Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson Book Review

zero waste home
Can you imagine your family producing just one mason jar of waste each year? Even reducing the waste in your recycling to the bare minimum? Can you envisage for one moment your home as a minimalist, plastic-free haven containing only the things you really need? Less to clean and maintain, fewer toxins, and a simpler life richer in the things that really matter? Bea Johnson and her family have created just that and her book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life explains how.

Achieving simplicity

By adopting a zero waste lifestyle, the Johnsons have achieved a balance and simplicity that most of us can only dream of.  It may not be possible for all of us to create a completely zero waste home, but we can learn from their experience to reduce our dependence on plastics, cut our waste dramatically, to eat more locally and healthily, and to learn to place our emphasis on experiences over things.

zero waste home

You can follow the 5 Rs by taking your own containers to a bulk shop

The recent Marie Kondo phenomenon has illustrated our dissatisfaction with the vast amount of stuff we purchase and cram into our homes. We work harder to make more money to buy yet more stuff, and only occasionally stop to consider how little lasting satisfaction comes from this lifestyle. By moving towards the attainment of a zero waste home, we can help to reduce the stress on our environment, save money and improve our physical and mental well-being.

Five steps to a zero waste home


Johnson advocates a five  step approach to reducing your waste. Step 1 is to REFUSE. This means curbing your consumption overall, refusing business cards, leaflets, junk mail, goody bags, receipts, plastic bags and single use plastics generally. By taking a reusable bottle, cloth bags for your groceries, taking your own containers to buy loose goods and refusing as much potential waste as possible – ie not bringing it into your home – you will reduce the demand for many items to be produced in the first place.


This means questioning your need of past, present and future purchases. It means the reduction of stuff, maybe donating or selling items that you have accumulated but no longer use. Even giving up shopping as a leisure activity, maybe downsizing your property, gettimg rid of one car if you have two, etc.


Repurpose the items that come into your house that you weren’t able to refuse or reduce. Finding a new purpose for an item that might otherwise be thrown away or sent for recycling helps to alleviate resource depletion and extend their useful life. For example, you can used old coffee jars to collect and store dry goods purchased in bulk.


If you have followed steps 1 to 3 so far, you won’t be sending so many items for recycling. This is progress, since recycling isn’t a panacea for our over consumption. Recycling uses a lot of energy for a start and is confusing. Some plastics are recyclable and some are not. Some claim to be compostable, but how long does this take? Are our recycling systems properly regulated and robust? How do we know they aren’t shipped off to a third world country and dumped?

#5 ROT (compost the rest)

When you have gone through the four preceding steps, hopefully all you have left is compostable food and maybe also paper waste. You have achieved zero waste!

Can you really achieve zero waste?

zero waste home

We are lucky to finally have a zero waste shop

Johnson does admit that a truly zero waste lifestyle is pretty much impossible, but we can all move towards it. The benefits to our finances, our health, our time and the environment will be immense. She guides you through the whole of your home and lifestyle, giving you invaluable information and advice to enable you to at least follow a low waste existence.

Zero Waste Home has had a huge impact on how we live at Shoestring Cottage. I urge you to buy a copy and lend it to all of your friends and family members to encourage them to tread more lightly on the earth.

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Eight ways to reduce your junk mail

reduce your junk mail

I don’t know about you, but I am taking charge of the amount of junk that comes through my letterbox. 95% goes straight into the recycling. What a waste of resources! I figure if I can stop it arriving in the first place – simply refuse it – I can make a difference to the number of trees that need to be cut down in order to produce it. Do you want to reduce your junk mail?

I have enough jobs to do around the home. Sorting the junk mail from the post I actually need to read is an annoyance I can do without. Collecting big piles of paper to go out to the recycling bins is another. Lugging the large bags of paper to the kerbside collection? You get the picture.

Top ways to reduce your junk mail

Communicate with retailers

A lot of the mail that I receive is from companies where I have been a customer but inadvertently forgotten to tick the box asking them not to mail me.  Some I have been receiving for years, but never open and stick them straight in the recycling box (conveniently by the front door). If I really want news on special offers from a certain business, there is nothing to stop me receiving them by email (although these can also be a time consuming annoyance, see below).

Rather than sticking them straight into the recycling, I build up a little pile and then go online to let the companies know I no longer wish to receive their mailings. There is usually an email address on the envelope somewhere telling you how to do this to reduce your junk mail. After all, it saves them money too.

Send it back

When I receive unsolicited mailings that don’t give unsubscribe information, I simply return to sender with a note on the back requesting that they remove my details from their mailing list. They don’t always pay attention to my instructions, but it is worth a go. If they want to waste their time and money continually sending me bits of paper than I am just going to return, that is up to them.

Refuse it

We have a beautiful shiny new front door. I don’t want to mess it up with a no junk mail sticker, but I don’t want the postie or leaflet droppers chucking constant unaddressed adverts through our door. I have therefore ordered this metal sign from Amazon, which I think looks slightly classier:reduce your junk mailIf I catch someone ignoring it, I will be chasing them up the road and giving them the leaflet back. It shouldn’t be this hard to reduce your junk mail, but sadly it sometimes is!

Talk to the Royal Mail

You can also reduce your junk mail by opting out of the Royal Mail’s door to door service. They get paid to throw menus, flyers, etc through your door, but you don’t have to accept it. Email [email protected] or write to them at:

Door to Door Opt Outs
Royal Mail Customer Services
PO Box 740

Mailing preference service

The Mailing Preference Service (MPS) is a free service funded by the direct mail industry to enable consumers to have their names and home addresses in the UK removed from lists used by the industry. It is actively supported by the Royal Mail and all directly involved trade associations and fully supported by The Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

You can sign up to the service to reduce your junk mail and any other person who lives, or has lived, at your property. It is well worth doing and only takes a minute or so. Visit the MPS here.

Go paper free

It has taken me a long time to understand the benefits of going paper free. I am the kind of person who keeps boxes of files regarding my bank statements and house hold bills under the bed, gathering dust and rarely serving any useful purpose.

Each time I receive a bill or statement through the post, I am now taking a few minutes to go onto the company’s website and change my  communication settings. I can easily store anything important digitally!

Remove your name from the open electoral roll

Did you know that anyone can buy a copy of the electoral register with your details on it? No, neither did I! But it is possible to remove your details from the open register. Obviously, you will still be on the main register, which is used for elections. To find out how to remove yourself from the open register, visit here.

Check the small print

Check the small print on any forms you complete to make sure you are opting out of any future marketing communications. These are easy to miss, so you need to be vigilant.

Of course, digital mail can be just as time consuming and annoying, but at least it doesn’t create paper waste. I am on a mission to unsubscribe from as many email lists as  I can as well.

Does junk mail annoy you? What do you do to reduce your junk mail? I am on a mission! You can read my tips to reduce your plastic waste here.

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Ten easy ways to cut your plastic waste today

cut your plastic waste

I would love to think that I could go zero waste. In reality, as I have said before, it is really difficult to achieve. However, there are some easy swaps to help cut your plastic waste that don’t cost a lot of money. Some of them might even save you some cash. So, embrace your inner tree hugger and consider swapping some of your single use items for the following. Here are ten easy ways you can cut your plastic waste today.

Water bottle

Plastic bottles are everywhere and hard to avoid completely. However, there is one single use bottle that is easy to replace if you want to cut your plastic waste – your water bottle. We live in a country where the water from the tap is perfectly safe to drink and closely monitored. It makes no sense whatsoever to buy water when you are out and about when you can get it free (well, almost) at home.

According to this article in the Guardian last summer, “A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.” Do you want to be part of that, or part of the solution?

cut your plastic waste

Investing in a reusable water bottle (and remembering to always take it out with you) will help you to do your bit. Buy them for your kids to take to school as well. If you like a juice, invest in two – one for water only so that it doesn’t get tainted and the other for anything fruity like a juice or a smoothie.

I prefer the metal lined and insulated kind such as this SHO one, as they don’t taint the taste of your water and help to keep it cool.

Reusable carrier bags

I was really happy when the UK Government introduced a charge on reusable plastic bags and it has dramatically reduced the number people use. However, I still see people in the supermarket or other retail outlets buying them. I always carry a little fold up bag that I got in the Coop. In fact, I have two as they fold up really small in my handbag. We have 4 or 5 large and strong reusable supermarket ones that live in the car boot, so we always have bags when we go food shopping.

Produce bags

On my wish list for Christmas are reusable organic cotton produce bags, which I can use at the market, supermarket and the food coop without worrying about taking home a load of plastic that will mostly go straight in the bin. This pack contains three large, four medium and three small bags. Using these consistently will really help to cut your plastic waste.

Coffee cups

I have been using my bamboo and stainless steel travel mug when I am likely to buy tea or coffee out since my daughter bought it for me last Christmas. I am really happy with it! If we are out for the day we always take a flask of coffee anyway, as this saves money as well as on single use items.

The problem is that disposable coffee cups look like paper.  However, they are lined with a layer of plastic to make them water proof. Products made of mixed materials are notoriously hard to recycle and most people bin them anyway. According to recent stats published in the Independent:

  • UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year
  • Less than 1 per cent of coffee cups are recycled
  • Half a million cups are littered every day
  • Packaging producers only pay for 10 per cent of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling

Cut your plastic waste by keeping a reusable coffee cup in your bag or even in your car.


I don’t use straws often at home, although I have a metal one sitting in my reusable glass water bottle on my desk at work. However, my daughters are often in bars where they are given plastic straws in their drinks without even being asked if they want one.

cut your plastic waste

I bought each of them a pack of steel reusable straws for Christmas last year for them to keep in their handbags. Sadly, they don’t like them much – they get very cold if there is ice in the drink, bash against the glass and they are rigid with no flexibility. I am wondering if a better compromise might be these reusable silicone straws ? Perhaps one for this year’s stockings!


I have a whole cupboard full of things that could be used as a lunchbox. They are all plastic, some are old ice cream tubs that I continue to use for food storage rather than putting them in the recycling. As I take my lunch to work every day to keep costs down, they all get a lot of use. You can cut your plastic waste by reusing as many plastic food containers as possible.

If I was buying one for the first time, however, I would invest in stainless steel lunchbox , which should last pretty much forever!

Cut your plastic waste when cleaning your teeth

cut your plastic waste

If you have never thought about what happens when you throw away your old plastic toothbrushes, read this article from the Huffington post. Every toothbrush you ever used has yet to break down. Bamboo toothbrushes such as this pack of four from Greener Pockets offer an eco-friendly, compostable alternative. Another one for my Christmas wish list.

Plastic free dish washing

If you want to cut your plastic waste, then how about buying a plastic-free wooden brush set? They look much nicer than the plastic variety and will last a lot longer. With a wooden scrubbing brush you can dump the plastic when you wash up all together.

Cut your plastic waste washing your hair

I have ranted on about how much I like shampoo bars so many times! I have had excellent ones from Lush so can highly recommend them. However, I also had one recently that someone gave me that was very harsh and drying. I recommend reading the reviews before you purchase.

As well cutting your plastic packaging waste, you may find that using shampoo bars makes your hair feel a lot less heavy and greasy. Some shampoos seem to be full of something that coats your hair. It may appear softer and shinier initially but I am sure this stuff builds up and can’t be good for you.

Go back to soap

I am old and crusty enough to remember a time when hand wash and shower gel didn’t exist! In fact, I have never truly embraced either of them and much prefer good, old fashioned soap. I buy pretty little dishes and lovely smelling soaps and have them next to each sink.

You can convert your soap into a body scrub or soap on a rope using these natural linen soap bagsPop the soap in and hang by the shower.

What do you recommend to cut your plastic waste?

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Do you use a zero waste shop?

I was really excited last week to hear we had a zero waste shop arriving in town.

zero waste shop

As I have seen elsewhere, I envisaged aisles of produce in bins, from dried fruits to lentils, spices to baking goods. I hoped to find bamboo toothbrushes, eco-friendly cosmetics and a huge refilling station for all of our cleaning products. We thought we could take in our own containers to make our purchases and leave with our cotton bags full of plastic free shopping.

Lots of enthusiasm

In reality, our zero waste shop had been introduced with a lot of enthusiasm but clearly no money. It did have a refilling point with four products, along with a few tubs containing large bags of nuts, but you seemed to have to buy the entire bag.

Other than that, it contained shelves full of reconditioned electrical products and lots of second hand vacuum cleaners at bargain prices.

I’m not knocking it. If my toaster blows, our zero waste shop is where I will be going to find a new one! After all, buying second hand is good for the environment and the wallet, as I said in last week’s post on buying second hand clothes.

I have to admit to being disappointed though. This zero waste shop is full of good intentions but only likely to attract those already committed to lowering their waste. I can’t see it inspiring and enabling the good people of the town to adopt a zero waste lifestyle.

Trying to avoid plastic

zero waste shop

It’s hard to avoid plastic if you use run of the mill supermarkets. Even the local market gives you plastic bags now. You have to take your own containers everywhere. How many of us are this organised?

I have found an amazing looking zero waste shop near where Mr S’s niece lives in Hertfordshire. Too far away to pop into regularly but I will definitely go next time we visit her. What do you think of Bamboo Turtle?

This is the kind of zero waste shop I dream of seeing here. Even better would be every other shop adopting a zero waste approach!

Do you aim for zero waste shopping? Can you recommend a zero waste shop near you?