Zero Waste Tips with Bea Johnson

Bea Johnson and Catherine Conway

Okay, I’ll admit it; I suck taking photos at events. If you can ignore the low quality pictures, I hope you can enjoy the real gems that I uncovered at the I Am Zero Waste talk held last weekend!

What is zero waste?

It’s probably appropriate to start with an introduction to the zero waste movement. While I’m not quite a fully-committed “zero waster”, I do appreciate the movement and have slowly been adopting zero waste ways that fit with my lifestyle. Zero waste is a lifestyle choice where you throw away quite literally zero items.

Bea Johnson, on the left of the first photo, is an advocate and longtime zero waster. You might have seen her before with a mason jar in hand – that’s how much waste her family made in one year. She visited London to talk about her lifestyle choice, and ways we can improve our reduced impact on the planet by following zero waste, and I was lucky enough to go along to see her.

By her side is Catherine Conway, the founder of Unpackaged, a concept store built around the idea of shoppers bringing their own refillable jars and bags to take away the foods she stocks. I love the idea, and apparently so do Londoners as she’s since partnered with Planet Organic too.

The 5 R’s

So, onto Bea’s presentation. If you’ve read her book, you’ll be familiar with the most part of her advice, including her guiding principles: the five R’s. These are, in order:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

To start, try refusing anything that will cause waste. Say no to exhibition freebies, ask companies to stop sending you junk mail, buy produce that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic… It takes a combination of willpower, mindfulness, and this refusal to get started with zero waste.

Bea also mentioned the materials she looks for in products that are more planet-friendly, which I thought was actually quite useful. As metal and glass can be recycled over and over, they’re a really great option, while paper and cardboard is also good for recycling, and wood or bamboo can be composted easily.

Bulk buys

Another tip from Bea was to buy items in bulk. This reduces packaging, the cost, and you’ll be surprised at how many items you can make out of just a few simple ingredients. For example, for pretty much any cleaning need, you only really need three items: bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, and castile soap. This is all you need to make washing up liquid, window cleaner, bathroom cleaner… it’s all dependent on ratios.

Lifetime guarantees

The final tip of the day was to look for items that have lifetime guarantees. Bea swears by her sons’ Jansport backpacks, which she bought second-hand and then returned to the company for new replacements. While there is some conflict over whether the manufacturer will wholly recycle the old/used items, these kind of investments prevent excessive consumption and general waste over an entire lifetime.


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