How To Be Zero Waste

November 6, 2018

How To Be Zero Waste

Did you know that North Americans use about 4.68 pounds of trash per DAY?

And according to the World Wildlife Fund’s latest report, 60% of animals have been killed since 1970. If we want to stay healthy then we need to start protecting our planet too.

If the extent of those facts don’t quite sink in, read this:

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.” The Guardian


(Bea holding about a year’s worth of her garbage – image from

I recently went to a talk by Bea Johnson, the creator of Zero Waste Home. She discussed how living with less is actually living more. Why? Because we DO more cool stuff, instead of buying stuff. Which is a big win for the environment, considering we’re finding plastic in sea animals all over the world. Johnson doesn’t use plastic, so if she happens to be at a friend’s house and tries cheese that’s been wrapped in plastic, she says she can actually taste the plastic in the cheese. That’s some food for thought. And new studies are coming out saying we may even have plastic in our bodies.

Something clearly needs to be done. So do we need to do to be zero waste?

Johnson lives by her 5 Rs:
  1. Refuse – This is key! In a nutshell: Don’t take stuff (Think of all the free things you get: brochures, coupons, business cards, stickers, etc…)(and teach your kids to say no to stuff!)
  2. Reduce – use less, obviously
  3. Reuse – I think we all know this one
  4. Recycle – ditto
  5. Rot – ie. compost
Here are some of the things you can do to be more environmentally-friendly (that Bea does):
  • use white vinegar + water, for cleaning basically everything
  • buy castile soap (it’s better for the environment)
  • use a bamboo toothbrush (pictured above along with Beeswax paper to wrap food in; both from The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver)
    • Unfortunately the toothbrush bristles still can’t be recycled so that’s one of the few things in her jar of garbage above
  • use vegetable oil on your skin
  • use baking soda for toothpaste (that’s it!)
  • make your own mascara (you can find the recipe in her book)
    • you can buy mascara applicators at The Soap Dispensary
      • TIP from Bea: wet the wand before applying the cake mascara
  • make your own powder to use as dry shampoo or bronzer
  • use activated charcoal for eyeliner
  • use a handkerchief
  • make multipurpose balm (a mix of vegetable oil + bees wax) to smooth hair frizz
  • make hair spray (a mix of lemon peel & water, reduced & filter)
  • use iron stone for deodorant (her stone has lasted about a decade!)
  • use a wooden scrub for cleaning
  • put solar panels on your roof (I realize that might cost significantly more than a wooden toothbrush…)
  • use reusable totes when shopping (she uses 3)
  • use glass jars for any wet ingredients
  • freeze bread in bread pillow cases
  • freeze candles – because they apparently burn longer (although I’ve read mixed results on this online)
  • buys things with a lifetime warranty (ex. Jensport backpacks)
  • practice furoshiki – a method of wrapping cloth around gifts/food

According to Johnson, 80% of what’s in our closets is unused. So she has 15 pieces of clothing in total (ie. only 8 tops).  She also only has 7 undies, 1 bra, and 4 pairs of shoes. This might be pretty extreme for most of us (me included!), but it’s definitely a reminder that we can get by with less.
A few things you wouldn’t expect:
  • Bea isn’t a vegetarian – yes, everyone can be zero waste!
  • She actually found a TON of financial savings by being zero waste (some incentive for you!)
  • She’s anti-reusable straw
         -in order to go zero waste, you shouldn’t have to buy anything, therefore she says no to straws. Personally I think this is a bit extreme, if people are at least switching to something better for the environment by using metal straws then at least we’re making some headway. But I see where she’s coming from.
And did you know?
  • Bea created an app called Bulk Finder, which locates bulk stores near you
  • Nike has a return-a-shoe program where they reuse the materials, so take your old ones!
  • Cardboard can be recycled about 8 times, so keep using it!
  • The waste water treatment facility told her she can flush dog pooh but not cat pooh (um, something to look into I guess…)
  • The Zero Waste movement is happening in Asia, S America, E Europe
    • It’s slowest growth is in the United States…
  • Her husband has a sustainability consulting company, which got her into all of this.
BUT IT’S ALMOST CHRISTMAS, you may be thinking:
Bea suggests that for Christmas, give the gift of experiences, not stuff. If you’re really not sure what to give, searching Groupon activities is great place to start.

She also left us with a quote from Gandhi:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” 


The talk was put on by the Soap Dispensary, and owner Linh Truong. Thanks for putting it on! It was such an eye opener.

Further reading suggestions from Bea:

  • “Death by Rubber Duck” book about plastic toxins
  • The Inconvenient Truth

November 6, 2018

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