Several months ago, I ran across a book on Amazon called Zero Waste Home, by Bea Johnson. “Hmmm…” I thought. “I could certainly use some pointers on how to reduce waste and become greener that way.” Well, I bought the book and started reading it, planning in my head how I would review it on this blog, and then…
Um…I’m sorry. Honestly, I lost interest and put it aside to pick up later.
Here’s the thing about the book: Bea Johnson has taken Zero Waste to the extreme (although, she claims in some circles she’s not extreme enough). She provides information on what to do and how to do it, in ways that I certainly never would have thought up myself. That is all good and dandy, and it is very helpful if I have a question about how to make makeup out of spices or shampoo out of baking soda, but as a book to just sit down and read, it gets old pretty quick.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book, or that Ms. Johnson doesn’t make valid points. It’s just that I cannot give a full review of the book simply because I didn’t read it. Or at least most of it.
In this book, Ms. Johnson lists the mantra of Zero Wasters, what she calls the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and then proceeds to take every possible aspect of life–from cooking to health to office supplies–and tells you how to turn your life upside down and remake yourself into someone with homemade everything, plastic nothing, and owner of nothing (books should be ebooks or library books, video games should be rented, jewelry, even heirlooms, should be discarded). While I admit that doing even a portion of these things can help the environment immensely, reading through all of these things, especially her insistence that I donate all of my well-loved and oft-reread books, as well as my mementos of my dead grandmother, whom I remember each time I look at them, kinda turned me off.
That said, there were some points where I felt little jabs of guilt. Ms. Johnson points out, and rightly so, that shopping at health food stores does not necessarily mean you’re living greener or producing less waste. Health food stores give a wide variety of foods that you don’t find at other grocery stores (and which I love, because I love experiencing new tastes), but if you get organic tortilla chips, you’re not gonna do much better than if you got inorganic tortilla chips. Same with sugary cereals, sugary granola (oh man, have I had a hard time finding near sugarless granola!), organic cookies, and so forth. And these all produce waste. Something that I love is baked seaweed strip snacks (Yeah, I’m weird). Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find seaweed in large packages. Instead, they come in these tiny little containers with foil/plastic coverings and plastic containers, and the containers are filled with mostly air. Yes, I can recycle the plastic, but as Ms. Johnson points out, it takes a lot of processing to recycle plastic, and often that plastic has to be turned into less-recyclable plastic. This sort of waste occurs not just with our favorite eccentric snacks, but with basics like meats, pastas, fruits and veggies in produce bags, and in both the paper and plastic bag options at the checkout line.
The things in Ms. Johnson’s book that I feel I can pull the most out of has to do with this food-related waste. I can’t compost, I can’t buy in large quantities to feed my nonexistent family while producing less waste per ounce, but I can make my own lunch instead of buying at work and using their paper plates. I can take a water bottle instead of using my work’s styrofoam cups. I can take muslin bags for carrying produce in the grocery store, and I can remember to put my reusable bags in the car so that I can say, “Neither” when asked, “Paper or plastic?”
I’m sorry if I made it seem like the book Zero Waste Home is a waste of time. It’s not. Honestly. I just feel like I am not in a position (or desire) to use most of the methods described. (Plus, she insulted my precious books. Okay, didn’t insult, but close enough)