In the third and final part of our series on how to become a zero waste family, we look at how to encourage teenagers to live a sustainable lifestyle. If you began your zero waste journey while your children were young, living sustainably is likely to be second nature during their teenage years.
We recently interviewed Bea Johnson who has two teenage sons, now aged 16 and 17. She has been living as a zero waste family, along with husband Scott, since they adopted their sustainable lifestyle in 2008.
“As a family we began think about how we were living in 2006”, explained Bea, “and our motivation came after evaluating the legacy we were leaving behind for our kids.
Those who didn’t understand the concept of zero waste, pictured us living as hippies in the woods, depriving our children of what they perceived as rites of passage, such as eating out. Our boys laughed when they hear this as it’s is far from the truth – we regularly frequent quality restaurants, eating real food rather than the processed offerings from fast food outlets such as MacDonald’s.
But what makes our boys different is not the small amount of trash we consume each year, it’s the experiences we discovered though our zero waste lifestyle. They’ve already enjoyed opportunities none of their friends have experienced. Ice climbing, swimming with hump back whales, walking in swamps in Lithuania, travelling the World visiting places like the Caribbean and Japan – this is what makes them different. A simple life gives you more time to do things and makes life richer.
Bea’s Teenage Tips
- Teach Them to Say No: My boys have been living a zero waste lifestyle longer than not, so to them it is completely normal and automatic. Their number one job was to learn to say no about what they don’t need and to be mindful about what they bring into the home. As a mother I give them the choice as to whether they continue with this when they leave home; like a religion or diet you don’t question it.
- Free Them from ‘Things’: By shunning ‘things’ and focusing on what really matters you can save so much time as well as money – we compared our household spending from the year before we began the zero waste experiment and saw a 40% drop in our expenditure. By saving money we have been able to show our children that spending time with them, rather than buying material things, is what counts. The boys’ bedrooms are minimalistic; they’ve grown up in an uncluttered environment. We don’t give them Christmas presents, but they have what’s necessary, including a smartphone. As a result we travel the World and share amazing adventures together.
- Minimise Clothing: I encouraged the boys to choose clothes they felt most comfortable in and let go of the rest, making them available to their community. They live very simply, wearing the same clothes as their peers, but all purchased second hand. Ebay is a great second hand fallback; you can find any brand you wish. If you buy new then look for lifetime guarantees or that they will repair or replace.
Photo: Bea and Scott Johnson with their sons Leo and Max at home in Mill Valley, California. Photo Credit: Christine Zona/Coleman-Rayner