The Founder of the Zero Waste Movement Visits Miami

By: Shannon Reilly

On Thursday, April 25, blogger, author and Green Award winner Bea Johnson chatted with Miami students as members of the Oxford community took their seats in an auditorium in Peabody. Outside the entrance was a display of reusable containers and representatives of Zero Waste Oxford and Moon Co-op, the sponsors of the event. They were eager to listen to a woman who began a global movement that has found its way to Oxford and inspired many to adopt Zero-waste practices.

Prior to the talk, free jars and coupons to the Moon Co-op were offered. The presentation was introduced by Jacque Daugherty, the director of the Western Program, who gave a few saddening statistics on the present state of waste and its impact on the environment. The average American throws out about 30 pounds a week of trash, and only a third is composted or recycled. This has created five circulating masses of trash in our oceans, currents made up of our discarded plastic bags and wrappers.

But that was where the disheartening notes ended. The presentation began, and it became clear that this was a liberating movement we all can, and should, be participating in.

Immediately Bea engaged the audience with light jokes of her husband, dog and French accent. A jar of her family’s trash from 2018 was no bigger than a coffee pot. I thought of my own trash can in my dorm, which filled too often for a room that was less than 200 square feet, and I was stunned at how little her family of five consumed and threw out.  

She stressed that how a zero waste lifestyle is a solution that would not be a sacrifice, but a change that can enrich one’s life as well as not contribute to a practice that is hurting the environment. Bea spoke to the appeal of a zero waste lifestyle from a variety of different perspectives. Creating trash is no different than throwing out money, an item is used once and discarded. As a result of their simplified lives, Bea’s family spends 40 percent less than they did prior to creating a life free of waste. They began this movement in 2006, and those savings allowed her family to travel and gain new experiences that they otherwise couldn’t afford. Rejecting plastics creates a healthier life safe from the toxins of plastics and packaged goods. She emphasized how this lifestyle gave them more time and more meaning in their lives, free from stuff.

Bea began to walk through the steps she recommends for reducing waste. First, she said to refuse what you do not need. Pictures of her house looked like they came out of an Ikea catalog, beautifully minimalist and neat. Her drawers had only a few necessary utensils, her pantry was a series of glass jars and all her clothes could fit in a carry on. This allows her family to rent out their house while they went on their global adventures, paying for their trip while they are on it. Refusing what is not necessary did not look like living in depravity, but looked life a life that was void of clutter and the problems that follow and filled with experiences.

The next step was to reduce what we do need. Donating unnecessary items to second-hand stores helps stimulate that market that is sustainable and accessible to all. Furthermore, rejecting what companies want people to believe is needed and uncovering what is needed saves money and fosters simplicity. Bea gave the tip that white vinegar and water will clean almost anything, and just a few beauty products she makes herself from natural ingredients do the trick. Her advice that cacao powder could be used as bronzer resulted in a collective “wow” from the audience.

Reusing, though an idea many are familiar with, can go far in reducing waste. Buying second hand, such as from a thrift store or through eBay or Craigslist reuses already existing products, saves money, and, Bea claimed, still provides quality items for anything you really need. Specific items can be bought from a company that offers a lifetime warranty, such as a backpack or even socks.

Finally, recycling and composting is for everything that couldn’t be refused, reused or reduced. There is currently a weak market for recycled goods, so even items that boast that they will be turned into something new will likely end up in a landfill.

A zero waste lifestyle was unheard of prior to Bea. The presentation showed dozens of entrepreneurs who had opened bulk stores that relied on reusable containers and social activists pushing her movement forward, reinforcing that this is a movement making a dent in global waste and what the future of shopping should and will look like. She has travelled all over the world doing lectures and visiting people that have been inspired by her refusal of waste, now including the Moon Co-op in Oxford that allows customers to fill reusable containers with bulk goods such as granola or sweets.

For more information, visit Bea’s website or reach out to Zero Waste Oxford through their Instagram (@zerowasteoxford). Also, be sure to visit their thrift shop that will be open until May 3 in Armstrong. Walking away from the lecture, I understood how zero waste is about consuming less but gaining so much. For those of us still grappling with an online shopping habit, transitioning to zero waste can be a process. Begin with a reusable water bottle, glass containers for food and shopping in bulk whenever possible. The free jar I got is currently holding flowers, and I ordered my coffee in a mug. I am hopefully one step closer to making my trash bin less full and my life a little simpler.

Photo by Shannon Reilly

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