The Zero Waste Home

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Bea Johnson’s talk, the Zero Waste Home. For those of you who don’t know it, the Zero Waste Home is Bea’s blog, bestselling book and life philosophy. And while she doesn’t achieve zero waste precisely, her waste output for one year (for herself and her family of four) fits into one teensy little glass jar. It’s probably less waste than is in the small bin in a study, bedroom or bathroom, for an equivalent family of four on one week. Crazy, right?!

Bea’s trash for 2014. I couldn’t find a more recent image with her 2016 trash, but I would guess her jar was about half the size of this one.

To be honest I was a little bit skeptical going in – not skeptical about her achievement, but skeptical about how easy it is to do, for her and for people like me. Because as much as I want to minimize my waste and be a good citizen of the world, I also need to be able to do it in a manageable way, so that I can also work, sleep and enjoy life, at least on the odd occasion.

As it turns out, it is completely do-able, and Bea’s relaxed and humorous outlook on life has me convinced she has made it work for her. So I was inspired. Albeit reluctantly inspired.

zero waste home_bea_johnson_shopping
Bea shopping with her own glass mason jars.

The reluctance came from the realization that it will – initially at least – take some work to establish a similar waste-free lifestyle for myself. I will need to find outlets where I can buy goods in bulk, and using my own bag or container. I suspect this is a relatively new concept in SA, and so it might take a lot of asking and explaining before any progress is made. And as the lovely lady I met on the night said, she knows where she can buy milk in this manner, but it is some distance in the opposite direction to the other shops… Which is where the weird trade-off green-accounting begins, as you try to figure out what is the best thing to do. Do I trade off less package waste for petrol? And what about if I want to buy hormone-free chicken but cannot find it without packaging? Do I trade off the health benefits for less waste?

Which leads me to confession time… Right after the talk I nipped into Jackson’s Real Food Market, a shop in the building we were in, which I had never seen and which was decked out with delicious and wholesome foods. And they had these amazing free-range chickens, big and healthy birds which were free of hormones and routine antibiotics. It’s something I’ve been wanting to find for ages. So I joyously bought one. However, not only did it come packaged in cling wrap, but I didn’t have a shopping bag on me so ended up buying one. Yes, straight after Bea’s talk, I walked out of the store and joined the long queue of people who had attended the talk with me, holding my plastic bag of shame…

(In my defense, my green-accounting had argued the shop is far from home and I wouldn’t drive out that side again for a long time. Plus I wanted to support this chicken farmer… and eat his chicken. I’m not saying I made the right call. I’m just being super defensive because this can turn into a minefield really quickly!)

Zero Waste Home groceries
Bea’s cupboards – simplified, like her life.

But yes, I was also hugely inspired by the talk, because my big take-away from the evening is that humans are wonderfully inventive and we always seem to be able to come up with some kind of solution. For example, Bea ‘makes’ her own dental floss using silk thread, and has reduced all of her toiletries and home cleaning needs to a handful of basic, versatile products. So all those challenges I’ve mentioned above? There are solutions, I just need to discover them. Alternatively, I’m pretty confident someone else will – exciting new green alternatives are appearing all the time, like this eco-friendly, re-usable alternative to clingwrap.

Bea’s home is beautiful and I really buy into the idea she promotes, which is that with fewer things in your home and to worry about, you have both more money and time to do the things you want to, in life.

To get started on a zero waste home, you need to remember to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot – in that order! A big part of refusing is refusing to buy goods with packaging, or refusing packaging. Bea’s site has a Bulk Finder app, and South Africa is on it, and all South Africans are encouraged to share on it the stores that they have successfully been able to buy packaging-free goods from. Together, we can build it into a great resource. Check it out here.

And while you’re about it, why not join the Zero Waste to Landfill South Africa Facebook group, which brings you a community of like-minded people sharing ideas, advice and support in reducing our waste output.

Let me know how it goes, and if you have any dilemmas of your own!

Good luck!

All photos taken from Bea’s blog, the Zero Waste Home.



  1. Yay! So glad someone is pioneering this concept in South Africa. The more people get on board, the more normative it will become in the shops, etc. and the more people will also support the GREENgrocers.

    I think it’s important to not get too caught up in the “green accounting” – as long as you know you are in the process of shifting from less green to more green. And that perhaps one day your trip to your food supply will be on foot… in your back garden…

    PS: That plastic bag can be reused again and again and then recycled. Show me a picture of your mason jar collection when it’s ready 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yup, I’m pretty confident our new normal is going to be so much greener, and one day our kids’ kids will be lost for words at our ignorant wastefulness!


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