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Zero waste home: a morning of contemplating our waste

Bea Johnson: Dispelling misconceptions about ZERO WASTE living

I attended an inspiring morning of talks on a subject of the utmost importance and close to my heart:  zero waste. Headlining the event is perhaps the person many consider to be the mother of the movement,  Bea Johnson. She was there to impart her advice for aspiring zero wasters and talk about how zero waste has changed her and her family’s life for the better.  

The event was organised by Bristol based family-company Eco Living and compered by  London based zero waste vlogger, Kate Arnell, and held in Bristol’s iconic Arnolfini auditorium. The talks marked Bea’s first visit to the city.

Prior to Bea’s talk, two other inspiring individuals, Michelle Cassar creative director at City to Sea Bristol  and Lizzie Carr, adventurer and environmentalist  shared their own experiences of plastic and more specifically plastic pollution, and how it has affected them and prompted them to to combat the problem. Both were equally captivating and I am in no doubt we will be hearing more from both in the future.*

Who is Bea Johnson?

Bea is a French native now based in California. Her lifestyle has catapulted her to prominence since starting her zero waste journey back in 2008. In that time she has published a book entitled ‘Zero Waste Home’ that  is available in 12 languages. The book contains tips and advice for others who are trying to live waste free.  In addition she has  travelled the world giving talks to curious audiences wondering how she maintains her lifestyle. She also keeps her blog and social media channels updated with daily/weekly posts, has been interviewed by numerous news outlets keen to scrutinise whether she’s telling the truth and how her  family of four produce just one jar of waste annually. Their home has even been under 24 hour CCTV surveillance to prove her doubters wrong.  She  claims the change in her family’s lifestyles has meant they now have experiences rather than stuff, they collect memories not souvenirs.

I really liked that she opened her talk with what she doesn’t do. She was clearly keen to dispel misconceptions about living zero waste:

  • She doesn’t do no-poo – I guess she gets asked this a lot because a lot of people keen to embark on their own zero waste give up shampoo (I did!)
  • She doesn’t use moss she uses loo roll
  • She doesn’t use stingy nettles to make her lips bigger (confused? Bea was trying to find a zero waste option to replace her lip plumper. She decided to love her lips just as they are, and gave up on both natural and shop bought plumpers)!
  • She’s not a vegan (she’s been the recipient of online abuse from the vegan community). It is common to hear the argument that a vegan diet has the most positive impact on the planet.

So, what does she do…

She uses shampoo, but a bar without any packaging. She buys her loo roll in bulk wrapped in paper not plastic and makes her own make-up (her kohl recipe is said to be excellent).  What I really appreciated was the level of attention she gives to everything . For example she requested that the company who make her beauty oil remove the label so she is left with the glass bottle only. The labelling on jars is often an afterthought, so for those who buy produce in glass jars to avoid plastic, there remains limitations to our attempts at being conscious consumers, and we will still produce waste. She really has taken it to the  next level, and by listening to her talk you can feel her passion for making a difference.

What is zero waste living? Living your life according to the 5-r’s.

What are the 5 R’s of zero waste living? 

  1. Refuse: what you don’t need. Napkins are a common example as are plastic straws, but the list is endless and junk mail is also a problem and make a stand against unnecessary marketing paraphernalia and gimmicky things that are feeding an unhealthy economy
  2. Reduce: sort through your clutter and donate what you don’t need and use to local charity shops. Keep shopping trips and shop less, bringing less in reduces the opportunity for waste
  3. Reuse: replace your disposables with reusables: look around your home and especially in the kitchen and when out about, stop buying plastic water bottles and use water flasks instead, take tote bags and tupperware, tiffins and boxes when you shop
  4. Recycle: if you have refused, reduced and reused first and recycling is the only viable option then Bea suggests you get to know your cities waste policy and take it to the relevant place
  5. Rot: find out what you can compost and find a composting system that works for you

There will often be things you won’t agree with, even if you really admire the person saying them. For me the second of the 5 R’s, reduce is one that perplexed me the most. Not because I disagree, as it happens I am currently having my own declutter and this is possibly why it resonates. It is more because I see that this is the problem and I can’t help feeling guilty about being part of this problem.

When you consider all the stuff we have, surely we can’t all offload it hoping someone else will want it? Sorting through clutter and donating to charity shops is excellent and gives functional things a new home and lease of life. Yet it’s still shifting ‘stuff’ from one place to another. And if we all did this over and over again, then charity shops will be burdened with donations they can’t accommodate.

And all the time we’re sifting through our clutter, more stuff continues to be  produced. It’s all bonkers. What need to change IS stuff: it needs to be reduced.

Until about 70-years ago, most households would have primarily been functional with little decor and stuff. We have been catapulted into an insanely materialistic age that hasn’t done us or the planet any favours.

Overall, Bea’s captivating talk reinforced my (and I am sure my fellow audience members) desire to make a positive impact in our own small but significant way. She reinforced the zero waste lifestyle and its powerful message.

Sometimes fighting waste feels like a losing battle especially when there’s plastic everywhere. But I have faith and by educating our children as Bea has done, perhaps we can have a lasting impact on our wasteful ways and learn the art of living without stuff.

Afterall stuff is a very 21st centur and until relatively recently a very Western problem and therefore responsibility lies with us to manage our waste and come up ith solutions to prevent more being produced.

*I will include blog posts about both in the coming weeks 🙂


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