ZeroWaste Guru Bea Johnson Visits DC

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Bea Johnson’s family of four produces so little waste that their annual output fits in a small jar. She brought their year’s worth of waste to Washington and displayed it on the podium during her talk at UDC. (Photo credit: Ren Crespo Photography)

On Tuesday, April 17th and just in time for Earth Day, over 250 people packed into the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) Ballroom to hear zero waste expert and enthusiast Bea Johnson speak about her adventures – and mishaps — in adopting a zero waste lifestyle.  

The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and UDC College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) co-hosted the event in UDC’s LEED Platinum Student Center.  And, DC Department of Public Works Director Chris Shorter joined the talk to discuss what DC is doing to help residents and businesses reduce waste.

In line with the evening’s zero waste theme, a pre-reception touted locally-sourced (and delicious!) vegan hors d’oeuvres (provided by Green Plate Catering) as well as thirst-quenching and ever-trendy shrubs made from “rescued” citrus peels, pineapple cores and strawberry tops provided by DC Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) member and EatOrToss blogger, Rachael Jackson. 

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EatOrToss served shrub made with pineapple cores and citrus peels at a reception before Bea Johnson spoke. (Photo credit: Ren Crespo Photography)

A “zero waste” marketplace included DC FRWG member Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US, Sustainable DC, and keynote sponsor MOM’s Organic Market. Meanwhile, DC FRWG members Amy Kelley and Catherine Plume of (r)evolve along with Veteran’s Compost helped ensure that the evening lived up to its zero waste goal.

While most of us are familiar with the “3Rs” of “reduce, reuse, recycle”, Bea promotes a “5R” lifestyle that includes a focus on “refusing” before reducing, reusing, and recycling, and she adds “rotting” aka “composting” into the mix.  For Bea, “recycling” is a sub-optimal waste reduction strategy and should only be considered when the only other option is landfilling or incineration.

And, Bea’s zero waste tips?  Buy food in bulk when at all possible, and work to limit your wardrobe.  When you do need to make a purchase, consider buying second hand at thrift shops or online.  (eBay is one of her favorite places to find used and second hand items.) Consider buying in bulk from companies that don’t use plastic packaging, and, always forego single use plastics – including straws —  anytime you possibly can.

A positive side effect of going zero waste?  All the money you’ll save! Happy zero-wasting!  

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How many of us wish our kitchen drawers looked like this? In adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, Bea Johnson finds that less is more. (Photo credit: Ren Crespo Photography)