Home » Bea Johnson: Two Adults, Two Kids, Zero Waste at TEDxFoggyBottom (Transcript)

Bea Johnson: Two Adults, Two Kids, Zero Waste at TEDxFoggyBottom (Transcript)

Bea Johnson

Here is the full transcript of author Bea Johnson’s TEDx Talk: Two Adults, Two Kids, Zero Waste at TEDxFoggyBotto conference. This event took place on April 23, 2016 at Washington.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Two adults, two kids, zero waste by Bea Johnson at TEDxFoggyBottom


Bea Johnson – Guru of the Zero Waste Movement

The average American generates one ton of waste annually. My family: one jar of waste per year since 2008.

Our journey started back in 2006; we read some books, watched some documentaries. And what my husband and I found really made us sad thinking about the future we were going to leave behind for our kids. So it gave us the will to change our ways.

I got super motivated in trying to find waste-free alternatives. I tried lots of things like canning and those — some things were good ideas; others, not so much.

Canning was a good idea, but I do not recommend using stinging nettle on your lips in lieu of lip plumper. It really hurts, believe me. I do not recommend using moss in lieu of toilet paper either. You see, moss dries, so the next day you end up with — you know those scouring pads? Yes, not very pleasant. I don’t recommend that.

I also tried using “no poo,” which is a way of washing your hair without shampoo. You’re supposed to wet your scalp, massage some baking soda in, and then rinse it with apple cider vinegar. But after six months, let’s just say that the oil of my hair migrated down to here, and I ended up with frizzy ends. Not quite the hairstyle I was looking for.

But I think I hit rock bottom, when one night I went to lay down next to my husband, and he looked over, rolled his eyes, and said, “I am so tired of you smelling like pickled herring, Bea. It’s really not sexy”. So that’s when I realized that maybe I had gone too far, and maybe I should find another alternative to shampoo.

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After all this trial and error, we found balance. We found that for Zero Waste to be sustainable in our household in the long run, all we had to do was follow five rules in order. Now, don’t you guys even dare think that we bury our waste in our backyard, or we throw it in other people’s cans, or in the public bins.

The first rule is to refuse what we do not need. We’ve simply learned to say “no”. We say no to junk mail, we say no to single-use plastics, we say no to freebies. For today, in this consumerist society, we’re the targets of many consumer goods. But every time we accept them, we create a demand to make more. Every time we take a free plastic pen from a conference, it’s a way for us to say, “Please, drill more oil from the ground to create a replacement, and the replacement will be created”.

The second rule of the Zero Waste lifestyle is to reduce what we do need. So in our home, we’ve gone through a decluttering process. The beauty of decluttering is that it lets you share the things that you do not really use or need with other people. It boosts the second-hand market, which is extremely important for the future of Zero Waste.

In my kitchen in the old days, I used to have a jar filled with utensils. I had about ten wooden spoons, until I realized that I only have two hands. And when I stir, I only need one hand. What’s the point of having ten wooden spoons? One is enough.

This is a picture of underneath my sink. This is a space that used to be filled with cleaning products because I was listening to what the marketers tell us. They tell us that for each application, we need a different product. To clean the windows, we need a product. To clean the floors, a different product; to clean the bathroom, a different product; and we end up with a cabinet filled with toxic products that we don’t actually need. We found that we can clean our whole house just with white vinegar and castile soap.

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This is our bathroom, and our medicine cabinet. So this represents all the products that we need in our bathroom. For example, to brush our teeth, we simply sprinkle baking soda on a wet toothbrush. On my eyes, I use burnt almonds; on my skin, I use cooking oil; and on my cheeks, I use cacao powder. The only problem with using cacao powder on your cheeks is that you have a chance of getting attacked by dogs when you walk down the street, but it hasn’t happened yet.

This is the master bedroom. And this, the closet that I share with my husband. Now, in a normal closet, people only use 20% of their clothes. They keep the other 80% for the “what if”. “What if?” What if we have a job interview? What if we have a wedding to go to? What if we are going to lose weight? What if we’re going to gain weight? What if, what if, what if?

What we’ve done in our home is figure out what our 20% is, and we’ve let go of the other 80%. So in my case, I have one pair of shorts, two skirts, two dresses, two pairs of pants, seven tops, and one sweater. Having less does not mean that you have less options. As a matter of fact, these 15 pieces allow me to create more than 50 looks.

My kids are minimalists too. This is my youngest son’s bedroom. And as you can see, all of his wardrobe can fit in a carry-on. As a matter of fact, each of our wardrobes can fit in a carry-on. You know what the beauty of that is? If we want to go away for the weekend, a week, a month; all we have to do is pull out our carry-ons, we throw our wardrobes in it, we zip it, we’re out the door, then a cleaning service comes in, cleans the house, and then we have people that come, rent the house out, and end up paying for our vacations.

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Now don’t go thinking that we’re trying to, or we hide things in other closets. This is our linen closet, and this is our garage.

Now the third rule of the Zero Waste lifestyle is to reuse. And in our home, reusing means swapping anything that’s disposable for a reusable alternative. So this glass jar filled with handkerchief is what has replaced the tissue box. No need for disposable sponges, or paper towels. We simply use rags, a wooden scrubby, and a metal scrubby.

No need for disposable food storage items. We’ve replaced them all with glass jars. And we also have been able to eliminate food packaging simply by going to the store with a kit made of reusables. So we shop the bulk aisles of the grocery store. And then once I’m home, I transfer the dry goods into glass containers so this is what our pantry looks like. And this is what our refrigerator looks like. We even buy our wine in bulk; we just get our bottles refilled at a winery.

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