WALNUT CREEK -- The eco-warrior wore a black miniskirt, and black ankle-strapped high heels. Who knew suburban green could be glam?
With that, "Zero Waste Home" blogger and author Bea Johnson lent an upbeat aura of chic to her impassioned plea for increasing individual efforts to consume less.
Every time you accept something you don't need -- be it a plastic bag, a plastic-laminated business card, plastic product packaging or those instantly disposable plastic party favors -- you are increasing the demand to make more of the same, using up more fossil fuels and causing more pollution, Johnson told her audience of about 100 area residents who had gathered at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church to hear her speak recently.
Johnson's talk was co-sponsored by the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center and the church's Green Group.
Johnson's main claim to fame is the fact that her family of four, including her husband Scott and two sons Max and Leo, 13 and 12, produce no more than one quart of nonrecyclable garbage a year.
Using their experiences, both the successes and the missteps, Johnson gave a presentation that was equal parts pep talk and how-to tips.
Like this one for example -- purchase your toilet paper from restaurant supply stores. It comes in a recyclable cardboard box with each roll wrapped in recyclable paper. That trumps the petroleum-based plastic-wrapped supermarket varieties.
But don't try this at home: Johnson tried a do-it-yourself formula for homemade cosmetic lip plumper using stinging nettle plant. It plumped her lips but only in small painful bumps.
"Don't believe everything you see on YouTube," she commented.
Based on her award-winning blog and book published by Scribner last April -- both entitled "Zero Waste Home -- The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste" -- the 39-year-old native of Avignon, France, showed a rapid-fire succession of slides to illustrate her points.
Her main message is to promote what she calls "the 5 Rs -- refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost)." Of these, Johnson is most adamant about refusing; she chases down the senders of junk mail and even refused a bag of freebie swag at a green festival where she was an award recipient.
"Free pencils? Pens? Why would I want any of that? I have enough at home."
Home wasn't always like that for Johnson and her family. They once lived in a large Pleasant Hill house on a cul-de-sac chock full of stuff. In 2006, when her husband launched his own business, the Johnsons decided to downsize. They sold their house, put everything in storage and rented an apartment with only a select few of their possessions in tow.
Life was better with less, Johnson was amazed to discover. There was less clutter, less cleaning, less confusion and more time to relax, interact and simply live. So the family made the decision to embrace voluntary simplicity and make it a way of life.
They bought a smaller sun-filled house in Mill Valley because its location allowed them to easily and safely walk around town to shops, schools and even a farmers market.
Johnson said she only buys secondhand clothes and owns only seven shirts, two skirts, two dresses and six pairs of shoes. "When you have less clothes, you are more creative with what you have," she explains.
For more on Bea Johnson's zero-waste lifestyle, go to www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com