the bakery.

Today, we have Zero Waste on autopilot in our home; it’s easy and fun, and we can envision ourselves living this way for the rest of our lives. We found that for Zero Waste to be sustainable in a household, one has to adopt alternatives that fit their schedule and are feasible in the long run. Everyone needs to find their personal comfort level, based on their specific needs.

SHow can someone start the Zero Waste way of living? What's the first thing to do?

Our Zero waste lifestyle is based on applying the five R’s in order: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. We refuse what we don’t need like junk mail or freebies, reduce what we do need like furnishings and clothes, reuse by buying second-hand and swapping disposables for reusables, which includes shopping with reusables such as cloth bags, jars and bottles, recycle what we can’t refuse, reduce or reuse, and rot or compost the rest.

The most important thing one can do to stop waste and clutter from entering their homes is to simply say no. One should think before accepting something that is handed out to them and turn down flyers, little gifts, business cards and single use plastics. Accepting these things not only create a demand to make more, they are a waste of resources and once they are brought into our home, they add to the clutter. Refusing is the first rule to living a waste-free, simple lifestyle. People should give it a try. They’ll be amazed by how much stuff they’re able to stop from coming in.

zero-waste shopping-kitSI guess you still produce some waste. What is it that you have to throw away?

Our family produces one litre jar of landfill waste per year. Last year’s jar contained electrical bits, pieces of caulking and paint chips, the backing of a roll of stamps, a laminated insurance card from a company, which I contacted and they have since switched to cardboard, the occasional fruit stickers, a piece of foam, a dry patch of acrylic paint, a guest’s bubble gum. These are items that have fallen through the cracks of the five Rs. The bulk of it is associated to house repairs, which are important in limiting bigger repairs and therefore more waste in the future.

For tips on how to get started on your way to a Zero Waste lifestyle, follow Bea at zerowastehome.blogspot.co.uk

Zero Waste Home, The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Bea Johnson is out now (Penguin), £14.99 (hardback)



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