Go zero waste this November
By Nicole Ellement, Contributor
In its simplest terms, zero-waste is exactly what it sounds like: a lifestyle in which one produces no waste. On a more complex level, zero-waste is about fundamentally overhauling the system in which we live, in order to move towards a circular economy in which waste doesn’t exist.
Although it’s becoming more common, I think there are two things keeping people away from zero-waste: the idea that the concept is too hard, and that it doesn’t make a huge difference. I want to dispel both of those myths. I can assure you it is not hard to do, and it really does make a huge difference.
In fact, I’m willing to bet money that most people have dipped their toes into zero-waste without realizing what they are doing, or the impact of every small action.
When you bring a travel mug to the coffee shop, or use a Tupperware container instead of a plastic bag, that’s basic zero-waste. If this sounds like you, congratulations — you’re actually well on your way to a full zero-waste lifestyle! Those small actions add up.
Personally, coffee is the best example. I probably drink at least three cups of coffee a day. By using a reusable mug every time I get a coffee, I divert over a thousand coffee cups from the landfill in one year. That’s not an insignificant number. So, if you like the idea and you want to jump on in, I’ve got five tips to get you started and five easy switches to start your very own zero-waste journey.
DON’T throw everything plastic or disposable out immediately. I’m in love with the concept of having the perfect zero-waste kitchen. How good would that look on Instagram? But realistically, if I throw out everything disposable in my kitchen, I have actually just created a lot more waste. Use up (or donate) the disposables that you have currently before buying beautiful, compostable and zero-waste products.
DO pick an area of your life that you can commit to making zero-waste. For me, that was my bathroom routine. I live at home, so asking my dad to up and completely change our lifestyle would have been a huge first step. Instead, I started by changing things that were completely my own. My bathroom is still probably the “most” zero-waste area of my life.
DON’T get discouraged when you do create waste. The term zero-waste can be frightening because it sounds like you can never create waste ever again and if you do, you’re not zero-waste. That’s garbage (pun intended). It’s so important to remember that zero-waste is a concept — in our current system, zero-waste cannot be a reality. The world simply is not set up for zero-waste. But, every single time you limit waste, that’s beneficial — that’s a positive impact. There’s a great quote by Anne Marie Bonneau that states, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
DO research on how to limit waste when zero-waste isn’t possible. I’ve been attempting zero-waste for five months and I still can’t find zero-waste spaghetti anywhere. So, ordinary spaghetti, in a cardboard box that I can recycle, is a close second. My personal scale looks like: Waste free > glass (because I can reuse) > cans (because it’s so easy to recycle) > cardboard/paper (recycling) > plastic (my arch-nemesis).
DO talk to people about it. Chatting with other people not only encourages others to do the same but can also help you get helpful tips and tricks from them.
Swap out your single-use coffee cup for a reusable mug (or make your coffee at home because of COVID-19). According to Genumark, roughly 4.9 billion cups of coffee are consumed on the go in Canada every year. By using a mug for your morning coffee, you can personally divert 365 coffee cups from the landfill. And as a bonus, most places will offer a discount for bringing your own mug — 7-Eleven offers 50-cent coffee refills, Starbucks offers a 10-cent discount and for a local option, Regal Cat Cafe offers a 15-cent discount.
Use real cutlery. According to One Green Planet, six million tons of non-durable plastic — like plastic cutlery — is discarded every year. Bring real cutlery with you instead of resorting to plastic. You don’t need to go buy some beautiful bamboo cutlery either. Scour your utensil drawer and find some old cutlery that you’re okay lugging around with you.
Bring all your own bags to the grocery store. CTV News reports that Canadians use 2.86 billion plastic bags a year. On top of that, plastic bags never truly biodegrade and are really hard to recycle. Limit your plastic bag use by not only bringing reusable bags to carry your groceries, but by also bringing reusable produce bags. More grocery stores are charging for plastic bags now anyway, so save yourself a couple of cents and save the environment a lot of grief.
Buy what food you can in bulk. Bulk is the best. Buying in bulk is like my valentine. I literally get giddy when I know I can buy in bulk. But it can also feel really intimidating. So, here are the steps. First, gather up your containers. Additionally, use whatever containers you have. Second, go to your bulk store of choice. My top three right now are Bulk Barn, Community Natural Foods and Blush Lane. Third, when you get there, have them weigh your containers so that you’re only paying for the weight of your bulk goods. Fourth, fill up with all of the bulky goodness.
Use bars of soap. To me, bars of soap are the pinnacle of how zero-waste is just like living in the past. Bars of soap are back and they are genuinely better than ever.
So, there you have it: five simple zero-waste tips and swaps to start you on your zero-waste journey. Start with one, or start with all five — just start somewhere! The planet, its inhabitants and all future generations will thank you.