Bea Johnson's concept of a Zero-Waste Home must be one of the most radical notions to take the world by storm in the last few years. Radical because when you get down to the nitty gritty, achieving a Zero-Waste Home requires a complete change in the way we live.
But it's popularity says something about modern life in 2017: We are becoming more and more aware of the ecological demands we place on our planet, and we no longer want to sit around and watch while the islands of plastic floating in our seas multiply, and the mountains of waste in our landfills grow each passing day.
We are prepared to take action, even if it means changing the way we live. Plus, the pay-off is awesome: an orderly, gorgeously minimalist living space.
So, what is it all about? In her celebrated TEDx talk, Johnson summarises the Zero-Waste approach into an easy-to-remember format: The Five Rs.
1.Refuse: This comes first because it represents a big change from the way many of us have been encouraged to live. It means turning things down and becoming strict about what we allow into our homes. Junk mail? Freebies? No thank you! But, more than the obvious undesirables, it also means refusing to buy something unless you really want and need it, and it fits your new definition of a worthwhile purchase: worthwhile not only for you and your home, but for the planet.
2.Reduce: A ruthless decluttering expedition will get you off to a good start. Donate to charity or get those unused items onto gumtree and out of your home. Jealously guard the orderliness of your living space and you will be less interested in buying random goods that will just clutter it up all over again. Johnson recommends sticking to a shopping list to avoid unnecessary buys - as she says, "the less you bring home, the less waste you'll have to deal with."
3.Reuse: Let's stamp out this throwaway culture once and for all, and get back to items we can reuse multiple times. Refillable bottles, canvas shopping bags, cloth nappies, even handkerchiefs instead of single-use tissues! Ask a grandparent or elder in the community to teach you how to mend clothing, or find a local seamstress or shoemaker who can repair beloved items. This also means making careful purchases - choosing quality, locally-made items instead of cheap and nasty ones that have been shipped across the world.
4.Recycle: This appears pretty far down on the list because, contrary to popular belief, it is NOT the answer to everything. Recycling can be resource-intensive, and often what we think is being used again ends up in landfills anyway. The trick is to tackle the waste BEFORE it comes through our doors so that as little as possible needs to be recycled.
5.Rot: Get that compost system up and running, whether you're using Bokashi, composting garden waste and kitchen scraps into a big heap in your yard, or setting up a worm farm - put that waste to good use in making you some precious compost for your garden.
It may take a bit of work to get going, but once you're in the groove, this Zero-Waste approach promises even more than turning your home into a minimalist's dream. It could truly lessen your environmental impact, and strengthen community ties as you engage shopkeepers, farmers and artisans in your area and challenge them to help you find more sustainable ways of living.
Date Published: 25 October 2017