On Tuesday, April 17th and just in time for Earth Day, zero waste author, blogger, and speaker, Bea Johnson, arrived in DC ready for a full day of events. For us at (r)evolve, the day marked the culmination of a three-month planning effort that included stakeholders ranging from The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, the University of the District of Columbia College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (UDC CAUSES), DC Public School representatives, local environmental non-profits, and neighborhood associations among many (many) more.
We traveled across the District, wanting Bea to see firsthand the challenges and successes of bringing zero waste concepts to a culturally and economically diverse population. We visited a DC Public School and its wonderful FoodPrints program with a curriculum that teaches young children how to grow vegetables and prepare nutritious meals. From there, we visited a trash trap along a tributary to the Anacostia River where the Anacostia Riverkeeper showed us how plastic bottles and other items still choke DC waterways though legislation banning plastic bags and polystyrene have reduced those particular waste streams. We visited MOM’s Organic Market with its limited but still impressive bulk aisle and stock of insect protein - aka crickets and meal worms.
That evening, over 250 people packed into the UDC LEED Platinum Student Center and Ballroom to hear Bea speak about her adventures – and mishaps -- in adopting a zero waste lifestyle. DC Department of Public Works Director Chris Shorter joined the talk to discuss what DC is doing to help residents and businesses reduce waste.
In line with the evening’s zero waste theme, a pre-reception touted locally-sourced (and delicious!) vegan hors d’oeuvres provided by Green Plate Catering. A thirst-quenching and ever-trendy shrub made from “rescued” fruit peels and rinds was provided by DC Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) member and Eat or Toss? blogger, Rachael Jackson. School-Within-School students lent upcycled cloth napkins to the event. A “zero waste” marketplace included DC FRWG member Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US, while the locally owned and operated East City Bookshop sold copies of Bea’s books. Veteran’s Compost helped ensure that the evening lived up to its zero waste goal.
Oh, and, Bea’s zero waste tips? Buy food in bulk when at all possible, and work to limit/reduce your wardrobe. When you do need to make a purchase, consider buying secondhand at thrift shops or online. (eBay is one of her favorite places to find used and secondhand items.) “Recycling” is a sub-optimal waste reduction strategy and should only be considered when the only other option is landfilling or incineration. Consider buying in bulk from companies that don’t use plastic packaging, and, always forego single use plastics – including straws -- anytime you possibly can.