A Journey to Zero Waste

Zero-Waste Products Flat Lay

It was garbage day some months ago when I was dragging my bin out to the curb, and I looked around my neighbourhood and noticed all the bins full of garbage, some overflowing. I recalled watching several environmental documentaries, and images of the sheer amount of waste started flashing in my mind. I saw a floating plastic island in the middle of the ocean and hundreds of beaches covered in garbage.

Then my thoughts came back to my neighbourhood parks and all the litter that lined the forest pathways. The trash that filled these bins would add to the ever-growing pile. The thought made me sick and full of guilt.

I realized that the few things I was doing, like recycling and composting, while better than nothing, were half-hearted efforts at most. It was time to get more serious about reducing my household waste.

Taking inventory

I started looking into items we used at home that I could trade in for reusable or compostable items. Putting in a little effort made it quite accessible. Here are some of the swaps I made:

Zero-Waste Swaps Infographic

The key is not to throw out your existing items. However exciting and rewarding it may feel to make these swaps, it is important to use what you have first, followed by a sustainable version.
Tip: Make sure the reusable zero-waste products you choose are made from 100% natural materials so that once they’re no longer usable, they can biodegrade.

Refill and reduce

Next, I looked up and visited a few zero-waste stores in my area, which gave me even more ideas. Many of these shops offer a refillable program so you can reuse your containers for anything from kitchen soap to makeup.

I buy all my spices, cereals, coffee, tea, rice, cookies, candy, chips, snacks, nut butters, and baking ingredients at my local bulk store, Bulk Barn. For bread, look for a local bakery. One of my favourite bread brands is Cobs, and each week I bring my linen bread bag when I buy bread.

Changing these habits made me realize I needed to reduce my consumption in general. I started putting more thought into my purchasing decisions. As often as possible, I would ask myself if it was something I really needed or just wanted.

I can’t tell you how often it was something I wanted for no real reason, and when I did catch myself, I would feel a small sense of pride for overcoming the desire to buy something for what I felt was the greater good. This wasn’t only good for reducing my carbon footprint, but also for my wallet.

Clothing Rack Close-up

Clothing, toys, and books

Believe it or not, it’s fun to thrift! Rather than buy new, our family decided to first check out second-hand stores for clothes, toys, books, and other things around the house.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn there were a ton of local consignments and thrift shops nearby. The clothes are often as good as new, and are much less expensive. For books, we borrow from friends or go to our local library. Sometimes we download an e-book if it’s unavailable at the library.

Another even better option is to give and receive hand-me-downs from friends. This is particularly great if you have kids. I have a friend whose daughter is a few years older than mine, and every so often, she’ll give me a trunkful of clothing that no longer fit her daughter. When I bring them home, it’s nice to see the excitement on my daughter’s face as she sifts through the pile and chooses what she likes.

Furthermore, I started having conversations with my daughter to educate her on the purpose behind these decisions. I felt it was important to include her in the planning and rationale, and she was accepting of the whole idea.

She now makes little comments here and there about the toys and things she asks for. She feels good about not buying anything plastic. Overall, we buy her less now, and she appreciates her gifts more.

Latte Close-up

Eating out

One easy choice when going out for coffee is to either sit in and use the house mugs or bring your tumbler. Starbucks and many other coffee houses will prepare your drink right in your tumbler if you’re taking it to go. They’ll even offer you a small discount for doing so!

Takeout food can be a challenge to be waste-free as most places won’t put food in your own container. I try to eat in as often as possible, and if I must take my food to go, I search for restaurants that have compostable containers.

Continuous improvement

I am always learning and picking up new tips and tricks that align with my goal of being more sustainable. Right now, I’m reading Zero Waste Home by Béa Johnson. I also follow several accounts on social media. Some of my Instagram favourites are @going.zero.waste, @myzerowastelifeintoronto, @paredown, and @shelbizleee (she has a great YouTube channel). When I go out for a walk, I like to throw on a podcast, and my favourite zero-waste podcast is Practical(ly) Zero Waste by Elsbeth Callaghan. If you’re interested in making your lifestyle more sustainable, these are all great sources of inspiration. I constantly remind myself that everything is a work in progress, and there’s always room for improvement.