I Can Always Do More - An Earth Day Reflection

Many of us live in the I Can Always Do More reality.  Well, this past Monday evening, Joelle and I heard a speaker that may have come the closest I have seen to pulling herself out of this reality by simply maximizing her sustainable efforts every moment of every day.  Even though I’m sure she would say she can still do more! The speaker; Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home.


The event took place at the Shedd Aquarium, who we were very enthusiastic to find is taking sustainability, and teaching others about sustainability, very seriously right here in Chicago.  They partnered with Zero Waste Chicago, which is the local chapter of the movement Bea’s book and efforts have triggered worldwide.  


The theme of her presentation and of her book, Zero Waste Home, is simple; reduce your waste, and therefore your environmental impact, to as close to zero as possible.  In Bea’s case, her entire family of four produces enough trash to fill a small glass jar in not a week… not a month… but an entire year! She even brought her 2017 glass jar of trash to prove it.  


The 5 R’s Bea abides by are not new – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot – but the way she employs them are profound.  By way of example, each time she travels she packs her entire wardrobe into a single carry on bag… that’s literally every article of clothing she owns.  Her family buys a locally made wooden toothbrush, which goes into the compost when it’s time for a new one… except for the bristles which they pluck out and add to the glass trash jar since they are not a natural material.  She only buys food in bulk or from local markets that she can place in reusable bags or fill in her own glass jars – she even has a sweet Bulk Finder tool on her website!  And pretty much any cosmetic, toiletry, or cleaning product is homemade from natural ingredients – which she also has wealth of resources about on her Blog.


The lifestyle choices and overall impact Bea and her family choose to make daily were inspiring to hear, and left me mulling a few thoughts this week heading into Earth Day:


  1. The Spectrum of Sustainability is Broad.  The road to sustainability for Joelle and I started with food and nutrition.  The road has since split into many other focuses of sustainability of which many are shared with Bea including minimalism, toxic free living, and composting.  Bea started with zero waste, and through it, also came to see the value of the local food system and nutrition. Sustainability as a concept is vast with many uncharted territories.  Each entry point, motivation, and step along the way is a cause worth celebrating!
  2. Zero Waste Needs to be Learned.  It struck me as fascinating that our culture’s current reality – filling up giant bins with trash every week – is so normal and accepted, and Bea’s methods are so foreign and unfamiliar.  In essence, throwing away absurd amounts of trash needs to be Un-Learned, and Zero Waste needs to be Learned. Bea even took a comical approach to this saying things like, “Oh, but we all dream of a world filled with plastic for our kids to grow up in, right?”  Humorous… but oh so true! Trash is the norm and our current trajectory is literally a world filled with plastic. There is a very finite amount of time we can get by with paying someone to haul it away for us so we never have to think about it again, before it catches up to us to have major impacts on the health of all things that depend on the water, soil, air, and sun for life.  Many would argue it already has!
  3. Sustainability is happening in Chicago!  This was a sold out, free event at the Shedd Aquarium that I would say had 150-200 people in attendance.  An expo was held beforehand with tables of many local sustainably minded companies and initiatives with the likes of reusable products, composting programs, local food production and a bunch more.  We were also encouraged to hear from interacting with a Shedd employee that this event was just one of many conservation and sustainability efforts hosted by Shedd that engages and educates the Chicagoland community.  You could feel the enthusiasm, comradery, and advocacy of each person there. They have more similar events on the dockett, so stay tuned!
  4. I Can Always Do More.  That’s right – WE can always do more!  I’m guessing when Bea started out, a single glass jar of trash after an entire year seemed like an impossible feat.  But now, it’s common practice for her family and a glass jar gets added every year. Earth day reminds us that our planet is worth fighting for… yes, even worth sacrificing for in our daily lives.  As Bea put it, Living with LESS = Living MORE. And doing MORE, even a seemingly small choice today, can add up to big impacts for our planet.


This Earth Day, what is your MORE?  And doing MORE, in the words of Bea, often means living with LESS!  Where is there unnecessary abundance in your life? What streams of waste do you see that can be avoided?  What do you consume that is overly convenient or disposable that you can take a different approach to? Bea’s book or website would be a great place to start for inspiration in how to go about making these choices.  Small choices become big habits. In light of Earth Day, I challenge all of us to begin applying a filter of sustainability to our daily choices.  Where do our daily lifestyle choices harm, not help, the cause? We all have a long list to improve on, and together we can choose to DO MORE, and LIVE MORE.

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