Hanging out with Bea Johnson, "The Mother of Zero Waste"
It was a pretty huge honor to be asked (maybe I invited myself) to hang out with Bea Johnson for the day, before her lecture at One World Zero Waste (OWZW). I'm pretty sure that Elana and Stephen Smith (the owners) had as many butterflies as I did, as we looked around at each other in the minutes before she arrived. I met these two lovebirds, and earth advocates only a half year ago as I embarked on my personal plastic-free journey. Their gentle guidance and ever growing knowledge of alternative living, has helped so many see this way of life as something completely doable.
Beyond the store sign and front, container garden, we all stopped breathing as she stepped out of the car. Bea was wearing a stylish, short-sleeve, black jumpsuit, and you better believe it was secondhand. This jumpsuit is actually one of the 15 items currently in her wardrobe, and it looked amazing on her. If you read Bea's book, Zero Waste Home, black is the color that her family most often wears, because it doesn't stain as easily and goes with everything. She brings a whole new level to capsule wardrobe as she somehow turns those 15 items into 50 outfits?!? With a fashion background, you would expect more clothes, but like with all things she somehow does so much more with less.
She said she was sick, but hey, it's flu season- we were all sick and we all hugged anyway. Then, we did some shots... of elderberry syrup of course. Elana has it on tap at the shop if you're ever looking for a refill.
Soon we were buzzing around the store checking out the goods. She jumped right in, lighting up when she found her favorites, and frequently mentioning "we don't even have this available near us!" She pulled out a cloth, drawstring bag from her purse, and filled it with maybe a pound of baking soda. "Do you think they will let me on the plane with this?!"
Her demeanor was like most french people I've met. She truly doesn't care if it ruffles feathers, she's just telling it like it is. It was so refreshing because it wasn't mean or judegmental, it was just objective, even about things in the store. Without worry of offending the owners, she went through each item and it's worth.
"I don't use that, anything that isn't necessary is a waste." So many one-liners that somehow blew our minds. How did we get this far as a society to think that living simply was so hard, or wasn't a desirable way of life? Or that we have to buy things to be waste-free?! Even the things we think are so ground-breaking, like reusable bags- she explains that we are collecting and accepting too many. Reusable bags take even more resources to create than plastic, so we better make it count. People may change their lifestyle, but not their mindset, acting like reusables are disposable is dangerous though, when it actually takes 131 uses to make it even worth making...
After she loaded up on what wasn't as available at home, and taught us more about "green-washing," we made our way to Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
I was delighted, because it was where my two passions came together; celebrating living zero waste, and seeing who exactly it was affecting. It was mentioned in my videos with the President and CEO that the washbacks, (hatchlings that made it out to sea, but then somehow washed back to shore) were being found with TONS of plastic pieces already ingested, even at a few days old! This is the kind of thing we are fighting against.This is why I am challenged to act.
As soon as we walked in, we were met with friendly faces and offerings. We held out our hands, but Bea firmly and politely REFUSED her welcome bag. No bag, no stuff, no thank you. The turtles can be adopted in our honor without us having certificates of it, without the stuffed turtle, and without the beautiful reusable bag made of recycled plastic bottles. They are wonderful, thoughtful gifts, but still unnecessary. She is so aware of the fact that by accepting, that's one more product they have to produce, and one more time that they think "everyone loves these, we need to keep making them."
I witnessed Bea consciously "voting" with her dollars and actions all day, and she left many confused people in her wake. Their stunned or offended faces hopefully, eventually turned to understanding, but they definitely won't forget.
I kept watching her face during the lecture, to see if she was shocked by some of the statistics, but Bea never even looked surprised. Of course she wasn't when her whole life revolves around auditing and limiting her family's waste, I'm sure is well aware of how all this trash got into the ocean.
For lunch we took her to Hog Snappers for a delicious meal. The big question soon arose, "Sooo... you aren't vegan?" If you are so zero-waste and so invested in the environment, don't you have to be? She explained that she doesn't think you have to give up your culture, or even some of your preferences to make a difference. Being french, she is very much a cheese, meat and wine enthusiast, but she found alternatives for that too. Get to know your local farmers, buy the whole cow with some friends, buy from local fishermen, join co-ops for eggs and milk. She actually takes some repurposed, glass, lemonade bottles to a vineyard and does a huge refill FROM THE OAK BARREL once every few months.
I thought it was a little far-fetched, but looking around me lately, it does seem easier than ever. I have friends with chickens and bees, goat and cow's milk, kombucha on tap, I even have my bread homemade locally by a friend! If we have thought about it, someone is doing it, and we just have to find them, and support them.
Would it be better to eat a salad than a burger at some fast food restaurant? Yes. It goes back to voting with your dollars. Fortunately places like Hog Snappers take the time to pick the most sustainable fish and seafood. I recently learned that shrimp, neither wild nor farmed is sustainable...It's frustrating, because there will always be new information, new ways to make a better difference, but as long as we look at them as fun challenges instead of reasons to give up, we will keep growing.
Finally, it was time for the lecture, and it began with a bang. She got all french with us of course, and the Sierra Club (sponsoring the event with OWZW) wasn't pleased with her. They did show up to a zero-waste lecture with a ton of printed handouts that no one dared to take after learning more about the zero waste lifestyle. For goodness sakes, Bea actually calls up every junk mail sender and stops them! Even her mailbox is waste-free.
Her previous lectures, Tedx Talks, and all of her tips for living waste-free are on her website and in her book. She is living the dream with nothing holding her back, while her family travels the world ready for adventure. Her teenage sons have been to 33 countries, and experienced real things that you can't buy or hold. Her husband consults for businesses trying to become more green, and together they turn heads and create conversation wherever they go, forsaking their stuff for their savoir faire.
It's just the "stuff" that is so hard to get over... My husband and I planned for a 10 day camping vacation, and somehow, even though we would be living very minimally, we kept thinking of more things to buy on amazon that would make it EVEN better! I just saw the lecture, I just spent a day with her, and I still couldn't pry my paint stained fingers from finding something else to buy. I know I'm not alone out there. It's something to be freed from, it truly is...
Let's change the way we think in 2020. Let's keep each other accountable. Let's stop letting social media tell us what we want and tell everyone on it that we are doing great with less. It doesn't even have to be as much less as Bea, just a little less than what we're consuming right now.
Who's with me?