Learn how author, blogger, and inspirational speaker Bea Johnson and her family manage to produce only one small jar of waste annually!
Mediaplanet: What motivated you to change your old habits and adopt the zero-waste lifestyle you currently live?
Bea Johnson: After renting an apartment, then moving to a small house downtown, we immediately realized the benefits of living with less. We had more time to do the things that are important to us, such as spending time with family and friends, and explore the outdoors. We also started reading up on environmental issues (some shocked me, others made me cry) — that’s when we decided to change our ways for the sake of our kids’ future and eliminate trash from our lives.
What would you say to someone who perceives this lifestyle as depriving, time-consuming and costly?
Zero waste seems difficult simply because we’re so set in consumerism that we cannot imagine living otherwise, and because waste-free living is stigmatized. My vocation today, is to shatter these misconceptions.
We found that the zero-waste lifestyle is not just good for the environment. Overall it has made us healthier, and it saves us an incredible amount of time and money. I once urged my husband to compare bank statements from pre-and post-zero-waste life, and he found out that we were saving 40% on annual household costs by living this way.
Voluntary simplicity has changed our daily routine in many ways. It has greatly simplified our cleaning, it makes our housework and professional work much more efficient, and it has allowed us to play more and spend more time together. It has even allowed us to travel more as we’re able to easily rent our house when we’re gone, which then funds the vacation! In the end, it’s all good! And I wish everyone realized and enjoyed the great hidden benefits of this lifestyle.
In what ways do composting and recycling differ from zero waste?
Contrary to what most people think, zero-waste for a home isn’t about recycling or composting more, but less, by preventing waste from being created in the first place with the application of my book’s 5Rs (mentioned below). By the time you have refused, reduced, and reused, you have very little to recycle and rot.
What small changes can Canadians make today to shift towards a zero-waste lifestyle?
What my family does to generate only one jar’s worth of trash per year is quite simple. We follow my method of 5Rs, in order, as laid out in my book, Zero Waste Home.
It can be applied anywhere in the world, and to any situation: as an individual, in the family, at work, in society.
- Refuse what you don’t need (for example, single-use plastics, junkmail, and freebies).
- Reduce what you consume (furnishings, clothes, etc.).
- Reuse by buying second-hand and swapping disposables for reusables (that includes shopping with reusables such as cloth bags, jars, and bottles).
- Recycle only what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
- Rot (compost) the rest (fruit peels, lint, hair, floor sweepings, etc.).
Where can Canadians go to learn more?
In a week, I’m kicking off a yearlong speaking tour through the U.S. and Canada. You can organize an event or catch me at one of them!
10 Tips to Avoid Food and Packaging Waste in the Kitchen
- Buy loose food from bulk bins. That way you can buy only the amount needed.
- Eat and reinvent all your leftovers. I provide dozens of ideas in my book.
- Keep food in glass jars. This makes food visible — nothing is hidden or forgotten.
- Donate your vegetable peeler. Since we did, we peel less and our compostable waste has greatly decreased (plus, we profit from the vitamins enclosed in fruit and veggie peels!).
- Buy second-hand kitchen accessories. If you must buy new, choose glass, metal, or cardboard.
- Let your dog clean plates and dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
- Swap disposables for reusables paper towels and napkins for cloth ones, sandwich baggies for kitchen towels, drop garbage bags all together, and learn to love your tap water. Refill a stainless steel bottle instead of buying disposable ones.
- Avoid grocery shopping waste. Bring reusable totes, cloth bags, and jars to the store.
- Shop the farmers’ market. They’ll take the egg cartons and the berry baskets back for reuse.
- Know your city’s recycling policies and locations, but think of recycling as a last resort.