Reading This Right Now: Zero Waste Home

| August 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste  (Scribner, 2013) by Bea Johnson

Everybody has their little fetishes when it comes to the media they consume.  Today I’m officially coming out as a sort of lifestyle design addict.  From Tim Ferriss to Zen Habits to Mr. Money Moustache to Bea Johnson, There is something about exercising the power to craft exactly the kind of life you want that is exhilarating to me.  In particular, as you might predict, I’m an avid consumer of books and blogs about simplifying life and reducing the amount of junk we create, while still living very, very well.  I hate throwing stuff away – just hate it – and am always on a quest to tweak that part of my existence.

Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, might have been written like other books of the same ilk. You know,  the ones that make you feel like a complete and utter planet-hater if you don’t sew your own moist towelettes or press your own olive oil?  But this well-researched, well-written book manages to crank out a lot of good ideas while steering clear of that kind of guilt trip (thankfully, because the hedonist half of me sooo detests a guilt trip).

The media hook is enticing:  Woman who admits to being in the koi-pond, Botox-injection, private-club, high-end-SUV segment of the population has an epiphany and remakes herself as the Oracle of anti-waste. Her family of four now generates just one quart of garbage A YEAR (yikes), and in the process they radically cut their living expenses, enjoy great quality of life, and are  all healthier than they’ve ever been.  Sadly, it’s the kind of premise that often makes me NOT read a book, as the teaser can be more satisfying than the actual story, leading to disappointment and a great wringing of hands.

Not so in this case.  Unlike many other books of this genre, this one delivered for me.  First off, the bedrock of this book is the extension of the so-called “three Rs” of waste  (reduce/reuse/recycle) into five – in order of importance:

  • Refuse: What We Do Not Need  (including packaging)
  • Reduce:  What We Do Need and Cannot Refuse
  • Reuse:  What We Consume and Cannot Refuse or Reduce
  • Recycle: What We Cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse
  • Rot: Compost the Rest

Grounding everything in just enough ominous statistics to make its point, but not so many that you want to jump off a tall building, this book is a nice balance of how-to, actionable tips, sneaky secrets, and overall strategies that make the whole thing do-able even by people who feel they’re really too busy to deal with this stuff.  The book can be read in different ways, from reading it cover to cover (take notes!) to simply using it as a reference when you are trying to de-junk one small aspect of your life,

None of the information presented is new to me, but the book’s value lies in its corralling of a lot of ideas in one approachable, easy-to-reference place. Her resource lists are also quite valuable, and worth checking out. The composting style comparison was of particular interest.

This book earned the ultimate thumbs-up from me in the fact that we actually PURCHASED it after reading it through our library….an honor that not many books of this type enjoy in our house.

Make no mistake: If you tried to implement everything described in Zero Waste Home, it would be a full time job in and of itself, especially with a family.  So a good strategy for busy folks, one Mr. GH and I will personally be employing, might be to choose one new thing from each of the five R’s over the next few weeks, and try to develop the muscle memory to make it a permanent habit. If we succeed, then we’ll try five more.

(Hot spots for us right now are junk mail, reducing plastic packaging, “refusing” in general/alternative container ideas, and further eliminating prepared foods in favor of no-packaging homemade.)


I don’t have any illusions about being able to reach the zenith of sustainable behavior that Bea Johnson has, but anything that adds a little forward momentum to our efforts to live well, but better, is welcome here.



Category: Book Reviews, Energy Saving, Home, Money Saving, Sustainable, Uncategorized, Useful Stuff

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