About a decade ago, Provence native Bea Johnson was living the supposed dream in California, enjoying a 3,000-square-foot home, driving her two kids around in an SUV, and having the financial means to keep two large refrigerators fully stocked at all times.
But at 32, she found herself spending too much time in her car and not enough on foot. So the family downsized to an apartment in an area where they could walk everywhere. With less stuff, they had more time to do the things they enjoyed as a family, like biking, hiking, and picnicking together.
The shift made Johnson take a closer look at consumerism and consumption, ultimately realizing that recycling alone was nowhere near enough to help diminish their environmental impact. She set about greening her home and their lives.
For a decade now, the family has been able to fit all of its annual waste into a single pint-size jar. They've also reduced spending by about 40 percent.
Johnson started blogging about her efforts to eliminate waste, that project turning into the best-selling book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste.
She lives by the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recyle, Rot. (That last term refers to composting, which is simply the recycling of organic materials.)
Johnson makes her own makeup, refills clean and empty wine bottles during wineries’ bottling events, buys second-hand clothes (focusing on style, not trends; she is French, after all), requests that the fake grass on sushi platters be held back, brings her own containers for restaurant leftovers, and, at grocery stores, uses her own cloth bags and glass jars to fill with everything from fruit to mustard, where possible… The list goes on.
The New York Times called her “the priestess of waste-free living”.
She’ll be speaking in Vancouver for the first time this Thursday (October 25) at the Arts Club Theatre's Granville Island Stage.
The Soap Dispensary + Kitchen Staples (3718 Main Street), a plastic- and package-free grocery and retail store, is hosting her talk, called “On Becoming Zero Waste”. She’ll share details of her family’s journey, give tips on how to reduce household waste and consumption, and sign copies of her book.
Ling Truong, co-owner of the Soap Dispensary + Kitchen Staples, says Johnson was a big inspiration to her. Since it opened, the store has diverted more than 272,000 containers from Lower Mainland landfills.
“She’s influenced not only people to change their lifestyle but really has influenced so many businesses like mine to open up,” Truong tells the Straight by phone.
On Thursday, Johnson will dispel some myths about what it means to reduce or get rid of waste.
“She brings a little bit of glamour and fun to it,” Truong says. “It’s not all gloom and doom. You don’t have to sacrifice everything. You can do it with kids, you can do it with pets; you can even be stylish!” she adds with a laugh.
“Not everyone can be Bea Johnson or be a gold medallist when it comes to zero waste; the average person maybe cannot be that extreme or that minimal, but that’s not the point,” she adds. “It’s not meant to guilt anybody out. It’s to look at the situation you have and learn what you can do within your means and start from there.”
Tickets for Johnson’s talk, $14, and more information are at the Soap Dispensary + Kitchen Staples.More