Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Trash Talk

Tips from the zero-waste queen on going waste-free

Words: Kee Foong
Photo: Nic Gaunt

Bea Johnson dismisses complaints that leading a zero-waste lifestyle is more difficult in Hong Kong than elsewhere. Johnson, who spoke at an event hosted by The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in conjunction with No!w No Waste, argues that although California, where she lives, may seem like an easier place to be sustainable, it is in the most wasteful country in the world, and yet she and her family have managed to go waste free.

“Everyone has a pretext for not doing zero waste, but this is a global movement that shows it’s possible anywhere in the world,” says Johnson, adding: “you can always learn to say no, which is the first rule of zero waste.”

Her mantra is to “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot” in that order. The first step is to refuse, and Johnson says: “learn to say no to single use plastics, promotional freebies, junk mail, business cards, anything you don’t need – stop these things from coming into your home and becoming trash.”

Next is to reduce. “We need a few items of furniture, clothing and a roof over our head, but everything else is excess,” argues Johnson, whose entire wardrobe fits into a single carry-on bag.

Reusing means swapping anything that is disposable with a reusable alternative, such as rags instead of paper towels, taking containers for grocery shopping, and buying second-hand items.

Then recycle what we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. It’s not about recycling more, but having fewer things to recycle.

And finally, rot the things you cannot apply the first four rules to. For example, she composts fruit and vegetable peels, but only when something must be peeled and cannot be eaten.

Johnson says the biggest challenge is to find balance. Initially, she made her own cheese, bread, butter and soy milk. “If you want to adopt sustainable change you have to see yourself doing it in the long run,” says Johnson, who now buys unpackaged bread and takes it home in a pillowcase, and uses glass jars for items such as cheese. “I was able to eliminate the extremes and find a balance. That’s when zero waste becomes a lifestyle, not just a short-term project.”

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