Bea Johnson, Zero Waste Challenge

Zero Waste Home [Book Review]

Author: Bea Johnson | Publisher: Penguin

Bea Johnson transformed her family’s health, finances, and relationships for the better by reducing their waste to an astonishing half litre per year. It’s all down to the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order!). Zero Waste Home shows how these key principles can be applied to every area of your house from the kitchen to the kids’ room, and it’s packed with easy tips for all of us: from buying in bulk and clever meal planning to simply refusing unwanted freebies and using your plants as air fresheners.

Bea Johnson shows, by inspiring example, what green living looks like and offers a practical, step-by-step guide to diminishing your environmental footprint and improving your life.

The Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life is a must-read for anyone serious about making the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s refreshingly honest, written by someone who’s actually done it, and who doesn’t shy away from talking about the mistakes and challenges along the way. The author also has a very relatable style, which keeps the book just shy of feeling preachy. And it’s actually surprisingly readable.

I liked the infographics and simplicity of the order in which you make choices. It felt very do-able, though, with all the tips and stories which followed later, I did end up feeling a little overwhelmed.

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It was also honest. Bea talks about the times she went too far, and the mistakes she made, and she isn’t afraid to tell you that it wasn’t always easy, and that the zero waste lifestyle has its drawbacks.

Zero Waste Snip 1

I don’t personally ascribe to the concept of minimalism, and there is a definite emphasis on this in the Zero Waste Home. I do appreciate that in order to really embrace the zero-waste lifestyle, some things are going to have to go – false eyelashes, for example (not that that’s an issue for me… but you know, it’s an example). You have to simplify. And I can see the benefits of that, to some degree. Though it’s probably something which doesn’t apply to me, as I don’t live a particularly consumery lifestyle anyway. That being said, I can’t see any call for chucking all the kitchen appliances you don’t use every day. Why?

Some of the suggestions went a little beyond what I’m willing to do, and even felt a bit extreme. I mean, they got rid of their TV to avoid being tempted by consumerism… We don’t actually have a TV – not because we’re avoiding anything which might tempt us into consumerism, more because, when our last TV broke, we realised we didn’t miss it – so it never got replaced. We have our laptops… I also don’t see myself turning up at the cheese counter with a jar… Too, too embarrassing! And making my own butter… No, I don’t see that happening. However, if some of the tips are a little “much”, the author does make the point that this is her journey, and everyone will decide for themselves what they can, or are willing, to do.

I liked that the benefits of the lifestyle were clearly explained with each tip and in each section. The family actually saved 40% on their household costs, and they talked about ways they ended up spending their time differently because of going zero-waste (read: more productively). I think people often overlook the personal benefits of zero-waste.

I felt the author had a certain amount of guilt; there was some definite hand-wringing about every decision. And, personally, I’m not sure that’s healthy. I’m more of the view, you do your best and if anyone wants to say you haven’t gone far enough, or criticises your choices, tell them to jog on. I’m not going to sit around agonising over the air miles or paper source every time I buy a book. That way madness lies…

I thought the Zero Waste Home was very comprehensive, readable, and even quite amusing. The author is relatable and I found her own journey inspiring and interesting. This is definitely a book for the more committed zero waster, but don’t let that put you off – I had an “aha” moment more than once, there were a lot of great tips which I think would be useful for pretty much anyone.

Some great tips from the Zero Waste Home:

  • Start with the small things: reusable water bottles and coffee cups, fabric shopping bags
  • Shop in bulk to minimise the amount of packaging you consume, where you can’t buy the product without it
  • Take containers to the meat, fish and deli counters rather than buying pre-packaged
  • Grow your own produce
  • Try making your own ketchup, jams and mustards
  • Make your own cleaning products
  • Consider where you shop – there are zero-waste shops online and in some neighbourhoods, smaller greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers
  • Say “no” to unnecessary plastic bags and gifts
  • Start composting
  • Grow your own scrubby sponge
  • Get the whole family involved, maybe make it into a challenge, try and keep it fun


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