zero waste

Who is Bea Johnson?

While most people involved in reducing their waste have heard of her, most of my friends and family who read this blog have no idea who Bea Johnson is.

Well, Bea Johnson, of Zero Waste Home, started the whole Fit-My-Entire-Family’s-Annual-Waste-in-A-Mason-Jar trend.

That’s right.

Her family of four can fit all the waste that they produce annually in one jar.

 

This is her family’s waste for 2017. Source: https://zerowastehome.com/about/bea/

The reason I am bringing her up is because I had the opportunity to hear her speak on Monday at the Shedd Aquarium thanks to an event put on by my buds over at Zero Waste Chicago.

beajohnson1

I have not been to the Shedd in ages, mostly because I am terrified of fish and only like free museums, but they are super involved in conservation through their Great Lakes Action Days and plastic waste reduction through their Shedd the Straw campaign.

beajohnson2

The evening started out with an action expo of numerous local organizations and businesses striving to reduce their waste. I knew most of the organizations in some way or another and got to see a lot of familiar faces.

I did get to pick up some low-waste powder laundry detergent from Meliora Cleaning Products, which I am super excited to test out. That’s a post for another day.

After the expo, we filed into the auditorium to hear Bea speak about living without waste.

beajohnson3

Bea’s journey to a zero waste lifestyle started in 2006 when her family first moved to be closer to town and it’s walkability. She outlined her failures with making her own cosmetics, shampoo, and even toilet paper.

She and her family follow the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Rot, which I have posted about before.

beajohnson4

Her family refuses what they do not need and say no to single-use plastics, promotional freebies, junk mail, business cards, and more.

Then they reduce what they actually need. One thing that she said really struck me, “Once we pass our comfort level, anything beyond that becomes excess.” That is absolutely true. She has 4 kitchen cooking utensils, uses only white vinegar and Castille soap to clean, and her entire wardrobe can fit in a carry-on suitcase.

The family approaches reuse by swapping out disposables for reusable alternatives, which means glass jars for food, an old pillowcase for bread, and buying secondhand.  Everything they buy is from a thrift store or from E-Bay for super specific purchase you can’t easily find.

After that, they recycle what they cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. Contrary to what people believe, living a zero-waste lifestyle encourages you to recycle less. Whatever is left is composted, or rot.

Overall,  Bea Johnson finds the best benefit of her lifestyle is the simplicity, which is something I can get behind. Although I understand and support her lifestyle, I know that for some people, it is just not attainable, which is totally fine.

You may never be able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a jar and that’s okay (I know I won’t). Every small step or implementation of one of the R’s is a step in the right direction.

 

 

I advise you to learn more about Bea and Zero Waste Home. It is really interesting. And with that, I leave you with these two pieces from Monday:

“When you live with less you have more time to do what is important to you.”

“It’s a life based on being instead of having.”

 

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Showered in Sustainability

I cannot believe my bridal shower was on Sunday.

While I did not plan it, I provided the hosts with 3 requests:

  1. Please have waffles
  2. Don’t be wasteful
  3. Gifts should not be wrapped

Yes, there were waffles and in general terms, it was not that wasteful. Win-win.

I have already talked about my dislike for wrapping paper here. Thankfully everyone abided to my wish and there was no garbage bag full of wrapping paper at the event of the event.

bridal shower3

Otherwise, most decorations will be able to serve double duty at future events.

My mother got real crafty with prizes and favors. She bought a custom stamp on Etsy to decorate cotton grocery bags, and my parents had an assembly line going to make each one.

bridal shower

They were a hit!

bridal shower1

For those who won bridal shower games, they were gifted with produce bags! Hehe!

bridal shower2

It was great to have an event that kind of set the tone for the wedding a few months down the road.

My Bad

Things have been a little crazy over and Waste Not Want Not has sadly fallen a bit to the wayside.

My apologies.

Wedding planning has basically taken over my life, but when I am not scrolling through Pinterest,

I have been attending sustainability panels,

sustainability panel

been snowed in,

snowed in

played ping pong at a CO2 neutral place,

 

Ace Bounce

SPiN Chicago

 

and ate lunch at a place that works with imperfect produce.

Doves Luncheonette

I promise I will be back soon with some legitimate content!

 

Talking Trash: Garbology

You know you are nerdy when the current book you are reading is a book from the library on garbage.

garbology

But hey, whatever.

I am reading Garbology by Edward Humes as part of Zero Waste Chicago‘s BYO Books March Book Club, and so far it has been a bit challenging to get through.

“Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet, throwing away about 7.1 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. Across a lifetime that rate means, on average, we are each on track to generate 102 tons of trash.”

-Edward Humes, Garbology

It is an informative book for sure and definitely eye-opening, but I often have trouble reading (and watching) about things that are just so darn negative. It is why I haven’t watched Cowspiracy.

The best part of the book was finding another, more meaningful book.

Let me back up and explain.

I hang out with my grandma a lot and when I go over there, she tries to give me stuff. I love old things and usually take what she offers me (we have started a collection of old cookbooks from her now). A while ago, I was helping her clean out a room and we went through books that had been on a bookshelf for probably 40 or more years. I took a couple that sounded interesting and a few that just looked cool.

Fast forward.

As I was reading Garbology, Humes referenced a book from the 60’s called The Waste Makers.

“Vance Packard…wrote a prophetic follow-up in 1960 called The Waste Makers. In it, he accused his industry and marketing critics of sparking a crisis of excess and waste that would exhaust both nation and nature, until future Americans were forced by scarcity to ‘mine old forgotten garbage dumps’ to recover squandered resources.”

-Edward Humes, Garbology

I sat on the couch pondering this book he referenced. It sounded so familiar. So I got up, and I peered into our bookstand TV case.

Sure enough, The Waste Makers was stacked between Catching Fire and The Martian. It was one of the books I had taken from my grandmother’s.

tv stand with book

I immediately called her and asked about the book, curious about who was the original owner. Unfortunately, she couldn’t entirely remember, but we deduced that it was most likely my great grandfather’s, a German immigrant who was adamant about planting trees.

The Wast Makers

I can’t wait to read this book that my great grandfather read. Even though it is 58 years old it is absolutely ahead of its time and scarily accurate.

“Wastefulness has become a part of the American way of life. [The people of the United States]…must be induced to step up their individual consumption higher and higher, whether they have any pressing needs for the goods or not. Their ever-expanding economy demands it.”

-Vance Packard, The Waste Makers

Snacks Sans Packaging Leaves Me Hangry

I am almost a week into my package-free snack Lent challenge.

During the workday, I have been doing okay. I stocked up on fruits and nuts and double downed on carrots and hummus.

Now that I look back on the week, it is cool to open my lunch bag (which is more than just lunch, I pack food for the entire day) and see that everything in it is a whole food.

My troublesome area so far is when I come home from work. I am pretty famished and just want to eat the first thing I see when I open the kitchen cabinet. The usual bag of popcorn (or pretzels, wheat thins, whatever it may be that week) is off limits and I have eaten enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day that I don’t want to snack on an apple when I get home.

On Friday, my third day of this challenge, I made stovetop popcorn for my after work snack. As annoying as it sounds, and much more time consuming than opening a packaged bag of popcorn, it really isn’t that much more work. It takes maybe 5 minutes and tastes way better.

It may just be my saving grace.

So I will share it with you!

popcorn recipe

If you don’t end up eating it all (which is hard), I was able to keep it fresh until the next day by storing it in an airtight container.

Do you have any other snack suggestions? Please share!

See Ya Packaged Snacks

It’s Lent for you practicing Catholics out there, a time to give up something that you are accustomed to, or make a sacrifice.

I tried giving up plastic for lent the other year and that was rough.

This year, after much discussion, I have decided to give up packaged snacks. It is not that I eat individually wrapped granola bars every day, but like snacks that come in a plastic bag or in a box.

I am looking at you pretzels and wheat thins.

Those are my go-to for a snack at work. Not only will this be a challenge of my own will, but it will help reduce waste and my processed food consumption. A win-win right?

Now, what should I eat for the next 40 days!?

A Zero Waste Super Bowl?

I don’t really care about the Super Bowl.

Commercials are good and I generally enjoy eating the food associated with a Super Bowl party.

But you know what really gets me pumped about a Super Bowl? Waste reduction! This year will attempt to divert 90% of the stadium’s waste.

Which is awesome!

Back in the day, while interning at the U.S. EPA, I had the chance to interview the NFL’s Environmental Program Director about that year’s Super Bowl. It was a really neat experience.

Check out the post below.


Science Wednesday: A Sustainable Super Bowl XLVI

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Marguerite Huber

On Sunday, February 5th 2012, thousands of people descended upon Indianapolis, Indiana to watch Super Bowl XLVI. While millions watched the game, they were probably unaware of the sustainability actions that were put forth at Lucas Oil Stadium.

I spoke with NFL Environmental Program Director, Jack Groh, about what his job entails. He describes his job as incorporating environmental principles into sporting events, all the while making good business decisions. In the 18 years Groh has been with the NFL, they have kept expanding their sustainability actions, moving from just solid waste recycling to green energy seven years ago.

This year the NFL will be offsetting the energy for the stadium with Renewable Energy Credits for an entire month! “We are renting the stadium for a month, so we believe we are responsible for our tenancy,” states Groh. In addition to the stadium, the program will be offsetting the city’s convention center and four major hotels. That’s an estimated total offset of 15,000 megawatt hours.

“Every year there is something new and exciting. We want to push the envelope and look for new impacts and strategies,” Groh proclaims. For example, diverting waste from landfills by promoting recycling and reuse, collecting extra prepared food for donations for soup kitchens, donating building and decorative materials to local organizations, and reducing the impact of greenhouse gases from Super Bowl activities. My favorite is the 2,012 Trees program, which will help plant 2,012 trees in Indianapolis to help offset environmental impacts.

What I found most interesting from talking with Mr. Groh was that he does not spend a lot of time with publicity, which is why many of you may have never heard of this program. “People are amazed that we have been doing this for two decades. We don’t do it to create an image or green presence in the media, but do it because it’s the right thing and a really smart way to run things. Our goal is make the Super Bowl as green as we possibly can make it.” Groh admitted.

Sustainability and sports is a growing trend, even if it is not seen on the surface of our favorite sporting events. I am excited to see how professional leagues will mold the core of their existence into a new form of competition that is not just for teams, but for the professional leagues themselves. With sustainability, everybody wins!

Double Duty on Wedding Purchases

Getting married is hard.

There are so many decisions, so much research, and so many opinions.

While making decisions on physical purchases, I have been keeping one question in mind:

What purpose will this serve after the wedding is over?

For example:

What purpose will this shirt that says “Future Mrs. X” serve after the wedding is over? 

The answer is none. Please, no one ever buy me this.

lantern.jpg

What purpose will these gold lanterns we scoured multiple Targets for serve after the wedding is over?

I plan on keeping a few and then selling the rest!

What purpose will these koozie favors serve after the wedding is over?

None because there will be no koozies.

Don’t hate me for hating on the koozies. I have a million of them. They get tossed into a cabinet, and I never use them. So no they serve no purpose for me.

I want my purchases to serve double duty, so I am trying to avoid anything that blatantly says Mr. and Mrs, or is obviously wedding related. I want to wear my wedding shoes again! I want to be able to use the bulk thank you cards I bought on Amazon for any other situation post-wedding!

Some people might say, “But it’s your wedding! You only get married once!

Yes, and because of that I want to be able to have a regular use for anything from that day, so I can always be reminded of it.

Doesn’t that make more sense?

 


If you are interested in more, I’ve previously posted about renting versus buying wedding decor and buying wedding decor secondhand.

 

On the Way To A Less Wasteful Wedding

135 days to go until our wedding day.

Less than 5 months.

engagement3

That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you start this wedding planning journey a whole year and a half beforehand, it’s a lot.

Plenty of things have been crossed off the to-do list, but there are still many more tasks to go.

Here is a roundup of my less wasteful wedding planning experience so far:

Yet there is still so much to do!

 

wedding dress

This is NOT my wedding dress. Just one I tried on.

 

The 5 R’s

Back in the day, it was just the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.

3 r's

I know this because I did a science project about it in 6th grade and decorated it with puffy paint.

But since then, 2 new R’s have been added to the spectrum: refuse and rot.

There are other R’s that people add such as repair and repurpose, but I kinda lump those under reuse, so I am going to leave those out for now.

The best way to visualize the 5’s is in an inverted pyramid, with our biggest, most common actions on top, leading down to what we should be doing the least at the very bottom.

So at the top of this inverted pyramid, we have our number one way to avoid waste and that is Refuse. Saying no is the number one way to keep stuff out of the landfill. I talked about this recently in my 10 Most Overlooked Ways to Reduce Waste post. Saying no keeps those items from entering our lives in the first place, be they straws, food packaged in plastic, or freebies. Collectively saying no, and therefore decreasing demand, also can spur change.

After we have refused all the bad stuff (excessive packaging, food that’s grown far away, etc.) it is time to focus on what we do have and use, and then Reduce it. Don’t go out to eat for lunch every day or cut back on buying new clothes.

Now we have a curated list of items that we own and use. Sometimes those items will break, need some fixing or their original purpose becomes unnecessary. This is where Reuse (and repair and repurpose) comes it. Turn that old dresser into a jazzed up TV stand. Unleash your inner DIY goddess.

Now we get into the last resort part of the pyramid. If we cannot Refuse, Reduce, or Reduce something, then the next place it should head is into your compost bin to Rot.

Who knew that many years after middle school I actually would be composting!

Pictures

But plastic is not compostable, so any milk jugs and glass bottles (that you have not already refused and reused) should then be Recycled. Notice that recycling is pretty far down the list.

It definitely is not as far as the very last option of the Landfill, the place where your trash goes on to live forever. I love when trash cans are labeled with “landfill.” It helps you think before you toss that your gum wrapper is going to head to a giant hole in the ground and not to this fantasy land of “away.”

 

What is in a landfill?

Not sure this information is accurate anymore…

 

And that’s the 5 R’s (+ Landfill)! Here is an example of one piece, say a magazine, going through each step of the pyramid.

  • Refuse: You are offered a free magazine subscription that you politely decline
  • Reduce: You still love reading physical magazines (and if you do, that is great! You do you!) so you cut back on how many you subscribe to and get the rest online.
  • Reuse: After reading the magazine, you cut out the pages to decoupage a DIY project or use the pages as padding material for your Christmas ornaments.
  • Rot: When your done with your DIY projects, you add it to your compost pile or bucket
  • Recycle: If you don’t have access to composting, you toss the magazine in the recycling bin.
  • Landfill: If you don’t do any of the above things…