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The zero waste lifestyle: Will you take up the challenge?

| Friday, October 4, 2019

Meet Bea Johnson: Labeled as The Priestess of Waste-Free Living” by The New York Times, this activist and Grand Prize Winner of the Green Awards has published a bestselling book in over 25 languages and has given talks in over 65 countries as well as for Google, Amazon, Starbucks, TEDx, the European Parliament and the United Nations. Her only philosophy is rather simple: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (and only in that order).”

Johnson and her family adopted a zero-waste lifestyle in 2008; their household since produces only one pint of trash per year. Johnson initiated back then what has now become a global movement called “The Zero Waste Lifestyle,” inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to adopt waste-free living, open unpackaged shops, conceive reusable products and launch environmental organizations.

She shatters misconceptions, proving that zero waste can lead to substantial health benefits and savings.

Even though world leaders have often sidelined or even never considered waste management as a pressing issue on their agendas, the problem of waste has been a global one for a while now, gradually increasing in urgency. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that Americans generated 254 million tons of trash in 2013, of which merely 34% was recycled. The Agency also estimates the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day, which according to the Duke University Center for Sustainability and Commerce, represents an increase of 1.6 pounds per person since 1960.

The ultimate goal of the zero-waste movement is simply to reduce the amount of trash we send to the landfill by shopping, and living, diligently and saying “no” to things that can’t be recycled or composted. 

With the goal of mirroring nature’s sustainable cycles, zero-wasters aim to turn discarded materials into new, usable resources thus work towards achieving a more “circular mindset.” “They reduce what they need, reuse what they can, recycle what they must, and compost everything else, working towards” (Earth Hero).

As one of the many leaders of the zero-waste movement, Bea Johnson is inviting people to lead a simpler lifestyle where they are able to reduce their waste output in today’s very disposable society. By re-evaluating how we approach the concept of trash and even transforming their own way of living, these leaders are teaching the world that we all have the ability and the responsibility to make a difference in protecting our environment. As Aldo Leopold expresses so strikingly in his book in his book “A Sand County Almanac,” “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” 

What I found quite interesting was the way Johnson debunked a common modern-day myth: “Disposable is more time and cost efficient” 

“We all yearn to save time, at any cost (including the environment), so we buy into time-saving tricks that marketing campaigns promise. But who is disposability really benefiting in the end? Take a pack of disposable cups, for example: How does (1) ripping open its packaging, (2) carrying packaging and cups out to the curb with your recycling (or trash), (3) bringing that container back from the curb, (4) going to the store for more and (5) transporting them from the store on multiple occasions save time compared to (1) grabbing reusable cups from the cupboard, (2) throwing them in the dishwasher, and (3) putting them away? It seems that we have been duped into thinking that multiple shopping and recycling trips required by disposability save more time than reusing a durable product.” (Johnson, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste)

Aside from powerfully clearing out all misconceptions people may have about zero-waste lifestyle, Johnson provides numerous creative ways to reduce waste. Here are her top 10 tips for beginners:



Fight junk mail. It’s not just a waste of resources, but also of time. 

Turn down freebies from conferences, fair … because every time you take one, you create a demand to make more. I know it may seem like quite an insignificant step, but do you really need another “free” pen?



Declutter your home and donate to your local thrift shop. 

Reduce your shopping trips and stick to a shopping list. The less you bring home, the less you’ll waste. 

Swap disposables for reusables (refillable bottles, shopping totes, cloth napkins…) 

Bring reusable totes, cloth bags and glass jars to the store and farmers market.



Know your city’s recycling policies and locations. However, recycling should be your last resort. Have you refused, reduced or reused first? 

Buy primarily in bulk or secondhand, but if you must buy new, choose environmentally friendly materials.



Find a compost system that works for your home.

Turn your home kitchen trash can into one large compost container. 

A zero-waste lifestyle is a journey that cannot be completed in 24 hours. It starts with small changes and it requires awareness and education as well as the power of daily decisions. According to Johnson, the efforts will improve your life, “Reducing results in a simpler lifestyle that allows you to focus on quality versus quantity.”

Krista Lourdes Akiki is majoring in management consultancy and global affairs. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she discovers new lifestyles and navigates new cities. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @kristalourdesakiki.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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