Read This If You’ve Been Thinking About Zero Waste

There is, inside of me, a small woman wearing Birkenstocks with flowers in her hair screaming at me every time I throw away a plastic bottle into a trash bin because there is no convenient recycle bin nearby.

I’d like to think that she has always lived there, growing from my childhood where I would watch my grandmother compost or my grandfather collect perishable foods from grocery stores to deliver to the homeless, but I think now, more than ever, she has taken control of my inner monologue, and become omnipresent in my daily life. She informs my collective thoughts regarding what I eat, she administers restraint when offered free items on the street, she even fills me with joy when I see bees buzzing along happily flower to flower, and yet, I still feel embarrassed that she exists. Moments like these make me feel small, irresolute, and afraid of actually making decisions actively regarding environmentalism because of the backlash the tiny woman in my head might get.

Living in Texas, this proves to be truer than living in California, but at the same time, I hate that this is so. Instead, I wish she was somewhat less inspired by Gloria Steinem and more of a Jane Fonda in appearance—giving the middle finger to the patriarchy whilst still rocking stilettos—you know what I mean? Maybe this internal wrestle was one of the reasons that in the dark recesses of the internet, I stumbled upon a California based French girl named Bea Johnson, who exemplified this personae I wanted for myself.

She is stylish. She is French. She lives in California. And yet, in spite of all of this, she is an environmental activist, speaker, advocate, mother, wife, and patron saint of the Zero Waste movement. She is also the first person that resonated with me after my thirty-day detox, who understood what it means to take ownership of your life choices, as they pertain to the environment.

The zero waste movement has been around for a while, but Bea Johnson is the first woman to kind of, capitalize on the whole thing. She studied, read, watched documentaries on environmental issues, and after living in a small apartment just outside of San Francisco, decided that all her belongings kept in storage, were not necessary to living a happy life. With that, she began minimalizing everything and came up with a method called the 5 Rs for living a zero waste lifestyle.

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Refuse: what you do not need. If someone hands you a flyer, business card, or plastic bag, think twice about it, and about the demand you create and the trash you bring into your home and the world. Simply learn to say no. 

Reduce: what you have. Go through your belongings and question the need for them. When you reduce the things you don’t need, you make them available for others who are in need. You boost a second-hand market and donate to families in need. Go through your home one drawer and cupboard at a time, and really check the space. 

Reuse: what you have, and replace the items that are disposable. Swap paper towels for rags, tissues for handkerchiefs, feminine products for menstrual cups, etc., now, there are so many reusable alternatives on the market for anything that is disposable. 

Recycle: is the last resort. Anything that you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse, ends up in a recycling bin. 

Rot: by implementing a composting system. 40% of household trash is compostable, as soon as you implement a composting system, you will notice a drastic reduction in your waste.

It sounds more like a complicated system than it is. In actuality, the process of attempting to go zero waste is more cerebral than anything. It’s more about educating yourself and realizing that the minutiae, that we have somehow bought into, isn’t necessary at all. I tried living zero waste for about six months. It was challenging, I failed, and at the end of the day, decided that there were more practical solutions to environmental problems, but, the lessons that I learned along the way, I still keep in mind today.

They appear in moments as a feisty little woman, dressed in black, with stilettos on, hair in a bun, speaking in a French accent, yelling at me not to accept the sticker at a street fair, or reminding me to bring my water bottle instead of buying one.

Do you have anything like this? Has anyone else tried to live zero waste but utterly fucked up? Has anyone had success? Leave a comment below or slide into my DM’s for some chat time on the topic.