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.
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.
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?
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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