On 27th September I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting event, in which Bea Johnson, the creator of the world movement Zerowaste came to give a talk on the occasion of the presentation in Catalan of its famous bestseller O waste home.
Bea Johnson decided in 2008 to live in a different manner: she was going to reduce the waste at home to the minimum possible. Today, the quantity her whole family generates can be put in a jam jar of 1 l. Amazing, it isn’t? This great achievement made her the creator and promoter of of the world movement Zerowaste, thanks to which she has published this bestseller and gives talks all around the world. This movement is a great influence for me because, as you know, I try everyday to reduce the waste I generate.
As I got so impressed and inspired by her talk, I decided to contact her for a little interview and that is the result:
Interviewing Bea Johnson, from ZeroWasteHome
Lucía: Sometimes, a too ambitious purpose can risk compromising the result and surely to many people can seem unattainable reducing to zero their residues. What is the first step of advice to those who want to start the way of ZeroWaste in their lives?
Bea Johnson: What we do to generate only a one liter jar’s full of trash per year is no secret. We found that following a set of 5R’s in order is the key to eliminating waste:
1. Refuse what we do not need (for ex. single use plastics, junkmail and freebies)
2. Reduce what we consume (furnishings, clothes)
3. Reuse by buying secondhand and swapping disposables for reusables (that includes shopping with reusables such as cloth bags, jars and bottles)
4. Recycle only what we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse
5. Rot (compost) the rest (fruit peels, lint,hair, floor sweepings etc)
The first thing anyone can do to stop waste and clutter from entering their home is to simply say no! Accepting these things not only creates a demand to make more. Give it a try, you’ll be amazed how much stuff you’ll be able to stop from coming in. Change is contagious, you’ll see that once you start decluttering your life, a weight will be lifted off your shoulder and you’ll want to go further.
Lucía: Your ZeroWaste adventure began in 2008. What has changed in your life over the past seven years?
Bea Johnson: It is actually downsizing that triggered our rethinking in 2006… We chose to move to a downtown to be able to walk or ride everywhere (school, stores, coffee shop, movies, theatre etc.)
Before finding our small house, we rented an apartment for a year, and moved in with only a few necessities (we stored the rest). We immediately realized the benefits of living with less: We had more time to do the things that are important to us, such as spending time with family and friends, and explore/enjoy the outdoors. When we then bought a house, half the size of the previous one, we let go of 80% of our belongings (including those that we had stored).
Voluntary simplicity was a first step towards waste-free living. But then with more time, we started reading up on environmental issues (some shocked me, others made me cry)- that’s when we decided to change our ways for the sake of our kids future and aim for Zero Waste. In the midst of the recession, my husband quit his job to start a sustainability consulting company; I tackled the house and our lifestyle. We’ve been waste-free ever since!
We found that the Zero Waste lifestyle is nothing that we would have expected it to be. Overall it has also made us healthier, and it saves us an incredible amount of time and money! What I love most of the lifestyle is the simple life, and how much closer it has brought my family. Zerowaste has changed our daily routine in these ways: It has greatly simplified our cleaning, it makes our housework and professional work much more efficient. It has allowed us to play more (simple living focuses on experiences versus stuff) and spend more time together with friends and family.
In Madrid, at a local level, there are also people who are promoting interesting initiatives when it comes to reduce waste. This is the case of Patri and Fer, that about a year ago decided to reduce the plastic in their lives and created the blog Vivirsinplástico (living without plastic). We have also spoken to them and that is what they have told us:
Interviewing Patri and Fer, from Vivirsinplástico (livingwithoutplastic)
Lucía: Can you please explain us how, about a year ago, you decided to begin with this living without plastic adventure?
Patri and Fer: We never liked generating waste and the simple fact of recycling them didn’t made us feel better. In spite of that, we were so absorbed in our routines that we were generating more trash than we desired and, not being very conscious of that, that distressed us from the inside.
So, one day, after reading on the Internet that people like Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer that lived without generating waste, we thought it was our turn. If they could do it, why us didn’t? After meditating it a few weeks, we thought that maybe it would be too much, so we decided to begin the material we liked the less: the plastic. Only the fact of thinking about it help us to understand how present was the plastic in our lives: we were not aware that we were plastified.
Lucía: Which were the most difficult moments of your adventure? Which tip would you give to those who are going to give up due to these difficulties which arise at the beginning of the trip of living without plastic?
Patri and Fer: The most difficult part was to become aware of it. It seems that the “normal” thing is to buy to plastic bags at the supermarket, buy a takeaway coffee on your way to work and buying a bottle of mineral water when you are thirsty. What is not normal is to contemplate that we are using a non biodegradable material which is difficult to recycled and that has long resistance and durability as something disposable.
At first, it was difficult to break with the routine. We thought about all the things that we consumed every day and came plastified. We are not being able to eat salad bags anymore? We cannot buy pizza? But, little by little, we found out that all had an easy solution. Once we got used, all became simple and now, to be honest, it does not require any effort.
What it is still a little complicated for us is the social relationships. We are pretty shy and sometimes we are not in the mood of giving explanations about why we avoid plastic.
For those who are going to give up, I would say that they have to do it step by step. You do not have to delete all the plastic from one day to another. All the plastic you stop using is a little won battle: you have to start for the easiest and, little by little, try to move on to bigger goals. All of us have different circumstances and we have to find what works for us. Once you begin, you won’t be able to stop: it is addictive!
Lucia: which are the beautiful surprises that brought you the decision of deleting plastic from your lives? Which is going to be your next step? Have you new sustainable challenges?
Patri and Fer: We could never imagine all the positive things that came up when we gave up plastic. At first we thought we were going to renounce to a lot but it hasn’t been absolutely like this. There were lots of things we did not need and used out of habit. Only by trying to avoid plastic we have rethought about of way of consuming and our values. Also, it is very rewarding living in consonance with our beliefs and not letting ourselves getting carried away.
Apart from keep on reducing waste to approach the goal of being Zerowaste, the next step would be giving away all the things we have at home but we don’t use: donate them or giving them. We are more and more close to the minimalist life: we want to live only with what is necessary or what we really like.
Interesting, isn’t it? I still have to advance to reduce my waste to zero but, everyday, I try to implement new routines to reduce waste both in my professional and personal life. These are some of the last I have started:
In the workshop:
1. We are trying to reduce the plastic: for example, I am replacing plastic brushes I use to clean the bottles for wood ones.
2. We reuse the plastic bags from the paper and plastic waste: we only empty then in the trash and we come back with the plastic bag.
1. We have replaced plastic tuppers for glass jars (reusing for example jam or honey jars).
2. We make our own yogurt and we buy all I can in bulk (I love seeing all the different food items ordered in different glass containers in the shelves) and when we buy in bulk we use fabric bags I have made reusing the linen of my son’s cot pillows.
I hope this post inspires you as much as it have inspired me. If you are thinking about reducing your waste, go for it! It will surprise you how rewarding it is.