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  • Jenica Barrett

The Best Books about Zero Waste, Plastic, Sustainability, and the Climate Crisis

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

A few years ago I published a list of my Top Five Zero Waste Books but quickly realized it wasn't inclusive enough. When we talk about zero waste, we can look at issues at the individual level, the design level, and the systematic level. We can analyze our carbon footprints, discuss the climate crisis, and research sea level rise. The Zero Waste Movement simply cannot be covered in only five books, so I've compiled a much longer list of recommended reading material.

This reading list is organized into loose categories around zero waste, and every single one of them is a must read! However I have put a little symbol next to my current Top 5 Must Read Books if you need to prioritize a few and listed them in the very last section. You can use the categories to help make sure that you are reading about a variety of topics related to zero waste and focusing on the intersectionality of issues across environmental platforms and social justice. The categories are:

  • Books about Our Stuff and Our Garbage

  • Books about Going Zero Waste at Home (separate post)

  • Books about Carbon Footprints

  • Books about the Environmental Effects of Climate Change

  • Books about the Climate Crisis' Causes and Solutions

  • Books about Food Waste and Zero Waste Cooking

  • Books about Environmental Racism (separate post)

  • My Top 5 Must Read Books

Not All Books Are Created Equal

A quick note: there are also many books out there about these issues that I have read and chosen not to list. Why? Because I don't believe they give accurate information and blame problems solely on individuals with the goal of green washing big businesses. If you have a book on your reading list that you're not sure about, comment below and I'll let you know my thoughts!

Rather watch a movie? Check out my list of environmental must-see documentaries!

stack of zero waste books

Use Your Library

Checking these books out from your library supports your local community and helps reduce the resources required to print new books. I was able to find 11 out of the 19 books listed here at my library.

If you can't find the book you really want to read at your local branch, put in a request to have them order it! I have put in many requests and never had a single one denied. Within a few weeks it was available for patrons to check-out!

If you can't get your hands on it at the library, look into purchasing the eBook to avoid buying the physical book. If you do buy the book, consider buying it through the links provided below through Books purchased through Bookshop support independent bookstores throughout the U.S. and provide me with a small commission, without charging you more. And make sure to share your copy with neighbors and friends afterwards so they can enjoy it too!


Books about Our Stuff and Our Garbage

This book comes very first on my list because Humes managed to inspire my environmental activism and zero waste lifestyle for years to come. Garbology was the first book about trash that was actually interesting to read. Did you know archaeologists have begun digging down into closed landfills to analyze what is decomposing and what is not? Did Do you know how much garbage each person thinks they throw out? If you know nothing about our waste management system, this book is a great place to start.

Covering a variety of topics, Leonard walks the reader through the environmental impacts of manufacturing and making the stuff we use. She touches on toxic chemicals, water pollution, deforestation, plastic, and carbon emissions. This book is written in a very accessible way which makes it ideal for teens, readers new to the subject, or those tired of the scientifically focused writing of many environmental books. Personally, I would simply watch her 20 minute short film for a good summary of the books points.

This book focuses on the way we have been designing products to end up in landfills and points out the wastefulness of that system. The authors propose instead that we design items to continuously be reused, repurposed, and recaptured. They guide the reader through real-world examples of this in various industries as well as discussing hypothetical changes.


Books about Going Zero Waste at Home

If you're looking for even more books about going zero waste at home, don't worry. I've compiled a list of twenty guide books that I recommend! Here are just three recommendations to peak your interest though!

Fondly referred to as the "bible" of zero waste living, Bea Johnson's book Zero Waste Home has been translated into 25+ languages. It is the most well-known and popular book on the zero waste movement. Her book is divided into sections around areas of the home, office, and travel. Each section provides information as well as suggestions for homemade alternatives.

After blogging for a few years, Kellog wrote a book compiling 101 suggestions for implementing zero waste as individuals. The book is divided up into areas of our lives such as Kitchen and Cooking, with each section containing things to stop using and swap out. The book covers a lot of areas so it doesn't go into particular depth on each topic. It is an easy read for beginners and contains very little scientific jargon (or scientific data) as it is mostly about behavioral changes. It doesn't contain any pictures so if you need colors and images to keep reading, this one might not be for you.

Visually pleasing and a funny read, Zero Waste is a great book if you want to start implementing waste reduction techniques throughout your home and aren't sure where to start. The book contains beautiful pictures to help you see how the practices are implemented and includes recipes for face masks and DIY laundry detergent that Shia uses herself. Even if you don't read her book, Shia Su is a must follow on her blog Wasteland Rebel and @wastelandrebel on Instagram!


Books about Carbon Footprints

Unlike the science heavy books and guide books included here, No Impact Man is truly a fun read - it honestly reads more like fiction! Written in a narrative style, Colin takes readers through a year of trying to make no impact on the planet. He convinces his wife and new born baby to unplug the fridge, avoid cars, skip the elevators, all while living in the city. It is an inspiring story with an end message of finding a balance between extremes.

Designed more as a reference book, Bernes-Lee has compiled a list of household items and activities and calculated their respective carbon footprints. I caution you while reading this not to get bogged down by the impact of each text message you send (as yes, he does calculate that!) and focus on the larger idea of carbon budgeting.

zero waste book

Books about the Climate Crisis' Causes and Solutions

Ever wondered why we haven't been able to tackle climate change policy yet? What happened to the Koyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Accord? Rich takes us through the history of the last fifty years or so as we discover that our planet is warming and how we respond. Readers will be engrossed in the story of James Hansen and other scientists as they need for political action against climate change grows.

Although not written as a page turner, this books includes a list of the 100 most beneficial actions we can take to combat climate change and reduce our carbon footprints. It was compiled by a team of scientists and published in the hopes of creating a pathway for us to follow. Many of the actions are at the systemic level so it is not particularly directed towards individuals. Rather, it helped me see the types of changes that the government needs to make (and what types of legislation I should support).

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and An Inconvenient Sequel (2017) by Al Gore

An Inconvenient Truth was an incredible book when it first came out and Al Gore has been a huge political figure in pushing climate change action. His follow up book, An Inconvenient Sequel uses images, charts, diagrams, and reader friendly language to discuss the causes of climate change and its impacts. Gore spends a good portion of the book addressing ways that we have seen positive change in climate action. He also provides suggestions for discussing climate change with children and with climate change deniers. If you're looking for a coffee table book to flip through randomly, this one is it!

Many books about climate change focus on how individuals haven't made sufficient changes or how we haven't been motivated enough to demand them. Klein argues in this book that it is actually the systems of capitalism that are directly opposed to tackling the climate crisis. We are being fed a message that the problem can be fixed simply by consuming "greener", and not necessarily consuming less. As the title states, this book really did change everything for me! I didn't use to say I was "anti-capitalist" but Klein has absolutely convinced me that it's the only way if we are to truly fight climate change.

This book is a compilation of essays and articles written by Naomi Klein throughout the last decade. It discusses the reasons why the Green New Deal is the only solution to the climate crisis. She discusses the need for intersectionality of issues and how the climate movement can no longer be thought of as "separate" from issues of social justice, economic stability, the housing crisis, the gender wage gap, etc. This book was just the right combination of a hard reality check and an inspiration speech for moving forward!

Unlike almost every other book on this list, Moore discusses climate change with stories, poetry, and an utterly mesmerizing writing style. As philosopher by trade, she discusses the moral and intrinsic reasons we should be addressing the climate crisis. She paints pictures of the natural environments we will lose and the people we are impacting. If you want a beautiful read that will inspire you (and is light on the scientific stuff), this book should be next on your list.


Books about the Environmental Effects of Climate Change

If you are interested in learning how the climate crisis will directly effect sea level rise, Goodell breaks it down nicely in this book. Readers will learn about the places in the world most likely to be impacted by sea level rise, and what that means for the people living there. Goodell also analyzes the economic costs of various solutions to sea level rise and how communities are preparing for it.

In this book, McKibben proposes that we must no longer think of our planet in the same way as we have done for hundreds of years. Instead we must realize that Eaarth (with two a's) has different rules and limitations. We therefore must look for new solutions and stop playing within the same boundaries are on our old Earth. McKibben discusses how the new Eaarth will feed, shelter, and support the people of the world with examples currently taking place across the globe.

Many scientists say now that we have entered the period of the sixth massive extinction on our planet. Throughout the history of the Earth, there have only been five other extinction events of this magnitude, most famously the one wiping out the dinosaurs. Kolbert spends the first few chapters revisiting these extinctions and their causes. She then takes readers on a journey throughout the world from t eh Amazon to small river beds in a heartbreaking story about animals we have lost (or are about to lose).

Wallace-Wells does an incredibly scary job of painting the picture of our future world. With a clear voice, he presents facts about what each degree of warming will do to our ability to live on Earth. Readers will learn about the effects of carbon dioxide on our cognitive skills, rates of pollution killing people, how droughts, wild fires, and hurricanes will badger our lands, and how sea waters will rise. He makes the case for why we shouldn't be focused on an all or no warming strategy, because every degree we can prevent will change the course of our species.

woman reading zero waste book

Books about Food Waste and Zero Waste Cooking

This book takes a deep look into how "America throws away nearly half of its food and what we can do about it". Bloom walks readers through the ways in which we waste food, our culture of food waste, and what types of food are wasted most. He discusses food waste in our homes, at restaurants, and on the farms themselves. He also helps the reader understand why wasting food is such a problem and how food waste intertwines with world hunger. aw

This really is a handbook because honestly we should all keep a copy of it in our kitchens! Gunders not only provides recipes for reducing food waste, she also shows the reader with charts and diagrams how food should be stored and kept. Readers learn about expiration dates, meal prep suggestions, and what food scraps are safe to give to pets. With all the color and neatly organized lists, Gunders has created an amazing resource for any level of chef.

Primarily a recipe book, My Zero Waste Kitchen takes common recipes such as pesto and frittata and then gives examples of how to incorporate items that might normally have been wasted food. Pesto can use up carrot leaves or parsley stalks. You can make a cake with banana peels or add them to your smoothies! This is a very colorful book with simple recipes making it ideal for families wanting to include their children on cooking projects.

With our climate rapidly changing, The Fate of Food looks at how we can create a sustainable food chain to feed the world. The author addresses food waste, GMO's, artificial meat, and other hot topics. With an incredibly neutral perspective, information was presented with facts and all sides of the arguments were analyzed.


My Top 5 Must Read Books

It was just about impossible for me to select only five books for my Must Read list. I, therefore, tried to pick books that represented a wider variety of topics and viewpoints on our current environmental crisis. Star with these five, and then expand on to the rest of them! My Top 5 Must Reads have also changed since the last time I posted the list in 2017...

1. On Fire by Naomi Klein

2. Losing Earth: A Recent History by Nathaniel Rich

3. Garbology by Edward Humes

4. No Impact Man by Colin Beaven

5. Great Tide Rising by Kathleen Dean Moore

Not interested in reading a book? Check out these documentaries to watch instead!

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