It seems its getting harder and harder to go a day without seeing something on the news about the amount of garbage filling our oceans. Every time you walk down the street or go to trails, rivers and lakes its hard to avoid it in even in our own backyard. And as equally heartbreaking as it is, it has given us motivation to want better for this planet. It has helped to open our eyes and look for ways we are able to make changes in our everyday lives. We have seen the ripple effect that can happen when a single video circulates and gets people motivated to change. We have seen what can happen when individuals begin to refuse or change to reusable options such as straws, so why can’t we do the same with other everyday items in our lives?
I know it can be daunting and it can seem impossible to even know where to start.
The trick is to start small, not get to overwhelmed, have fun with it, and most of all don't take yourself to seriously, life happens and no one is perfect or 100% zerowaste.
I'm sure you have seen pictures of people that fit the amount of garbage that they create in a year into a small jar but that isn't the only way it has to be done. It is about becoming more mindful of our purchases and when something needs to be repurchased or replaced, choosing a more sustainable option.I know you may be thinking well I still don't really know where to begin… So here are a few simple ways to get started with the 5 R’s Refuse, Reduce, Reuse (Repair, Replace), Rot, and Recycle. Think reduced impact instead of the term zero waste.
First here is a little bit of motivation to get you started:
- Canadians produce 777kg of garbage per citizen - 580 kg per citizen in BC per year
- Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used each year, that’s more than 1 million bags per minute
- Virtually every piece of plastic ever produced still exists in one form or another
- Plastic makes up approximately 90% of trash floating in the ocean
- One million sea birds species and 100,00 marine mammals die each year from plastic in the oceans.
- by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish
- Canada is one of the largest contributors to food waste with the average Canadian wasting 873lbs of food per year.
- 5 million tons of textile waste is produced in North America per year. Most of which could be donated, reused, or recycled.
Refuse: Say no to single use plastics or unnecessary packaging. This is all about minimizing the amount of waste that enters your life. This could look like saying no to items like straws, disposable coffee cups, or to-go containers by bringing your own. If someone offers you a bag or something you do not need such as freebies or fliers politely say no. This can be hard at first but will give you the chance to think about what is really a necessity and the new habits that you would like to create. You can also think of it in a way of the new things you would like to say yes to instead. Like saying yes to bringing your own water bottle or cup, saying yes to purchasing items without packaging, yes to buying bulk items, getting items refilled, shopping locally and seasonally at farmers markets, and supporting businesses that also care and support sustainable initiatives.
Reduce: Lessen the number of items you buy, simply cut back. It can also mean reducing what you already have in your life by donating or selling items you no longer use. This helps to create more space and lets us be more mindful and focused on future purchases. Avoid buying something just because or splurging on something that may be poor quality which will just end up in a landfill, in the back of our closets, or unused laying around our homes. Let us focus on more mindful purchases, ones of better quality putting more value back into our belongings. Think quality vs. quantity. Even though some better quality items and clothing can be pricier initially, in the end they often end up lasting much longer or are easily repaired instead of purchasing poor quality that often times just falls apart and needs to be replaced more often, thus creating more waste. When looking to reduce items in your life it is also important to look at the way you grocery shop and the food you consume, or rather the food going to waste. Buying dry goods in bulk is a great way to purchase a small amount at a time to have just what you need instead of letting items sit in your pantry that will go bad. The same thing goes for fruits and veggies. Shopping at farmers markets whenever possible and being mindful of purchasing the amount that you need will help to reduce food waste and help cut back on packaged and processed foods.
Reuse( Repair/Replace): This is all about switching out disposable items for reusables. Having a kit that you can keep in your backpack, purse, or in your car. This can include things like a handkerchief, fabric bags for groceries or snacks. Reusable cutlery - stainless steel or bamboo are great options. A water bottle or coffee cup so you don't have to get disposal coffee cups or plastic water bottles. It is also helpful to have a container for snacks, take out, or left overs. Jars will become your new best friends. It’s no wonder why mason jars have become so popular! You can use them as a drinking glass, a lunch container, to fill with bulk goods, for storing homemade remedies, and to fill at refill stores. When it comes to clothing purchasing secondhand or being involved in clothing swaps provide great ways to give clothes a second life. Repairing items for longevity whenever it’s possible is another great option. Clothing articles can be mended ,and when they need to be replaced choose options of higher quality from more sustainable, ethically made sources and support small local businesses when possible
Rot: AKA Composting. Learning how and what to compost is another great step in reducing waste and is also a great way to give back to the earth. Organic matter, food scraps, cardboard, and even natural fibres can be composted, they are broken down and eventually turn into dirt used for growing more fruits and veggies! Each city will have different regulations in regards to composting policies so it’s a good idea to look into what is available in your neighbourhood. Curb side options may be available, or there are many different options for building or purchasing your own compost for at home, there are even compact styles for apartments. Often times if there is a community garden in your town you can check if they will take it as well. Always remember that composting is not the end to food waste. You should be using as much as you can by choosing options such as canning, preserving, freezing, and even turning veggie scraps into stock whenever possible and reducing the amount of food you let go bad.
Lastly probably the most common but often misunderstood R…Recycle: It can be easy to think that recycling solves all problems and once a plastic bottle or jar ends up in a blue bin its fine and is going to end up where it needs to be. However the truth is that isn't often the case. When it comes to plastic, recycling is more so downcycling. Plastics are melted or broken down and turned into other various items but once there is no long a life for it or it becomes unnecessary, these items will end up in the landfill or worse in our environment. After years they will break down into tiny little pieces and particles that will never go away. Sadly a large amount of plastic also ends up in landfills or in the oceans from being shipped to other counties. So remember to reuse as much as you can, refuse or reduce whenever necessary and available and if you do need to recycle make sure items are washed and brought to the correct facilities or following your cities recycling guide lines.
These are just a few of the many many ways to reduce your impact on the planet, reduce your waste, and become more mindful of your purchases and way of life. Remember this is going to work and look different for everyone so always be kind of others journeys. Education and leading by example is the best way to advocate change. Shop locally, seasonally, ethically, sustainably, and package free whenever possible. If you want to do more you can also volunteer with organizations and do local clean ups in your area or facilitate your own!
Author: Erika Arnold
Erika is the co-owner of The Refillery- a mobile Zero Waste ( or reduced waste as her and her business partner Nate prefer to call it) shop in Chilliwack, BC. They offer refills on locally made, all natural, soap, detergents, body care, and household cleaners as well as various package free goodies. Erika began dabbling in the world of zero waste after seeing a video of Lauren Singer showcasing all the trash that she produced in a year fit neatly into a jar and it had her very intrigued as she was already taking some of these steps and she thought, hey I should try that. It wasn't until after a trip to Costa Rica that Erika began to notice the serious impact plastic pollution has on the planet and she noticed it in her own backyard even more once she returned home. It was at this point that she decided to dive in deep refilling all of her items from bulk grains and seeds to makeup and shampoo. She became more mindful of shopping package free, carrying around her trusty kit of necessities to avoid single use items, farmers markets and local options became her favourite hang outs. She now loves to help others on their journey to reducing their waste by hosting workshops and motivating others through her social media platforms the group Zero Waste Fraser Valley on Facebook and @zerowastefraservalley on instagram answering any questions she can and giving tips and tricks when it comes to shopping package free, supporting local and eating more mindfully through Holistic Nutrition. Erika even helps small local businesses do what they can to reduce their waste and was awarded with the 2017 Chamber of Commerce Sustainability award for her Efforts at Studio B Yoga & More. You can find The Refillery moving to various locations in chilliwack and Abbotsford. See where they are and get tips by following @the.refillery on instagram, The Refillery on Facebook and www.refillery.co