Never Be the Same Again / Or a Day with a Zero Waste Pioneer Bea Johnson

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Almost a year ago zero waste pioneer Bea Johnson was visiting Vilnius for a book tour. I had an opportunity to take care of her busy schedule and without exaggerating I can tell you - that single day I spent next to Bea has changed all the following days of my life.

1 March, 2019

by AISTE ZALAITE

illustration by GODA PELE




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I went to a meeting with a publisher to discuss details of an upcoming event and my duties during it. Her first words were: ‘Just don’t buy take away coffee in front of Bea.’ I immediately felt embarrassed how stupid I was! I was briefed and looking forward to meeting a woman who could contain it all – a year’s trash of a family of four fitting in a small glass jar. I have to tell you the truth, I was expecting to meet a crazy hippie person from California. She was completely different than I had imagined. 

9:00 - Rushing out the door to pick up lunch box for Bea. I am responsible for her schedule today and, oh boy, it is going to be an intensive day with a conference, several interviews, shooting - all during one of the hottest days of the year. 

10:15 - I am waiting for Bea at the airport with a net bag full of oranges for recognition. I had only seen her picture on the Internet, so I am carefully examining strangers. I spot an elegant lady with high heelsaberet, and a small suitcase.  She is opposite from my expected version of a hippie, indeed, she looks so pulled together that it just falls into the category of what French call ‘je ne sais quoi’.

10:45 -  While driving to the hotel, I ask her whether she is hungry or has she eaten on the plane. Bea says that she never eats on the plane. Honestly, at first, I think it is because the food is terrible on the plane, however, my knowledge of zero waste is kind of lagging behind. She doesn’t eat on the plane because of the pile of trash a single meal produces! I immediately remember that little box of lunch served on the plane, where every piece of food is packed in a different plastic box. My imagination builds up a picture of just one flight with 250 passengers eating lunch and that huge amount of trash. I swear to myself never to eat on a plane again.  

11:30 - Remember those oranges I was carrying? Bea comes down from her room with a glass jar full of the orange peel. She asks me where it would be possible to compost it. Well, I look around like confused John Travolta on Pulp Fiction and respond that I will take care of it (mhm...will I?). She says it is not a problem for her to carry it around until she finds a place to compost but I promise her to do it myself and put a jar in the trunk. 

13:30 - Just one hour of Bea’s presentation of how zero waste movement was born and I am sold. It is all about simplicity. Living zero waste is not about making your life more complicated, it is about keeping it simple. It is not about making everything at home, it is about choosing wisely. It is just 5 R rule – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. 

14:30 - People have many questions for Bea. I am not surprised at all, as there are like a million of them in my head too: how does her everyday life looks like, does she ever eat in restaurants, how she manages to stay zero waste in the bathroom, how her family is keeping up with her? She answers every single question with an enthusiasm sharing her experience and none of her answers looks like science fiction to me.

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15:00 - It is lunch and interview time! We are heading to the restaurant and I confess to her that I was left surprised after her presentation since I was not expecting zero waste life to be this possible! Bea laughs and adds: ‘My husband was not sure either, but when he saw how much money we save, he just told me to keep doing this. Everyone has its own reasons to start changing’. 

15:10 - At the restaurant, Bea can order anything but she asks for a lunch box I am carrying all day as she does not want to waste any food. I really start thinking she is a real deal. 

16:45 - Shooting for a TV show takes place in a bulk shop next to one of the most beautiful churches in Vilnius. It is a tiny store where you can buy vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, sweets and many more without a single piece of plastic! I am amazed. How did I not know about this place before? Shop owners are the sweetest people and during the shooting, I noticed that many people of various age come to buy goods from here. Am I noticing a change?

18:00 – Final stop is a dinner party. For the last minutes, we discuss how in the beginning she made radical decisions, tried to change everything at once and failed. I am crying with laughter when she tells a story how for some time she was using moss instead of the toilet paper at home! Just imagine places where it gets stuck. 

22:30 - I receive a text message from Bea thanking me for a day and asking whether a bulk store we visited earlier was inspired by her blog. It is important for her to collect these places into one map to show everyone that zero waste movement spreads around the world. I feel inspired by her energy and dedication to be a change for her family and then for the whole world. 

A year has passed and I don’t know whether it is right to say that Bea Johnson’s zero waste movement is making its way to many lives. Definitely, it has changed my awareness of the problem. Maybe making your own mascara is not for everybody (yes, Bea does that!) but taking a cotton bag to the shop is not that difficult. Everyday you can notice how things which are supposed to make our life simpler – online shopping, take-away food - is what actually clutters our home. Bea said the hardest part is the first step - to refuse. 

P.S. Last time I was on a long-haul flight, I did eat on the plane but I was proudly drinking water from my own reusable bottle. Celebrate small wins.  

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