The less I own,

the richer I feel.

Zero Waste is a philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible. Bea Johnson, Author of Zero Waste home.

I was first drawn to the idea of a zero waste lifestyle from the rumor that a life freed from the burden of stuff and wasteful practices gives more value towards meaningful experiences. And being that I started this podcast in pursuit of life-changing experiences, challenge accepted!

Zero Waste Podcast, Week 1

To kick off my commitment of 30 days to a zero waste lifestyle. I consulted Bea Johnson, author of The Zero Waste Home. She’s also the woman who coined the term “zero waste” and turned this lifestyle practice into a worldwide movement. She attributes her success to a life of zero waste to the relentless commitment to her 5 Rules of a Zero Waste Lifestyle.

Listen to Podcast on iTunes

5 Rules of the Zero Waste Lifestyle

Bea made it clear to me that it’s very important to follow the 5 rules in the following order: refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need; reuse what you consume; recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse; and rot (compost) the rest.

refuse reduce reuse recycle rot

By following these steps, in order, cutting waste can be extremely effective in saving time and money. So let’s unpack each step shall we?

1. Refuse

The zero waste life starts with saying no.

Compulsive accepting (versus refusing) condones and reinforces wasteful practices. We are a product of our environment, so it should be our strict prerogative to accept and refuse the items that request to enter our life. Before habitually accepting something the next time someone offers you something, ask yourself: do I really need this? If not, it’s as easy as ,”No thanks, I’m good.” Learn to say no to the things you don’t need, no one will be offended.

In our consumer-driven society, zero waste has become mostly about preventing needless waste from entering our lives in the first place. Every time we accept something or purchase something we’re requesting for more of that thing to be produced.

While the individual act of refusing does not actually make the waste disappear, it creates a demand for alternatives. Refusing is a concept based on the power of collectivity: if we all refuse hotel freebies, then they will no longer be offered; if we all refuse receipts, then they will no longer need to be printed. Bea Johnson

3 things you can do today to refuse less waste:

  1. Opt out of junk mail. Use the app PaperKarma to simply take a photo of the return address and they will be asked to remove your address from their mailing list.
  2. Pass on the swag bags. Although they look tempting in the moment, plastic pens from conferences, swag bags from golf tournaments, and everything listed for free on craigslist will most likely sit in a junk drawer or storage for years until you finally decide to throw it out. The very fact that it’s free means it’s probably not worth owning.
  3. Refuse plastic cups and utensils. 160,000 plastic cups, forks and spoons are thrown away every second! Do the fish a favor, keep your canteen and reusable utensil handy.

2. Reduce

Reducing also results in a simplified lifestyle that allows you to focus on quality versus quantity and experiences versus stuff. It encourages questioning the need and use of past, present, and future purchases. The things you own, you own because you need them. Bea Johnson

2 bulletproof methods for reducing less waste:

  1. Dive through your trash. Your trash can is a snapshot of the type of waste you produce. Seeing this compiled result gives you insight on the lifestyle adjustments that can be made to avoid, refusing and reduce those items from making to your trash in the first place.
  2. Minimize ads. A need is never instilled if the suggestion is never made. Advertisements and marketing are just that, suggestions. The advertising and marketing industry spends trillions of dollars to push the latest and greatest product that we need. Let’s take the cleaning industry for example. As brands compete for shelf space to catch you eye. Take a moment to consider this, diluted white vinegar is an equally effective disinfectant, stain and grease remover, grout cleaner, car waxer, the uses keep going … all without the harmful chemicals added, a fraction of the cost and best yet, fits in one bottle. Add a few drops of essential oil and you can even have that natural orange freshness scent.


3. Reuse

The practice (or skill) of reusing can be a fun creative process in extending the life of an object by repurposing it.

It wasn’t until I started focusing on this third zero waste practice of reusing that I realized why it was so important to follow these 5 Rules in order. Since the previous refusing and reducing practices eliminate what’s unnecessary, reusing is only needed sparingly.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Here’s Bea’s reusable checklist:

  • Totes
  • Widemouthed insulated cups
  • Jars
  • Bottles
  • Cloth bags
  • Rags
  • Kitchen towels
  • Cloth napkins
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Rechargeable batteries

4. Recycle & 5. Rot (Compost)

After understanding all that’s involved in recycling a piece of paper, it becomes clear why Recycling and Composting (Rotting) is last on the list. From manufacturers to municipalities to haulers to MRFs (materials recovery facilities) to recyclers, there is a lot of energy, and waste, involved with recycling and urban composting. Not to mention, even recyclable items can only be recycled a small number of times before they’re no longer able to be downcycled and are eventually destined to the landfill.

That said, recycle when necessary, but look to first 3 Rs first.

Benefits of the zero waste lifestyle.

Confirmed by Bea’s testament, in my short experience with a life focus on producing waste, I’ve seen a shift towards the following benefits:

  • Priority on experiences, instead of things.
  • Focused attention on being, instead of having.
  • Exercises creativity to find solutions to the wasteful practices.
  • Save money—the fact that pointless purchases are reduced is the obvious reason. Less obvious is that packaging is not free and it’s the consumers who pay for it, then toss it.
  • Living with less to provides space to focus on what matters.
  • The possessions you do own will be quality, timeless items that your great, great grandchild will one day use (so long as they dig your style).

Zero Waste offers essential environmental advantages that are evident, and the benefits go way beyond ecological aspects. It undeniably improves one’s standard of living. The uninformed might see Zero Waste as time-consuming and expensive (as I did). Yet these suppositions could not be farther from the truth! Bea Johnson

The 5 Rules for Zero Waste

How about you?

Interested in focusing on ways to minimize your waste, while shifting that energy toward meaningful experiences? Hit me up in the comments below. I invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions or questions in the comments below.

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