Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing Your Waste* wasn’t always a minimalist. She once bought into all the trapping of the American dream, a “three-thousand-square-foot contemporary home, on a cul-de-sac, complete with high ceilings, family and living rooms, walk-in closets, a three-car garage, and a koi fishpond in Pleasant Hill, a remote suburb of San Francisco.” She used botox regularly, regularly died her hair blonde, and aimed for “unbeatable excellence” in extravagant Christmas decorating.
Her current life couldn’t be more different. Bea, her husband, Scott, and their two young sons own a 1475 square foot home (137 square metres), buy nothing processed or that comes packaged, and generate just one quart of garbage destined for landfill each year.
Bea and her family have minimal wardrobes, consumer items and furniture. Bea makes her own cosmetics, uses vinegar and Castile soap to clean, and takes jars, pillowcases and mesh bags to carry her groceries. Videos about the Johnsons’ home on Youtube show stark rooms, white walls and floors, and sparkling, immaculate surfaces.
Zero Waste Home gives a great deal of practical advice about saving waste around the home, the first and most important tip being not to bring potential waste in. The book espouses the hierarchy of refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. And given recent disastrous news about the full scale of plastic in the world’s oceans, Bea’s advice is both timely and critical.
Zero Waste Home is a terrific resource, but some of its idiosyncrasies are immediately obvious, especially to non-Americans. Why would you get rid of your vacuum cleaner and (energy efficient) microwave but keep your power-hungry clothes dryer in sunny SanFrancisco? Only a book for the American market would have a recipe for dryer lint putty and consider this an effective use of resources.
In most ways Bea puts me to shame, but in others I feel ahead of her. By keeping chickens and growing fruit and vegetables on my inner suburban block, I cut food miles and avoid packaging altogether. By participating in a food swap, I have access to a range of locally grown food that I can’t or choose not to grow myself. I already use reusable produce bags and reusable grocery bags (compulsory in South Australia) but could do a lot more about single-use plastics and plastic packaging more generally.
Zero Waste Home has prompted me to establish goals to reduce waste in my home, including:
- working harder to avoid single use plastic
buying shampoo and cleaning products in refillable containers from my local soap shop
continuing to declutter, preferably without creating landfill (e.g. rehousing old toys in local kindergartens and after-school programs)
assessing what I truly value and need, and what I can do without
Bea’s blog is http://www.zerowastehome.com/.
Are you trying to reducing waste around your home? How?
*I am a Book Depository affiliate.