Can you imagine raising a family while generating only one quart of waste per year? That is precisely what Bea Johnson does, author of Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, though at one point in her life is seemed as impossible to her as it might now to you and me. Back in 2006, she and her husband and two young sons lived in a 3,000-square-foot house in the suburbs of San Francisco, but they were unhappy with that lifestyle and decided to downsize They got rid of 80-90 percent of their belongings, including a second car, and found a 1,400-square-foot home within walking distance of amenities.
Since then, Bea hasn’t looked back. Every aspect of her lifestyle and household has been tweaked to create as little waste as possible. She uses reusable bags and jars for shopping, buying most food in bulk. Almost all of the family’s clothes are second-hand and each person’s can fit inside a carry-on bag, making travel easier – and probably more feasible, considering that living thriftily has cut down 40 percent on family expenses. When the family is gone, they rent out their home so it’s not wasted. Last summer, when Bea was in France to launch the French edition of Zero Waste Home, she posted daily pictures on Instagram of her wearing the same black wraparound skirt, tied in different ways, for a month.
The secret, Bea believes, is to reduce the amount of waste brought into the home in the first place. Her mantra is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recyle, Rot” -- and even though recycling is important, it should only be thought of as a last option. Here are some tips that she gives for tackling household waste:
Refuse: Fight junk mail and turn down freebies.
Declutter: Lighten the load at home. Use a list when you shop so you bring home less and create less waste to deal with afterwards.
Reuse: Swap disposables for reusables by using handkerchiefs, refillable bottles, cloth napkins, rags, etc. Avoid grocery-store waste by bringing reusable totes, cloth bags for dry bulk items, and jars for wet items such as cheese and deli foods.
Recycle: Know your city’s recycling policies, but think of it was a last resort. Question the need and life cycle of your purchases. Buy primarily in bulk and secondhand, but if you must buy new, avoid plastic. Much gets shipped across the world for recycling and ends up in landfill or the ocean.
Rot: Compost as many things as possible. Turn your kitchen trash can into a large compost receptacle. The bigger it is, the more likely you are to use it.
Bea’s blog has much more information, including recipes for making household supplies and a detailed list of the reusable products she uses at home. She has also developed an app called BULK, which helps people eliminate wasteful packaging by listing bulk and liquid refill locations nearby.