If you’ve been following along with this series, then you’ve read about the difference between compostable and biodegradable, and have learned to rethink the way we recycle. But what if we could reduce our waste altogether?
It’s all well and good to know how to dispose of our waste properly and divert it from landfills by recycling or composting. But a more long term solution would be to minimize our waste entirely. Reducing our waste is the most sustainable way to take care of our planet, as the abundance of waste, whether it is food waste, plastic, clothes, or just ‘stuff’ in general is really the problem.
To live sustainably, what needs to change is our lifestyle; the way we go through our day.
But that isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the most difficult things for people to do. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!
I recently interviewed an incredible woman, whom I will refer to as A. Patterson, who is dedicated to living as sustainably as she can. She educated me about Zero-Waste Living, and she gave me some information that I’m very excited to share with you.
I started with the basics and asked her what zero-waste living meant to her.
“To me, zero-waste living is about reducing as much waste from going to landfill as possible. A core belief of the lifestyle is that it’s a journey and not a destination.”
The less trash we send to landfills, the better. It’s not about being a perfectionist and having absolutely no waste, or getting overwhelmed by just how much waste we produce. It’s about transitioning to being more aware of what we’re throwing out, and finding solutions along the way.
We are all intelligent human beings who are capable of adapting to our changing environment. We live in a society that likes things to be done fast and efficiently (in terms of both time and money), with only the short-term gains in mind. We’ve become comfortable, and less accountable for our actions. It’s easy for us to fall into this mindset when our waste disappears after we throw it away. We can get caught in the trap of thinking that our actions have no consequences. In reality, a plastic bag we have used for maybe a few minutes to carry our groceries home has harmed or even killed a creature in the ocean, thousands of miles away.
Patterson says that one of the biggest things she has learned in her transition to zero-waste is just “how many of the things we think just disappear when we throw them away actually make their way into our environment and oceans. As well that small actions can have huge consequences both positive and negative. A simple balloon, straw or plastic bag that is used for a matter of minutes can have consequences to wildlife on the other side of the world. As well that what we think is recycled in our local municipal system is actually fairly limited. It has definitely made me research more sustainable ways of dealing with items I no longer need.”
I believe we’ve gotten to a point where we have a hard time distinguishing between what we want and what we need. We actually don’t need boxes of kleenex. It’s possible to clean your kitchen without using paper towels. You don’t need to buy a coffee in a disposable cup on your way to work. These are all things that we want to do; things that are easy and comfortable.
I’ll state it again because I think it’s such an important thing to remember: changing your habits to live sustainably is not easy. It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to want to buy that coffee and throw away the cup afterward without a second thought. You’re going to want to buy more things than you need. It might be a confusing transition.
I think that a lot of people expect green living to be easier than they thought, and give up when it gets challenging. I find myself falling into old habits more than I’d like – it happens to everyone. But once you build a new routine for yourself, it becomes as natural as breathing – and the air will be cleaner too.
To be conscious of it is the first step, and doing something about it is next.
I’ll end with some of Patterson’s tips and tricks to living more sustainably and producing less waste:
- Carrying a reusable water bottle/coffee cup
- Carrying a reusable shopping bag
- Carrying a small kit of reusable cutlery, food storage and a cloth napkin
- Buying produce in cloth bags instead of plastic
- Buying pantry items at a bulk food store or in recyclable/compostable packaging
- Using your own containers when buying bulk
- Buying personal care items (shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc) without packaging or in packaging that can be reused/recycled/composted or refilling them at Generation Green 😉
- Donating unused items to places like Goodwill and ArtsJunction
- Composting and recycling as much as possible!
- Take special recycling items like old electronics to proper disposal locations; BellMTS will take old phones for recycling and places like staples and hardware stores offer more types of recycling for thing like electronics, printer cartridges, batteries, light bulbs, etc.
- Another big challenge is snacks and ordering in food (Skip the Dishes is always so tempting after a long day of work) and while it’s something I’m still working on my solution is to keep pantry staples for quick meals and easy snacks (bought with minimal packaging or at bulk stores) at home and with me to reduce the temptation. If I do order take-out I make sure to bring my own reusable containers
- Some great resources are the “Journey to Zero-waste” Facebook groups. There’s a global one and ones broken down by region. Winnipeg has one too!
Stay tuned for articles about special recycling items, travelling sustainably and more!
Article written by Chantal Delaquis