Living without generating waste

By ARTHI GOPI Time of article published May 6, 2017

Share this article:

DURBAN – SHE’S called the guru of zero waste and will be in Durban on Monday to show how and why such a lifestyle can be achieved.

Bea Johnson, a lifestyle blogger whose Zero Waste Home blog and book has an international following, will be imparting her tips at the Botanic Gardens from 1pm-5pm. Tickets from at R100.

When Johnson and her family began downsizing their lives it was the start of their zero-waste journey – they live in a home half the size of their original one.

“We started reading up on environmental issues and some shocked me, while 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,” she said.

Her journey began just over a decade ago when, in 2006, she and her husband moved homes to be able to walk or ride everywhere, such as taking the children to school, the shops, and visit places of entertainment.

“Before finding our small house, we rented an apartment for a year, moved in with only a few necessities and we stored the rest. We immediately realised the benefits of living with less, as 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, which is half the size of the previous one, and we let go of 80% of our belongings including those we had stored.”

During the recession in America, Johnson said her husband Scott quit his job and started a sustainability consulting company. She used the same principles in their home and lifestyle. “We’ve been waste-free ever since.”

Today, on her website is an image of a small glass jar, with bits and bobs on the inside – the items being the only waste her family, including teenage sons Max and Leo, had generated between them in the previous year.

“The advantages have been so great, in time and money savings in particular. We could not envision going back to the way we used to live and see our past life as inefficient, a waste of time and money,” she said.

So how does she do it?

Johnson promotes the 5Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot, concepts she will unpack in her talk.

Johnson explains how she achieves zero waste when shopping: “I go to the grocery store once a week. I bring our list which the family fills in throughout the week. We avoid waste by bringing reusable totes, cloth bags (for dry goods), and jars (for wet items like cheese and deli foods) to the store or farmers’ market.”

The last “R” for rot, may be the tricky one, but Johnson said there were many different composting systems available.

“There is one out there to answer the very needs and specifics of each household. I created a tool in my book to help people find one that works for their dwelling and diet.”

Flat-dwellers who do not have access to pavement rubbish collection can use a worm bin (on a balcony or a corner of the kitchen) or an undercounter composter (it digests fast but requires electricity to run). “They can also take their scraps to a gardening club.”

Johnson said key to growing the zero-waste culture was teaching children the impact of wasteful habits through picking up litter, taking a tour of the local waste management agency, or playing games in sorting materials, and the tools to avoid it through basic cooking or mending skills.


● Arm yourself with a reusable water bottle, a couple of grocery bags, a few cloth bags and reusable jars and bottles.

● Get your 5Rs right: Refuse what you do not need; Reduce what you do need; Reuse what you consume; Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse; and Rot (compost) the rest.

● Welcome alternatives to disposables (paper towels, rubbish bin liners, wax paper, aluminium sheets, disposable plates, cups). Swop paper towels for reusable rags; sandwich baggies for kitchen towels or stainless containers, drop rubbish bin liners all together (wet waste is mostly compostable anyway).

● Shop at the farmer’s market: they’ll take the egg carton and the berries baskets back for reuse. Your veggies will also most likely be free of plastic and stickers.

● Learn to love your tap water.

● Reinvent your leftovers before they go bad. Go through your recipe binder/box and only keep the recipes that can be achieved with zero waste in mind.

● Invest in a pressure cooker (halves the cooking time).

● Let houseplants absorb toxins and clean your air. Open a window instead of plugging in an air freshener.

● Dry washing on a line when possible.

● Cancel your phone directories, and sign up for electronic bills and statements.

● Reuse single-side printed paper for printing or making notepads held by a metal clip, reuse junk mail response envelopes and when buying new paper, choose recycled and packaging paper. – from Johnson’s website


Share this article: