Founder Story: My Journey to a Zero Waste Kitchen

This is the first in a series of articles about how Intent Founder Brooke Richards discovered the minimalist lifestyle and how she is using these principles to help others on their own minimalist journeys. Continue reading for Brooke’s story about the inspiration behind her zero waste kitchen.

This is the amount of trash Bea Johnson and her entire family (which includes her husband and two teenage sons) has produced this year.

If you had to estimate how much trash your family produces in a year, what would you guess?

100 pounds? 500 pounds? 1,000 pounds?

Get this: if you divide our country’s total trash by its population, the average American produces over 2,000 pounds of trash annually (one source estimates 2,555 pounds).

Yep, that’s over a ton of garbage each year — per person. Now do the math: what is your household’s annual footprint?

Most Americans probably couldn’t fit their daily trash into this jar (pictured), let alone their entire family’s — and yet, this meager amount of garbage is what one pioneering family of four has produced this entire year.

Last week, Bea Johnson, the matriarch of this minimalist family and the mother of the zero waste lifestyle movement shared her insights during a special presentation at Roots Zero Waste Market in Boise, Idaho, the city where I currently live. She walked guests through her process, which has been honed over a period of over ten years, and shared helpful advice for those wanting to eliminate waste in their own homes. (Would you believe her wardrobe of only 15 pieces provides her with over 50 different looks?!)

Bea’s book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, has been published in 27 languages, and she continues to inspire people around the world to take a stand against plastic and other wasteful products.

In a time when very little was known about the subject, she found her conviction in what American homes could be and set course to create a path we all could walk, sharing information with others to help them along the way. When I first discovered Bea and her book, I was already well on my way to a minimalist lifestyle but realized I still had more changes I wanted to make.

Creating My Zero Waste Kitchen

Upon finding Bea’s Instagram profile, she stole my heart — and inspired me to shift yet another behavior that would lead me even further down the minimalist’s path.

Click the thumbnail to purchase Bea Johnson’s book through the Intent online store.

She doesn’t just talk about zero waste, either — she lives it. Via her book, her social media profiles, and other teaching avenues, Bea demonstrates the act of conservation at a household level, and gives excellent advice and provides helpful resources to her followers.

She makes this lifestyle look easy.

Two hours later after discovering Bea’s philosophy for myself, I committed to a zero waste kitchen, as this particular room 1) produced the most waste and 2) was ready for items to be replenished (I had a grocery store visit planned the next day). The idea, according to Bea, is to not throw away all things plastic and disposable but rather to replace them, as needed. For example, I had just run out of paper towels so I was ready to replace these with cloth napkins.

To get started, I purchased mason jars, collected other glassware (like empty spice jars), and stocked up on cotton produce bags and grocery totes. (These items and other handy products are available via Intent’s online store.)

The Intent team had a great evening attending Bea Johnson’s presentation at Roots Zero Waste Market in Boise, Idaho.

Since Roots Zero Waste Market hadn’t yet opened, I made my way to my local co-op. (I shop here whenever possible, and recommend others do the same if there isn’t a zero waste market in your area. But if you can’t find what you need at these locations, check to see what items your favorite grocery store has available in bulk. Winco, a discount grocery store in my city, also has a pretty expansive bulk section.)

When I arrived, I visited the customer service desk and announced I was starting a zero waste kitchen and was shopping with all of my own containers and need their tare weight. The gentleman I spoke with was so kind — he grinned and ushered me to a closed register where we weighed my jars. And finally, I was released!

List and cart in hand, I made my way through the bulk section.

Believe it or not, I found almost everything I needed, including organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar. There were a few items I could not find, but the alternatives were still in non-plastic, recyclable packaging. In less than 30 minutes I had finished grocery shopping, and what would have cost close to $200 dollars was only $49. I thought maybe the cashier had screwed up!

The Right Amount at the Right Price

I could immediately see that the amount of money I saved with this new zero waste approach was a game-changer. I am single, so I often don’t need to purchase an entire jar of a spice; I usually just need a tablespoon at a time. So buying smaller quantities of these specialty items ends up saving me money.

For instance, apple cider vinegar isn’t cheap, but in bulk, the price was cut in half. Per the recommendations in Bea’s book, I was able to replace all of my cleaning supplies with white vinegar — which is a lot cheaper than branded items.

As for snacks, these were readily available in bulk, at a fraction of the price, and again, at an amount that was reasonable for me. (If I can’t find something in bulk I can almost always find it in a recyclable non-plastic package.)

My Zero Waste Path Ahead

It’s been several months since reading Bea’s book, and I am eternally grateful to this woman for her life-changing perspective. For one thing, my zero waste kitchen has changed both the way I buy food and the way I eat it.

In the past, I spent way to much time gaping at a fridge full of amazing food and feeling like I had no idea what to eat. This behavior is just another form of analysis paralysis, which is detrimental to a minimalist lifestyle. Too many options can leave you confused and stressed, which often leads a person to make impulsive purchases. The last thing I wanted to do after a long day of making decisions and helping others make decisions was to try and decide what was for dinner.

Intent Founder Brooke Richards with Zero Waste Home author and minimalist pioneer Bea Johnson.

Now, because I can buy custom amounts of what I want, I also make a conscious decision to not “fill the fridge.” I have made that mistake before — over-purchasing items in bulk that, four years later, I am still looking to finish. The anxiety to try and use or eat aspirational vegetables, fruits, and even prepared meals before they spoiled began to make me not want to eat at home. Now, I eat at home frequently, and I spend far less money on groceries.

As I reflect on how Bea’s zero waste principles have shaped both my kitchen and my life, I am grateful for her brave pursuit of this lifestyle — and her tenacity in sharing her wisdom and experiences with the rest of the world. When she first started down her own path over ten years ago, this was not an easy subject to tackle.

She was told by numerous people — both friends and strangers — that she was crazy for trying to create a zero waste home (not unlike some of the feedback I’ve received from well-meaning individuals who have disapproved of my own path to minimalism).

But Bea’s story — and how she impacted my life — is proof that real change isn’t easy, but it is certainly worth the effort.