This year, I’ve committed myself to reducing waste both inside and outside of my home. I’m by no means at zero waste, but I can confidently say that I’m producing less waste than ever before, and that’s something. It felt daunting when I first started researching the zero-waste movement, and I was coming across articles like, “How I Stopped Creating Any Waste, Made More Money, Became a Better Person, and Succeeded at Everything.” For one thing, some of the zero-waste alternatives take an initial monetary investment that I was not able to make (buying a breadmaker, for example). Other things were a time consideration — realistically, I’m not going to start making my own toothpaste, although I’m sure it’s easier than I think. But some things I could and did do, so here are a few.
This one was easy. I already had five thousand jars and containers kicking around. I did invest in a set of glass containers that are microwave friendly, and I love them. I can’t remember the last time I used a ziplock bag. When it comes to buying groceries, I get into trickier territory. So many products are double- and triple-packaged. The crinkly plastic sound alone makes me feel guilty. I’m trying to avoid heavily-packaged items, and one way I do this is by buying in bulk. I’m lucky to have two bulk stores within biking distance, and I picked up a few tight-mesh fabric bags to reduce the number of plastic bags I go through (although we use those little bulk bags as dog poop bags).
Toronto has a pretty good green bin program, and my husband and I are fairly diligent in our waste separation. It’s remarkable how many things can go into the compost bin, including fruit and veg waste, paper towels and tissues, cat litter, etc. Last year, I wrote an article on vermicomposting, and started my own worm composter for the piece. I’ve kept the bin going since the article was published (or rather, it kept itself going, since those wormies are pretty self-sufficient). Several hundred worms later, I divert about a pound of compost per week from our green bin to my worm friends. The lovely compost they produce goes right into my garden.
When packaging is unavoidable, I try to make use of the would-be waste as much as possible. I used egg cartons this year as seed starters; we wash out mason jars and use them for storage; we use clementine boxes as cupboard organizers; we wrap power cords in toilet paper rolls to keep them from getting tangled, etc.
Reducing Plastic Waste
Some things are unnecessarily plastic-ized. Toothbrushes account for a large amount of trash in the ocean; our toothbrushes, which are made of bamboo, are the same price as plastic ones, and will go into the green bin when they need replacing. My metal water bottle goes everywhere I do, and I haven’t needed to buy bottled water in ages. Instead of cling wrap, we use beeswax-coated cotton from Etee. When these get old, they too will be composted.
Eating Out Consciously
We love bubble tea. We go at least once a week to our favourite tea shop to have a tea and do a crossword. After a few months of this ritual, I started to think about the amount of waste we were creating by doing this. It made me sad to think of not enjoying our tea and crossword, but the plastic cups and straws were really adding up. I worked at Starbucks for five years and remembered that while I worked there, they rolled out a fully recyclable plastic cup that costs $1 and lasts for about 30 hot drinks. We learned they are still available, and bought one each. To go with our new reusable cup, we bought stainless steel bubble tea straws on Amazon. They took forever to ship, but they have to be one of my favourite possessions. Since we always get cold tea, our cups didn’t need to be replaced until they were about six months old (hot liquid breaks down the plastic faster), and the straws look as new as the day we got them.
Everything we have done to make our lives less wasteful has been easy. We’ve spent a little money on things that make our lower-waste lives a bit easier, but could have made changes without doing so. The vermicomposter was the biggest project, but also the most rewarding. Mostly, reducing our waste has been a matter of thinking about it. When I need to buy something packaged I try to think about where the waste is going to end up. Can it be composted? Can it be reused or upcycled? If not, is there a lower-waste alternative? At the same time, I don’t beat myself up when I forget my bubble tea straw. I want to enjoy my life and not stress about every single purchase. Frankly, while I want to be more conscious of my impact on this planet, I just don’t expect to Stop Creating Any Waste, Make More Money, Be a Better Person, or Succeed at Everything. At least, not all at once.