The word “zero” sounds and feels, well, impossible. But Bea Johnson, the Mill Valley–based author of the new Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste tackles the daunting task by using the “Five Rs,” which, she emphasizes, must be followed in order.
REFUSE WHAT YOU DON'T NEED
Spurn junk mail (a waste of resources and time): Register to receive less at DMAChoice, OptOutPrescreen, and CatalogChoice. Turn down freebies from conferences, fairs, and parties. Every time you accept giveaways, you create a demand for more. Just say no to free pens.
REDUCE WHAT YOU DO NEED
Declutter your home and donate what you don’t use to a thrift shop. Keep a shopping list, and reduce your trips to the grocer. Buy only what you need—the less you bring home, the less waste you’ll deal with later.
REUSE WHAT YOU CONSUME
Swap disposables for reusables. In addition to shopping totes, cloth bags (for bulk foods), jars (for “wet” items like cheese and deli meats), and refillable bottles, use handkerchiefs, cloth napkins, and rags instead of their paper equivalents.
RECYCLE WHAT YOU CAN'T REFUSE/REDUCE/REUSE
Know your city’s recycling policies and locations—but think of recycling as a last resort. Buy primarily in bulk or secondhand, and if you must buy new, choose glass, metal, or cardboard.
ROT THE REST
Find a compost system that works for your home and get to know what it will digest (dryer lint, hair, and fingernails are all compostable). Turn your kitchen trash can into one large compost receptacle— the bigger the can, the more likely you’ll be to use it freely.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of San Francisco.