Bea Johnson: How to live a zero waste lifestyle

10 years ago she started a revolution. Now she is traveling the world to spread the message on how to live a zero waste lifestyle. In an exclusive interview, orgayana speaks to Bea Johnson about her journey from soccer-mum to zero waste guru and how making a choice like Neo’s in The Matrix changed her life for ever.

Microphones are on, camera flashing and I have with me Bea Johnson in a, yes, red chair for 25 minutes. Looking surprisingly perk for someone who is visiting a new country in Asia every other day, Bea Johnson’s voice does reveal the toll of a tour at this pace, and of course, “zero voice” isn’t great when promoting Zero Waste! However, the red chair and the voice warms up, especially when asked the curious question on how you “reject business cards” in country like Japan:

“Well, you simply learn to say no,  This is one of the big rules of the zero lifestyle. Next time someone hands you something, think about it, do you really need it?”

It seems simple. Although rejecting a business card in Asia actually might not be simple for some people. And that is totally ok if you ask Bea Johnson. For her, living a zero waste lifestyle isn’t “either/or”, it’s about applying a little or a lot to whatever lifestyle you wish to have, without the pointed fingers:

“I don’t tell anyone how to live their lives, I make that very clear from the get-go in the book.  I’m only here to talk about my experience, if it inspires people, great, if it doesn’t, too bad. I’m not here to tell people, “do this over night”, that’s not possible. We didn’t do it over night, so we don’t expect any one to do that? We don’t expect anyone to go as far as we have either, like producing one jar of trash a year. But that said, everyone can maybe do a few things, the things they can see themselves doing for the long run, and in the end, they have everything to gain. It’s a better lifetime saving, money saving and you’ll end up with better health”.

Bea Johnson persuaded her own husband to go zero waste, when she asked him to do the maths on “before” and “after” zero waste lifestyle, and the result: a 40% save, spoke for itself.

So how did this zero waste lifestyle come about?  Bea Johnson was living her dream as a soccer-mum with botox, acrylic nails and hair extensions in a luxurious villa in the suburbs, but 7 years in, she paused and had a good look at her life:

“After a few years there, there was an emptiness, I couldn’t wait to move back to the city, and be closer to amenities. Where we lived, we had to drive every where, to the grocery store, schools, movie theatre, restaurants, by car – and I missed the life that we had known in the big city.”

Bea Johnson, her husband Scott and their kids Leo and Max moved to a smaller house, sold 80% of their belongings and began changing their lifestyle, educating themselves and embarking on the zero waste journey. A move that changed the family’s life forever.”

“It was actually exhilarating. I envy the people that start on this journey, because I remember how it felt to remove the blinders and it was just eye-opening and mind-blowing. All of a sudden, you feel like you’re in the movie, The Matrix. Where Neo has to choose whether he wants “the blue” or the “red pill”. The “blue pill” is to stay in the world that is comfortable and that he knows. The “red pill” will take him to a world that is scary and unfamiliar and he doesn’t know how to fight in that world. But Neo has “balls” so he takes the “red pill”. At first he gets hit. He doesn’t know how to fight in that world, but little by little he gets stronger and stronger and he learns how to fight. At the end of the movie, he’s on top of his world, master of his world and when he thinks of the world he used to be in, he would never think to go back. The one that he’s discovered is so much better and so much truer.

I feel the zero waste lifestyle is exactly like that for us – at first it was scary, we didn’t have the solutions when we got started – there were no books or blogs on how to live zero waste lifestyle, so I had to test a lot of things, google a lot of alternatives, call my mum, my grandma and mother-in-law to figure things out. But eventually we found solutions and we got stronger and stronger as well. Today we generate one little jar of trash per year and our life is so much better that we could never imagine going back to the way we used to live. We really see our old life as a waste of time and money and a life that was based on the wrong priorities.”

A lot more on this journey, Bea Johnson’s mission in life, people’s response to her lifestyle, the response to zero waste in different countries AND the challenge of giving and receiving gifts will be in our PODCAST – out in the New Year!

See Bea Johnson talk about when she took Zero Waste too far:

Read and watch Bea Johnson guidelines to zero waste here

Hear the Podcast with Bea Johnson here

Read more on Bea Johnson and her book Zero Waste Home here


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