The Queen of Zero Waste

Bea Johnson is the current Queen of Zero Waste and her book and blog Zero Waste Home are great resources for anyone looking to adopt a more zero waste lifestyle. Her family of four generates just one jar of trash per year (an ideal I don’t think I’ll ever reach) by living according to the 5 R’s:

  1. Refuse: Do not accept what you do not need or bring unnecessary objects into your home.
  2. Reduce: Use less of what you do need to bring into your home.
  3. Reuse: Repair or repurpose things such as glass jars for food storage.
  4. Recycle: Recycle things that cannot be repaired.
  5. Rot: Compost food waste, organic materials etc.

By following these 5 R’s, we can generate less trash because we are not thoughtlessly consuming things that we do not need.

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I recently picked up a copy of Zero Waste Home to learn more about Johnson and her approach to zero waste living. Her book is honest about the challenges of zero waste, the zero waste habits she has abandoned (such as making her own butter), and the joy of living a life that is less cluttered and more sustainable. When we are no longer focused on consuming what marketers tell us we should want, we can focus on the people around us and enjoy memories instead of objects.

Johnson provides great tips for home and work, grocery shopping essentials, and DIY recipes to replace products and things we would otherwise purchase from conventional stores. I look forward to trying her recipes for cough drops, tooth “paste”, and multipurpose cleaner. She does a wonderful job of providing an ABC list every chapter with zero waste tips, some of which are easily adopted and others that take more effort. Her motive is not to get every single family to live the way hers does, but she does want people to put more thought into the ways they consume.

As with any other person, there are aspects of Johnson’s lifestyle I do not align with. I do not plan to adopt her strict minimalist wardrobe and I do not think DIY makeup (made from things like cocoa powder and beetroot) is for me. Her family also eats meat, which I think is pretty antithetical to the zero waste lifestyle (and a critique she mentions she has heard from many in the zero waste community). But when each of us adopts zero waste choices that work for us in our situation, our collective efforts can have a transformative impact.

What really struck a chord with me is her discussion of finding ways to make the zero waste lifestyle sustainable for the individual. Johnson went overboard in the initial part of her journey, turning away bottles of wine from friends, making her own butter, and driving all over San Francisco to find bulk bins. While the zero waste lifestyle requires more planning than we are used to in our daily lives, it should not be a source of anxiety or cut us off from our social networks. Finding ways to make the zero waste lifestyle work for the individual in a joyous way is going to make the whole process more sustainable. This kind of thinking is why I still eat dairy (especially cheese) and take-out, use store bought makeup, and drink coffee that is shipped overseas. The reality is, a truly zero waste life is impossible. But finding ways to reduce our consumption and consume more ethically when we need to will result in less waste and (in my experience) a more joyful life.

I would recommend the Zero Waste Home to everyone. If you live in the Tacoma area reach out to me and I’d be glad to lend you my copy.

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4 thoughts on “The Queen of Zero Waste

  1. I agree especially with that part at the end. I think many people are discouraged to try zero waste, or are disappointed with the way they are doing zero waste, because it isn’t easy, or they find it difficult to avoid certain garbage. But if we do our best, even if our best isn’t perfect, aren’t we already doing enough? Doing more than most of the population? I don’t beat myself too much when I have a zero waste fail, because I have all the zero waste wins to account for those. I started reading this book too and it’s going, but slowly, I have trouble reading non-fiction books, maybe I should get the audiobook instead.

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    1. I completely skipped the section about kids and school since it isn’t relevant to me, which definitely made it a quicker read. I kind of don’t like the name zero waste because it sounds so overwhelming, but I’m glad people are honest about not being “perfect” because no one should be scared away if they think the community will judge them if they get a bag of chips (like I did today…whoops)

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