The Zero Waste Home

Bea Johnson
the ever chic Bea Johnson

I moved to the West Coast in the Autumn of 2009. It wasn’t quite the cultural shock some would have you believe, say if you suddenly moved from Toronto to Istanbul, nowΒ that would be a culture shock, but moving from Toronto to Vancouver is quite a bit easier.

First, the country is the same, so everything that could possibly make things difficult – ie. language, currency, food – isn’t quite as shocking as one might think. The first true shock came to us in terms of real estate prices – we couldn’t afford a single damn thing. The other major difference I took note of is that people in Vancouver seem toΒ work to live, instead of the other way around.

Case in point, in Toronto at 6 pm you will see the lights in office buildings still on, you will talk to friends who are finishing up their office work, their construction job, they will put in the extra work, even if it means staying until 7 or 8 pm on a Friday, and then they’ll go out and play hard. Toronto = work hard, party hard.

Try to make a phone call to most major offices in Vancouver at 6 pm on a Friday – and NO ONE WILL ANSWER THE PHONE. You will listen to the message and realise theyΒ close at 4:30 pm on a Friday??? How the hell is anyone supposed to get any work done? And of course these people are off kayaking, and doing yoga on paddleboards, rock climbing, playing golf, even shooting guns at the range – they’re doingΒ stuff, not just going to some club and getting their drank on, which is why the city is dubbed ‘NoFuncouver’ because of the lack of selection in nightlife activities. Vancouver = work well, play hard, usually outdoors.

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This is a whole year of garbage. In one jar.

In order to help adjust to this West Coast lifestyle, I started reading Sunset Magazine, which claims to be my guide to living in the west. I adored it for restaurant recommendations, featured indie shops, yummy recipes using seasonal and local ingredients – and generally skimmed over the rest of the magazine. I don’t garden (yet), or kayak (yet), but I’m sure when I come around to it I will also find those sections interesting.

Anyway, a year after I moved to British Columbia, I came across an article in Sunset about a family in the San Francisco area that produces ONE JAR OF GARBAGE… PER YEAR! The ‘Zero Waste’ household was inspiring, but I didn’t feel like I could achieve it, not even close.

But how I lusted over her minimal (white!) interiors, her efficient and pretty pantry system, and the idea that buying used clothing for her children cost her $10 twice a year.

pantry
her pretty pantry

That was a couple of years ago, and since then I had loosely followed Bea Johnson’s blog, but really found inspiration for minimal living in other books and documentaries and websites. I think simplifying your life is a mental thing first. You can’t achieve it without having the proper mindset. You need to reason with yourself, give yourself a thesis and a mission statement and figure out what benefits you can achieve for yourself with a minimal lifestyle (and there are more than a few, thankfully.)

Since that first article, The Johnson family have become ‘Green Celebrities’, proving to people everywhere that even a “normal” family, 2 adults + 2 kids + 1 dog, can be so green it almost hurts!

And now, reading Miss Johnson’s book, Zero-Waste Home, I am happy that she is willing to share her tips with us, her attempts and her fails, and the life she used to live compared to how she lives now – yes, she was a major yuppy, with 2 cars in a huge house and living the American dream. Now this French transplant has gone back to her roots and realised the impact of living excessively and doing her best to overcome it. And hopes that we’ll all join in with her.

The book is easy to read, has no sense of pretension or judgement, and truly reads like your good friend giving you valuable advice.

I am no closer to having a couple handfuls of garbage per year, mind you, but our garbage per week has dropped down to one small bag instead of the sometimes two big black garbage bags that seemed to come out of thin air.

How achievable do you think a ‘zero waste household’ is? Do you think it’s feasible for most people? For yourself?

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  • I can relate to so much of this. You summed up the comparison between Toronto and Vancouver PERFECTLY. It’s pretty much the same in Victoria = Work well, play hard (usually outdoors or in a yoga studio)

    I’m all about simplifying my life, so I’m totally going to check out that book. Thanks!

    • It’s an interesting book, and it’s full of recipes on how to make makeup and cleaning products and lip stains. For myself I feel like some of it is a little extreme right now, but maybe one day I’ll be more into it! It’s definitely an interesting view.

  • I followed this guy’s blog and then watched his movie–No Impact Man and it was really inspiring. There were very hard rules–food had to be from a 100-mile radius, no Starbucks, no new clothes, etc. I don’t think it’s possible to have a zero waste house for us, but I like the idea of doing more with less.

    • I have never heard of him, I will definitely be checking it out, thanks! I agree, it seems difficult to be completely zero waste – case in point: my daughter would die without eggos, I recycle the packaging, but there is no way i would wake up early every single day to make her waffles from scratch. that’s what Eggos are for!

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  • Love this post! Just came across it while looking for smoothie recipes. I moved from Toronto to the West Kootenays BC and spent two years there. Then moved back to Toronto to be closer to family. We still keep the west coast lifestyle alive and well in TO, even though it is hard! Your comparisons here were spot on. 6pm on a Friday no one should be working! ha! Great blog πŸ™‚