Bea Johnson swapped Provence in France, where she grew up, for life in sunny California. Many years ago, she turned the everyday life of her family upside-down. Today, together with her husband Scott and two teenage boys, she lives a better-quality life that annually generates only a liter of garbage.

When, in 2009, Bea and her husband moved into a new 173 m2, lawn-less home just a stone's throw from the city center, they quickly realized it didn't have the capacity to hold all of their furniture. Soon enough, they bid farewell to everything that went unused, wasn't needed or loved--the motto they have lived by ever since. Bea's husband, Scott, initially struggled with the idea of giving away his sports equipment, but it wasn't long before he recognized it was better to focus only to what was truly dear to his heart. Over the course of two years, they slowly got rid of 80% of their belongings, which simplified their lives while educating them about environmental issues, their catastrophic effect on our planet, and the role they played in it.

Bea abides by 5 key steps in running her zero-waste home: "refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle and compost." Apart from preserving the environment, the Zero Waste way of life is also beneficial to your health and reduces your costs. Although the family has seen an astounding 40% decrease in expenses, Bea still pledges that simplicity of life is the best byproduct of such a lifestyle. By not putting money into products that end up in landfills, you save on time or, as Bea says: "Everybody can enjoy the benefits of a life that is not burdened by material stuff and wasteful errands, and instead focus on experiences." "We traveled by car a lot, packed snacks in disposable plastic bags, drank water (massively) out of plastic bottles, used paper towels and tissues, along with numerous toxic house cleaning and personal care products.

Thinking back about all those dumpsters we filled with shopping bags, the frozen plastic-wrapped dinners that I kept tossing into our microwave, made me realize how inconsiderate we citizens and consumers have become, while taking pleasure in what we call 'the American dream,'" Bea explains. When it dawned on them that recycling alone is not the answer to the environmental crisis, and that plastic disrupts marine life, Scott left his job to start a sustainability consulting firm, and the family switched to glass water bottles and re-usable shopping bags, practically overnight.

"Next, I started doing groceries in health food stores, where I found out that locally-produced organic foods are worth a slightly higher price, and that I can get by without packaging which would have otherwise ended in trash. So, I started using mesh laundry bags for fruit and vegetables, and transformed an old sheet into bags for unpackaged foods, the sort that need no tying up with disposable cords or rubber bands. I gathered empty glass bottles and jars from preserved food, gradually reduced the use of packaged foods, and soon the pantry filled up with package-free goods. I could even say that now I find buying in larger quantities addictive," Bea continues. Next came the bathroom. "For half a year, I was washing my hair with baking soda and rinsing it with apple cider vinegar, but when Scott could no longer stand the smell of 'acidic salad' in the bed, I switched to shampoo and conditioner using the same container for refills."

Bea follows 5 key steps in running her zero-waste home: refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle and compost.

Once a shopping addict, Bea now relished exploring new ways to create a user- and environmentally-friendly home. Along the way, she stumbled on a term "zero," to describe the "waste-free" industry, and immediately liked the concept. After having disposed of huge amounts of packaging, even if that meant going to the butcher with a Mason jar and collecting a week's worth of bread in a pillow case at the bakery, she understood that a wastefree home isn't viable without the help of family and friends. "The first step was when I asked my friends not to bring unnecessary presents. As a result, we added 'refuse' to our sustainable mantra of 'reduce, re-use, recycle, compost.'

But none of those measures lived up to her expectations. Very soon she was grounded by reality. "When I saw the waste at the airport and the plane, I quickly got off my high horse. I lived in a soap bubble. The world was still filthy. I had to look at my feverish efforts for my family to live a life without waste from a wider perspective. It was then clear to me that many of my efforts limited my contact with people, and consumed a lot of my time, which is why I can hardly call them sustainable. Producing butter for my weekly cookie baking was expensive, cheese making consumed too much of my time and was unnecessary, because you could already buy it without packaging. Sure enough, I went overboard with my ambitions--even picking moss as a substitute for toilet paper, for god's sake!" Finally, Bea concluded that, in order to follow a zero waste philosophy long-term, she would have to go easy on herself and find more balance. She wrote about her experiences in a book, which has been translated into 12 languages. Over the last five years, she's held more than a 100 lectures in 16 countries across five continents. "We not only feel happier, but we also lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff."

June 7, 2017 Living photo: Stephanie Rausser

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