Book Review: Zero Waste Home

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

I am late to the party – most of you will have already read this book, or have an opinion about it. I originally approached this book without much enthusiasm because I thought the author would be a zealot. I have to laugh at myself. What did I expect from a book called Zero Waste Home? Obviously she wasn’t going to do anything in half measures! And the world needs some zealots to inspire us. So I read on.

Believe it or not, I found the author to be on the far side of moderate, but not “holier-than-thou.” So if you have avoided reading the book in case it makes you feel guilty, you should know about Bea Johnson:

  • She travels regularly from the US to France
  • She attended fashion school but doesn’t make her own clothes
  • Her kids have video games at home because they were spending too much time at their friends’ houses otherwise!
  • They buy a few personal products like toilet paper and sunscreen
  • They buy a few over-the-counter meds
  • She got rid of her kefir because it was too high-maintenance
  • She thinks having 24 wine glasses is about right!

On the other hand, there were some parts of her life I couldn’t relate to. The author was an upscale stay-at-home mom for a few years before voluntarily downsizing. She now makes a living from her blog, the book, and a zero-waste consulting business (which requires a lot of travel). So in my world, her lifestyle would not be called typical. She lives in the San Francisco area where her family doesn’t need the level of home heating or 4-season wardrobes that I do. Her own wardrobe contains only about 25 items.

I wouldn’t say this is a criticism. My “lifestyle” is so specific that I don’t expect to find authors who live or think like I do!

I take these to work every day for the lunch room – why not carry them for evening and weekend events, too?

It would be a good learning experience to use some of the techniques in the book, like clothes shopping at thrift stores just twice a year, from a list. I also thought some of the everyday tips were good, such as bringing a set of cutlery and a cloth napkin with you to a restaurant that might have disposables. Those things would easily fit in my big purse – I could even take a reusable container for leftovers.

About 2 years ago, before I started this blog, I made my own list of enviro-friendly tips. I realized there was a lot more I could do, and I tried to decide: What is reasonable? What is excessive? That line is different for everyone.

For example, I don’t line-dry my clothes. I am out of the house from 8-6, and it’s currently dark at 9 (5 in the winter). The air is extremely humid and we get a lot of rain. I’ve hand-washed sweaters that have taken 4 days to dry indoors. One even went mouldy before it dried! To be effective at hanging laundry, I’d need to save it all for sunny Saturdays, of which we get maybe one a month. So I am a fan of the clothes dryer.

On the other hand, we make almost of our meals from scratch and don’t care how long it takes! It’s all about personal preference and local conditions.

I actually found this book really inspiring and not at all OTT! In fact, it was very soft-core compared to No Impact Man by Colin Beavan and Plastic Free by Beth Terry.

Have you read Zero Waste Home? How far is too far (for you) with enviro tips?


I decided to read this book for myself after reading Lois’s review here.


  1. I’m interested that you didn’t find her holier than thou – i do find her blog a bit ‘I’m done, I’m zero waste, therefore you all should be’ and not so much ‘how to’. And there’s a bit of snarkiness with ‘that comments doesn’t relate’ even when it’s zero waste, but she closes old posts to comments. Anyhow.

    I haven’t yet read it, as it’s not in Australia yet.

    Wow 24 wine glasses is a surprise – I have 7. Yay for a win there! But I do agree her fashion posts are very good for a temperate climate, but not for true seasonal variations. I’m sure I could do with less clothing, and more from thrift shops (as she sources almost all her capsule wardrobe there).

    How far is too far – very good question. I think my point is that I’ll try anything once. But it is a balance of time/energy/planning. If I have to take 4 hours out of my day to get and make zero waste something (say washing powder) then it’s just not worth that investment. But other things I’m happy to try and add in. Bea isn’t up to zero waste toilet paper, but even that’s something I’d try… (but perhaps NOT scare my readers with!)

    • Try the cloth toilet paper, it’s not scary 😉 (although maybe I shouldn’t say so since I haven’t told my blog readers about it either . . )

    • Glad I am not the only one who’d try the reusable toilet paper..I hate pushing so much paper away!

    • I’ve actually never read the Zero Waste Home blog – I looked at it a few times when the author was doing a “50 Ways to Wear a Man’s Shirt” and wasn’t interested…although I did stop by and see the new features is on multiple ways to wear a long skirt!

      • Ah yes, that’s the summer holding pattern. It’s ok, but I would love more zero waste content, even reopening/reposting old stuff would be great.

  2. I enjoy Bea’s tone also 🙂 I’ve been reading her blog for years, so there wasn’t a ton of “new” information beyond what she had written there, but I liked how she organized the book and the anecdotes. We made most of our green swaps around 2007-2008 when I first got crazy into the green movement with Colin and Crunchy Chicken. So even when I read Beth’s book last year and Bea’s book this year, I didn’t make many additional changes because I’m already at a happy balance with my lifestyle. Yes, I buy ketchup rather than make it from scratch – but at least it’s in a glass bottle. And yes, I line dry my clothing, but I use a washing machine and buy detergent, not soap nuts. That kind of thing. 🙂

    What’s going too far? I refuse to turn my heat lower than 54º in the winter! 😉

    • 54, I would be wearing a coat, LOL! Isn’t it funny how one person’s normal is another’s extreme? I had to look up the Crunchy Chicken blog and I see it’s by the author of The Non-Toxic Avenger. I also made most of my green life changes before these books came out, so I don’t feel the authors are preachy. I do find that Bea Johnson’s tone comes across better in the book than the blog, though, and I also like her stories (like how she begged her husband to upgrade her diamond ring to one worth 2 months of his salary, and later felt ashamed).

  3. I”m glad I didn’t turn you off from reading the book. I should add her 24 wine glasses are because she entertains at home frequently. I had forgotten about the video games,they come with a lot of packaging don’t they? I love plaids, so your napkin jumped out at me as such a luxury to have to take to work with you.

    • The Johnson family buys video consoles and games used, which I think is a good compromise. I’m not a big home entertainer, but I have around 12 of most things so I can wait and run the dishwasher when it’s full. Funny, those plaid napkins are over 20 years old and still going strong!

  4. Fiona

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I’d love to take from it what I can. Loved the cutlery idea – that’s just a better quality way to go as well as being zero waste! I do think amount of air travel is problematic, though.

    • I think that’s the right approach and just what the author hoped – that readers would take what they can from it. This past weekend I went out to lunch at a new place I was looking forward to. When I got there, I realized they had counter service rather than table service. I was given my meal – which I was eating there – on a paper plate with waxed paper on top, paper napkins and plastic cutlery! I will bring my own next time.

  5. I haven’t read the book either, but I have started making kefir recently and it is definitely high-maintenance, so that rings true! I like the cutlery idea because plastic cutlery really annoys me, and like you, I already carry it to work and back. You just have to remember to take them out of the bag when you fly somewhere.

    • Good point! I also have a tea towel at work to dry my lunch dishes so I don’t have to use paper towel.

      • Oh, I have bamboo cutlery, that now lives in my plastic purse thingie (if you remember from my handbag post). So far no airport dramas… They were a freebie when I bought something online at an eco store, and they’ve only been used a few times as we have cutlery at work (yay!)

      • You actually have cutlery at work? Ours keeps disappearing no matter how often it’s replaced 🙂

      • Ours does get replenished (with more metal stuff), usually we run out of forks. I know if I take orphans home, I bring it back (and mum rejected it too when I lived at home). I’m pleased we do this, some offices have none, or have plastic, and you can imagine how much I loathe that! We still have single use paper cups, which I’d love to see go (as we have a stack of ceramic mugs, which I always use)

  6. As with most things in life you do what is comfortable for you and to heck what other folk say……


  7. Pingback: 12 Months of Celebration – Month 7 – July | An Exacting Life

  8. rachellivesinsuburbia

    I started reading Bea’s blog about a year ago and have total green envy! At the next big potluck gathering for our taekwondo club I made my family use utensils that I had brought including plates and cups that I took home in a big shopping bag. My little one was mortified but the rest of the family took it in stride. My husband pointed out that our plates were bigger than the paper plates so he could pile more food on! (there was a lot of food!!). I do have to admit though, as I looked around at nearly 100 people eating with disposable stuff – no-one had brought their own – I nearly didn’t bring our plates and utensils out of the bag. I felt brave that day I guess!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: