My journey with zero waste living began while I was living in downtown Vancouver in a 180 square foot apartment. There are a few different factors that contributed to my interest in this lifestyle. I had a bar fridge, a tiny piece of countertop and a sink. I did all my cooking on a hot plate or in a toaster oven. I was also a full time student working 30 hours a week to support myself and living mainly off of debt, as many of us do. I had to be creative with my grocery shopping because if I bought too much, I wouldn't be able to eat it all before it went off, or worse, it wouldn't even fit in my fridge. Buying less packaged food helped save valuable fridge space. Another main reason I started to reduce my garbage was because my place was just so small and stuffy. I would take the trash out three times a week so it wouldn’t smell, and each time I was amazed at the amount of trash one person accumulated. One day, I saw an ad on Facebook for a zero-waste grocery pop-up shop, Nada. It was only a short walk from my work, so I went after a shift. It hasn’t been an overnight shift, but I haven't looked back.
This weekend was the first time I’ve pushed myself to try and generate no waste at all. The main challenging thing about zero waste is that it takes a lot of fore thought, something I generally lack. Being prepared is the number one way you can avoid generating garbage, because most waste is created for our convenience. Take away coffee cups, plastic cutlery, plastic bags, you name it. What it really comes down to is saying no to a lot of things, and substituting the essential things with sustainable, reusable options. Carrying a water bottle, having a set of cutlery in your purse or car, saying no thanks to a straw in your drink, and choosing to refill a container instead of buying prepackaged food. I started my challenge on Friday morning.
I work full time at an office and take classes online. I usually have oatmeal every morning for breakfast. I take it to work and eat it there. My office has cutlery, dishes and mugs so I don’t need to worry about bringing it from home. I brought a packed lunch in a Tupperware container but forgot about scaps… My office doesn’t have a compost. So I put the scraps back in my Tupperware and took them home to compost. Another thing I’d forgot to prepare for was coffee. My office has mugs, but they only supply individual creamers and sugar packets, and despite having spoons, most people use disposable coffee sticks. I sacrificed my morning coffee.
After work we went grocery shopping. This was probably the biggest challenge of the weekend because I always make compromises for perishable food. It’s essentially impossible to buy some things without plastic in a regular grocery store like cheese, yogurt, and frozen fruits. We purchased a lot of vegetables using cotton produce bags instead of the store supplied plastic ones. I just wash these with our laundry and reuse. We purchased milk in a glass bottle, ginger beer in glass bottles, steaks from the butcher section in butcher paper, and some diet coke in cans. Even so, this shop did accumulate a bit of garbage. There was a tag on the asparagus, the sticker holding the steak papers together, and the twist ties on the bunches of herbs. While the rules of this challenge were to see how long I could go without generating waste, I wanted to keep going and see how the rest of the weekend went. In terms of cooking at home, this weekend we only used food that would create no garbage. We do our best to purchase everything possible from stores that allow refills or bring your own container, such as Bulk Barn, or The Soap Dispensary. Because this challenge was so short lived, I didn’t have to face longer term items creating waste. These are the most challenging to sacrifice and change for me, items like makeup, clothing, shower products, they all come in or are made with plastic. People who can go a month without throwing one thing away are in a whole different ball park and I admire from afar, for now.
On Saturday afternoon we were invited to our friends birthday party in a nearby park and my husband suggested we ride our bikes and pick up a slurpee on the way there. The bike riding sounded very in line with my challenge, but the drink? This time, I thought ahead and brought a reusable tumbler with a straw and got my slurpee in that. The guy at the counter could have cared less, and charged me for the smallest size despite my letting him know how large my cup was. I will admit, it was nice to tease my husband that I got more drink than him, for less money and less waste. Sometimes I’m scared to ask people to accommodate me, but generally when you tell them why, they are really understanding. For example, checking out at the grocery store, the cashier automatically started to put our steaks in a separate plastic bag. When I stopped her she seemed offended, but when I explained my challenge, she was very understanding! Later that night I went out for a drink with some friends for St. Patrick's day. I will admit, I stopped for McDonalds on my way home, but my burger was wrapped in paper and came in a paper bag, no plastic!
My challenge came to a screaming halt on Sunday afternoon. At none other than, IKEA. If someone (your mom) offers to drive you somewhere and buy you food, the answer is generally yes as a broke student. We had lunch in their cafeteria which was no worries for my challenge! They have dishes, cutlery, glasses, the works. Now if we put IKEA on a spectrum with other mega companies in terms of sustainability, IKEA is doing pretty dang well. They pack their furniture into flat boxes not just so it fits into your car better, but so they can ship more product in smaller spaces. Why pay to transport air? They are also converting over to all LED in their light fixtures which use 85% less energy, design functional home waste sorting systems and are always looking to use more sustainable packaging, and materials for their products (see mushroom styrofoam). I purchased a few things for the house as one does at IKEA, and though there was no devilish styrofoam, there was plastic wrap, and that was a wrap on my zero waste weekend.
I lasted 64 hours without generating waste (minus a few produce stickers). While this is an awesome personal accomplishment, it has only empowered me to go further and implement more. There’s probably a bunch of details that were missed, but I promise, none of them were garbage! If anything, don’t feel overwhelmed by the want to make a change for the better. The more we do, the less goes in the landfill.