Book Review: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

It should come as no surprise I’m reviewing Bea Johnson’s book, given every Wednesday is devoted to my attempts at getting my (landfill) waste down to zero.

The book behind the blog source:
The book behind the blog

I’ve known about Bea and her blog for a while – I can’t pinpoint exactly when.  I have had many weeks visiting with no new content, so it was at least since last (northern hemisphere’s) summer.  To be honest, it’s sad she doesn’t post as often now, and the old posts are often closed for commenting.   I’ll get to that later, back to the book.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t feel like I learnt too much.  I’d hoped there’d be some ground breaking changes I could make, but I think I have most of the solutions in my head, even if I’m not implementing them just yet.

Bea’s family has had to adjust to a changed diet to meet the zero waste initiative.  She doesn’t really talk about these compromises to make to get to zero waste.  Whilst she shares that it’s healthier, I still struggle to find zero waste options for things like puff pastry.  I could go without, but I don’t want to, and I know I can make it, but it is too hard.  I wonder what things the family now goes without.  I suppose those are excuses – but then Bea decided to opt out of DIY yoghurt too, and thankfully has sourced it in glass – something I know is common in France, rarer in the US and almost non existent in Australia.

I was also surprised, not by her international travel (seeing my veiws align with hers – travel is crucial and will never be zero waste, at least not from a carbon emission point of view), I was surprised that her simplified life still contained a clothes dryer and a dishwasher.  The clothes dryer is surprising when you consider how she explains the temperate climate they enjoy and makes her life simple with a capsule wardrobe.  Even in extreme climates, the central heating helps dry things on racks.  Definitely a moment where I thought ‘wow, something I do that Bea doesn’t’ and patted myself on the back.  (I didn’t own a dryer in the loft, now the owners have one for us here, and seeing I can’t dry sheets any other way… I’ve gone over to the dark side for the sheets only).

The book didn’t go into as much detail as I expected about her simplification and decluttering.  I think the process of getting rid of possessions, and getting her house to the sleek look it has, surely came with some struggles.  I’m sure readers would have loved to hear more about this (I would have!)  And more empathy with the ‘recycle’ component with giving away and thrifting items (even though refuse and reuse come first).  Which also begs the question – where is the line between reuse and recycle – when do you thrift something and when do you keep it, thinking it’ll get used ‘some day’.  Maybe the journey is covered more in her archives?

Now, to her zero waste blog:  It drives me nuts that I can’t actually ‘search’ her blog to find the ‘start’ of the journey (or what she does with a certain hiccup in my route to zerowaste).  There is a tag cloud, but no ‘in the beginning ..’ Which brings me to the next point:

The answer to a lot of questions on her Facebook stream is to suggest the topic is covered in the book.  Now, to me, selling a book isn’t a wastefree proposition (which she acknowledges, and opted for phote free to use less chemicals, as well as an e version).  I’d been awaiting the book’s arrival at my local library, until a very kind reader (with her own lovely blog Living Simply Free) offered to send me her copy.  I am eternally grateful, as the book is still not in the library!  But of course, now I forget some of my relevant questions to look them up in the book!  Sigh… I should have listed them

Am I too harsh? Was I expecting too much? I probably couldn’t write a better book – and a lot of the content is somewhat country specific, which might explain why it’s not yet in Australia (as far as I know).  Would anyone like me to pass the book along to them?

29 Replies to “Book Review: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson”

  1. Sarah, I too wanted to read it so badly that I bought it as it isn’t available at my library either. I was disappointed that I didn’t have much to learn from the book and was sure you were far enough along in the journey not to learn much new. My lifestyle is so different from hers that much didn’t pertain to my life. I was disappointed by her dismissal of things like no poo because of the apple cider vinegar. I use white vinegar with no problem. She also dismisses the no poo method unless you have short hair.

    I think the problem you and I ran into are also our goals vs hers. She only seeks to have zero garbage, and a minimalist lifestyle, not look at energy use which explains the dishwasher and dryer.

    1. I'm glad to hear you found reading it similar – who'd have thought we were so evolved?! I certainly don't think I'm at the extreme end of zero waste, and I'm not at the one 1 quart jar like Bea is – but I'm working towards it, with compromises being made.

      She does dismiss somethings seemingly quickly, but I suppose each to their own. She does touch on the more enviro friendly options, but I agree, she's not as committed to lessening her footprint in those areas as she is in 'weighing in' at zero, or as close to! Still she's getting the message out there that there are ways to severely lessening the garbage you create and make better choices – even if we don't it differently, we're united in the objective!

  2. That’s an interesting point that Lois makes, that this book is more into ‘zero waste’ rather than ‘zero emissions.’ I do conflate these two goals in my head, even though I can see they are distinct.

    The issue of whether the book is Zero Waste is interesting. I think it would really be scary to consider how much waste is generated at my work!

    1. You're more than welcome to this copy of the book if you're interested in reading it – I know it's not something you're totally 'into' but you might find it of interest? Ok, perhaps after my review, maybe not! It is true – zero waste is outlined as zero rubbish/landfill rather than wasting generally speaking. My work's not much better – and then the tenants in our Church building are moving out, and I shudder to think where all the 'clutter' will end up now they've ended their lease.

  3. Although I have not read the book, I find Bea's approach harsh and uncompromising on her blog.

    As I have said before about my own blog – it is mine and I can write whatever I like so she has the same option.

    I find her single-minded focus on zero waste a rather cynical exercise without balancing some of the broader conservation issues as evidenced by her use of the dishwasher and clothes dryer.

    Each to their own………..

    1. It's funny how things can be read – the tone and feel for things. But, like you, I feel like my blog is my little patch to say what I want (though I am actually rather aware of my readers, and their interests and thoughts on many things, so I am mindful with my content and my tone). I suppose in some regards, she's got a marketable position, she's not trying to do it all, she's just focusing intently on single use product and 'trash'.

  4. I agree with your review. I was also curious about how she decluttered and minimalized her house, and was disappointed it wasn't included. It could be a whole other book, of course. It is probably better, as Lois said, to think of it as a book about reducing garbage, rather than energy, carbon, etc. I guess everyone has a couple of stumbling blocks to being more environment-friendly, whether it is travel or diet or whatever. For instance, it would be great to eat only local foods that haven't travelled far, but could I really live out the rest of my life without eating bananas and oranges? I don't want to make that choice. I'm sure a lot of people who are just getting started on reducing waste would find the book very inspiring.

    1. Now, will there be a prequel? How to get to zero waste? Or perhaps the declutter and minimalisation market is saturated, and she just shifted to one side, and she's more or less the name in zero waste (like Beth Terry is the lady in Plastic Free).

      I wonder what choices she's made – beyond going back to bulk shampoo. I suppose I wanted more nitty gritty frontline stuff, and the hiccups – more hiccups! But I agree, if you think of the wider reading public, she's approached it with an extreme, and if every reader picked up just a handful of habits, it would be greatly beneficial to the environment.

  5. I actually read this from my local library (in the United States) a couple months ago. Maybe it arrived here sooner?

    I am not saying this solves the issue- but I do think she mentions they have a solar powered house- maybe she feels like because it is off grid it is okay to use the dryer?

    I found the blog annoying because you couldn't read it from the beginning- I ended up just reading every post in the "link cloud". It seems to me the blog was started after the zero waste transition- so there isn't much on transitioning to a minimal lifestyle.

    I think the most interesting part for me was the zero waste holidays section, as I struggle with that.
    I wish someone would write a zero waste cookbook!


    1. Welcome Katie – you bring up some GREAT points. A cookbook would be ideal, though it is a little region specific, cause products and how they are sold is so varied in the US to Australia or even France (where I've lived for a year). We could each write one – readers in various countries! It's like a spin off like the Bulk app.

      I'm glad the US libraries picked it up quickly. Australia will likely get it pretty soon, seeing she's due in the west for a talk in the coming weeks.

      Solar power came recently, but I agree, maybe this self sufficient choice makes the electricity consumption a zero waste option, and she can use things as she likes (as an electrical engineer, I do wonder what happens when her solar storage batteries reach end of life).

      Wow, you're dedicated to the cause – to read the link cloud. Chronological would be great, but as you say, if it started after she went zero waste, well then, that'd be too hard. I'm trying to document my attempts every week, though I'm clutching at straws to come up with a new post each week! It's sort of become normal. I must check out what you're doing, we seem to be kindred spirits.

  6. Did you find anyone who was interested in reading the book? I know I've looked at it before and considered flipping through it. I think I've done a reasonable job reducing my waste over the last few years, but it really could use a jumpstart.

    1. Nope, Cassie, no takers, so it's yours if you'd like it. More than happy to post it to you 🙂 Just wait for this week's weigh in, maybe having the book around has helped the BF or my grocery shopping efforts are paying off, but it's an AWESOME low!

  7. Thanks for your honest review. I have read her blog but like Fairy I find it quite harsh for those who are not 'zero waste' so I haven't searched out the book to read. I am hard on myself as it is about our waste, I don't need to feel worse!

    1. Thanks for commenting Rachel – I wasn't sure if I was too harsh in my review, but I feel it's important to be honest! I agree, minimising waste is an on going battle, it's nicer to have a cheer squad than someone rousing on you for not using a tongue scrapper!! Did you have a blog where you track your waste – I'd love to read about your challenges?

  8. I haven't read her book yet but I've seen her interviews on TV and read bits and pieces of her blog. I've actually been more focused on food lately and I'm almost finished reading another of Joel Salatin's books but this is on the read list but as said, she does concentrate a lot on trash. One interview, Bea states she's embarrassed by what she puts out for recycling and wishes she could do more. Well, as Beth Terry expresses often, we're perfect and there's going to be something we can't do without or just have to have.

    I own a dryer. I haven't used it since Christmas because it's broken. When my husband and I got our first bill from the electric company, we realized that we weren't in any hurry to fix it. The second bill was almost $40 dollars cheaper and we just have no desire now to fix it. We will before we sell or rent but for now….we've noticed hanging our clothes in winter keeps moisture in our home.

    Our dishwasher is a giant expensive drying rack because for the two of us, we don't have enough dishes to only run the thing once a week. But we make our detergent for both washing and dish washing with the same ingredients that Bea uses. But we didn't find the recipes for them on her site. My husband is from Vermont….that state was GREEN long before GREEN was cool.

    I use soap nuts for laundry, tho. I use baking soda to brush my teeth and Peroxide to rince and actually despise toothpaste now and I can see where Bea's kids would prefer the baking soda mix she uses.

    I don't know, I do all I can now to limit my landfill trash but I also am interested in being healthier and I noticed Bea is shopping at whole foods and hitting the farmers market, I've been doing the same. But, I'm trying to buy as much as I can directly at the farm, cut out the middle man, but that means more packaging. But it insures that I know where my food is coming from because here in the US, our food is being taken over by GMO's. And what's sad, most people don't even know.

    I think we all have to have our own goals and what works for us. I sure would love to have those reusable jars Bea has…and her kitchen….not the rest of the house tho…it's too white. I have horses,…one oops I forgot my phone and barn boots would cause me to flip out.

  9. Until I started reading blogs from other countries, I didn't even think of how difficult it would be to write a zero waste book that applies to the local people . . I think Bea's ideas work well where she lives, but not necessarily in other cities or countries. But I've been reading her blog for a while and it did help me in my early days of going green, so I'm forever grateful for that. It's too bad it's not organized by date!

    1. I think being Aussie, we're more used to the cultural variations and availabilities, whereas sometimes it feels like the US forgets the rest of the world exists :p I do appreciate her blog, and what she's trying to achieve.

      1. Very true! I live in a rural area, and didn't take my my first world history class until college. Before that, we only talked about other countries when they crossed into American history – like World War I. And all my English classes used only American literature (except my one Shakespeare class). It really is one of our weaknesses!

        1. Wow, I didn't realise how spot on my throw away stereotype was! Although, Australia's history classes are largely focused on the Aborigines – I think to make up for our horrible treatment of them in the past – not that we're much better now!

  10. I haven't read the book Sarah, but agree with your take on the blog. I like to see what motivates a person on their journey from A to B, and find out how they got past the difficulties, and whether they ever felt like giving up… I have found some good ideas on Bea's blog – such as freezing bread in a pillow case – it really works! But it is very hard to find detailed information that you want..

    1. Thanks Eden – I was more into zero waste when I started my blog, and did weekly posts on it. Since moving in with my boyfriend and working longer hours, I've had to compromise and I posted about that recently too. Try the Zero Waste category for more

  11. I follow Bea's blog and the blog "Toss is for Tossers" and I am so inspired to follow the zero waste way of living. I think that there is a hope for the humankind. Thank you a lot for the review of this book!

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