Going zero waste—or just reducing your footprint—doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s easier if it’s as uncomplicated as possible.
If zero waste were easy, everyone would adopt the lifestyle, right? The relatively small number of people committing to using only zero waste disposal methods might imply that is the case, but maybe that’s only because few people understand the secret to successfully sticking to a zero waste lifestyle, a secret the mind behind Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson, recently shared.
Johnson—who has also penned a book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste—says the key to successfully leading a zero waste lifestyle is simple … literally.
“We’ve been able to do this for as long as we have because we’ve adopted simple solutions,” Johnson says. She and her family have pursued a zero waste lifestyle since 2006, and Johnson has been sharing the knowledge she’s gained in the process far and wide since 2010.
Johnson encourages low- or zero-waste alternatives that are manageable and long-term, alternatives people can reasonably continue to use for years to come, similar to how setting up a recycling system can encourage good recycling practices. Johnson actually discourages making everything (soap, toothpaste, shampoo, and more) by hand at home, a popular trend among many zero waste bloggers—and one Johnson herself tried when she was just getting started.
“They’re associating zero waste with everything homemade,” Johnson says. “I’m fighting really hard against that, because I think it’s scaring fulltime working moms with all these crazy recipes to make products that are completely unnecessary. People who work full time are like ‘I don’t have time to do this, so zero waste is not for me.’”
In Johnson’s experience, the real secret to going zero waste is cutting back on all those so-called essentials and simply using the unpackaged, minimally processed goods that are already available—something any working woman or man can do with a trip to the right store.
When people trying to go zero waste get rid of single-use items around the house, Johnson says they should maintain the pared-down, simplified lifestyle, and look for multi-tasking alternatives that can replace several items, instead of a one-for-one zero waste replacement. Most people already have the materials they need to go zero waste somewhere in the home, Johnson says.
She and her family use baking soda to brush their teeth, in addition to its other uses, and use the same type of package-free soap for multiple cleaning tasks. In cutting out single-use items, plastics, and more, they’ve found simplicity in all areas of their life. They’ve saved themselves time, effort, and money, in addition to reducing their environmental impact.
Learning how to recycle almost anything and discovering the answers to common recycling questions is one way to help the planet, but trying a zero waste lifestyle is still the best way to truly give the environment a break—and it’s more simple than anyone might expect.
“Living simply does not take more time, it does not complicate your life,” Johnson says. “It simplifies your life. It makes room in your life for what matters most to you. And, as a matter of fact, it’s thanks to this lifestyle that we’ve discovered a life based on experiences and other things. A life based on being instead of having. And to us, that’s what makes life richer.”