‘Priestess of Waste-Free Living’ offers advice for Austin residents

Bea Johnson speaks as part of the Imagine Austin Speaker Series in February, 2017. (KXAN Photo)
Bea Johnson speaks as part of the Imagine Austin Speaker Series in February, 2017. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bea Johnson is in Austin this week, speaking to people about ways to reduce their household waste. She spoke to the public at the Mexican American Cultural center on Wednesday as part of the Imagine Austin Speaker Series.

Johnson is the author of “Zero Waste Home,” a website and a book that inspire people to “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot” in order to cut down their household waste. She even posts pictures of her single jar of family household waste for one year for a family of four.

Born in France, Johnson is now living in California. She travels the world giving talks on her approach to minimalism, and says she’s been living a “zero waste” lifestyle for the past nine years. She admits she struggled when she first began this lifestyle. “There was a time when I was making my own bread, my own cheese, my own butter, my own soymilk. I was basically throwing myself in this world that was unsustainable in the long run.” She’s pushed her own limits. “I’ve tried a lot of extremes. I’ve tried stinging nettle on my lips, I’ve tried moss in lieu of toilet paper.”

Bea Johnson speaks as part of the Imagine Austin Speaker Series in February, 2017. (KXAN Photo)
Bea Johnson speaks as part of the Imagine Austin Speaker Series in February, 2017. (KXAN Photo)

After a couple of years, Johnson says she settled into an easier routine. Her biggest takeaway — and the message for Austin — is about making smarter purchasing decisions for households and small businesses, in order to trim down waste before it ever arrives on your doorstep.

Johnson is visiting the city on behalf of Austin Resource Recovery. Austin has a goal of Zero Waste by 2040, meaning that 90 percent of our waste goes to recycling instead of the landfill. However, for years now, the city’s diversion rate — how much waste is being diverted from landfills to recycling bins — seems to hover around 40-45 percent. It hasn’t improved markedly in more than half a decade.

Austin Resource Recovery hopes that bringing in Johnson will inspire people to live lives more rich in experience and not material goods. Austin Resource Recovery stresses other options beyond recycling, too, such as composting or donating goods you no longer use.

Dena Houston, a recycling block leader in Austin, is getting inspired by Johnson’s speech. She composts and compiles styrofoam to recycle in bulk for her entire neighborhood. She’s thinking outside the box when it comes to new ways to cut down on waste before it enters her house. “In my driveway, just recently, two phonebooks were left. Who uses phone books anymore? It’s just a waste, a total waste. So I feel committed to maybe encouraging these companies to not print phonebooks.”

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