Following Bulk Barn’s recent announcement last week that they will now be making their reusable container program company policy across all locations (YAAS!), it seems the zero waste train in Canada is more than ready to leave the station. There are even rumours that Toronto will (finally) be getting the zero waste grocery store we’ve all been dreaming about for years (I mean come on Toronto, Montreal already has zero waste grocery stores and so does Vancouver). The zero waste movement is the answer we’ve been looking for in Canada for our serious (and embarrassing) waste problem.
For those of you considering putting your garbage can on a diet and jumping aboard that zero waste train, here’s a handy list from someone who has been easing her way into a zero waste lifestyle (slowly) for a few years now. These are 11 things I recommend for those first staring out:
1) Don’t Start With A Jar Challenge
The zero waste movement was really launched into the mainstream a few years back with several flashy stories about bloggers who were taking the ‘jar challenge’ – they would only make enough trash to fill a single mason jar over the course of a year (Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers can now boast TWO years of trash in a single jar). I considered starting my zero waste journey like this, but began having panic attacks and feared I would fill the jar only with tears of failure if I tried this now.
After speaking with several Toronto bloggers, it seems the main barrier for starting a zero waste journey is the sense that it will be difficult. If this is how you feel, my advice is to find a place from which to launch and take baby steps. My launching place was the birth of my daughter 3 years ago. I made the conscious choice to use cloth diapers, which I purchased second hand on Kijiji. Pick one for yourself and see where it takes you.
2) Remember ‘The Five PillaRs’
Every movement needs a mantra and zero wasters are no exception to this rule. Pare Down, the Toronto-based family blazing the zero waste trail in this city, recommends keeping these five Rs close to your heart – and I agree. These will help keep you on track as you start transitioning your way into a zero waste lifestyle:
The Five PillaRs
Refuse what you do not need.
Reduce what you do need.
Reuse everything you can.
Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse.
Rot the rest.
3) Never Leave The House Unprepared
In the beginning, I found a lot of my slip ups happened because I was not prepared – I would forget my reusable bag, my glass jars, my coffee cup. Now when I go out I make mental notes about what I think I’m going to need – if I’m heading to a bulk store, I need to bring my jars. If I think I will be grabbing take out, I bring a reusable container. If I need bread, I bring this fabulous bread bag along to the bakery. And so on. I keep all the things I will potentially need by the door so that they are easy to find and ready to go.
What I keep on me at all times: a reusable tote bag, a reusable bag for veggies, reusable chop sticks and cutlery, cloth napkins and the newest fixture in my bag – this amazing collapsible cup from Stojo.
4) Locate Your Zero Waste Stores
Start looking into where you can go to find the things you need in bulk, package free. As mentioned above, Bulk Barn has just implemented a reusable container program across all stores in Canada, but you’re not going to find everything there. Here’s a list I’ve pulled from various zero waste bloggers on Instagram and from suggestions on the Tool Library Facebook page. I’m sure there’s more, don’t hesitate to let us know and we’ll update!
- Karma Coop Toronto – a non-profit food co-operative owned and operated by its members. You can bring your own containers here! Package-free castile, laundry and dishwashing soap, refills on detergents, shampoos and conditioners, unpackaged soaps and candles, bulk spices, grains, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and even eggs!
- Anarres Natural Health – uses glass & metal packaging for natural toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, shaving cream, room deodorizer sprays, moisturizers, body wash/scrub, cosmetics, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. They offer a container return program so that you can put your used containers back into circulation. Anarres also carries a number of reusable products: cloth face masks, stainless steel straws, sporks/travel cutlery, food storage containers, menstrual cups/pads and nursing bra liners. You will also find petrochemical free items: dish washing brushes, water filters, bamboo toothbrushes and naked beeswax tealight candles. And, very importantly, they reuse packaging from suppliers when shipping.
- Binz – This is a kitchen supply store that rocks the reusable product world. Located in Bloor West Village, it has everything from reusable containers to portable coffee cups to this awesome Redecker brush with replaceable heads. If you are looking for products to replace disposable items in your home, you will find them here.
- Nuthouse – a bulk food store located in Bloor West Village that carries quality bulk dried goods, coffee, oils, candy, etc and allows you to bring your own container.
- Sweet Potato Toronto – a natural and local food service located in the Junction that offers fresh, local, organic food. They also sell skincare and cleaning products that are petrochemical free, biodegradable and without synthetic dyes/fragrances.
- Strictly Bulk – an awesome local bulk food store whose motto is “because you don’t eat packaging.” Cheers to that. They also let you bring in and tare your own containers.
5) Borrowing Before Buying
Probably one of the best things you can do to cut back your waste is REFUSE to buy things at all. People are finally becoming aware of the detrimental effects of mass consumerism on the planet and are looking for alternatives in how they access goods. Thanks to apps like Peerby and stuff lending libraries such as Toronto’s Tool Library and The Sharing Depot, consumers can now choose to opt out of consumption altogether.
Before you venture out to purchase something, consider alternatives to buying. Ask yourself, first of all, if you need to own the item at all. Is it something you are only going to use occasionally? For instance, Toronto’s Sharing Depot carries all the camping gear you could ever need, party supplies like folding chairs, projectors, record payers, popcorn machines, etc. along with board games, children’s toys and sporting equipment. I’ve been using the Sharing Depot to borrow toys for my daughter on a weekly basis since it opened last summer and it has been GREAT. It has become our routine to visit the toy section every Wednesday night, and every Wednesday night my daughter happily returns the toys she took out previously in exchange to borrow something else.
6) Find It Second Hand
Maybe you need access to something on a regular basis and borrowing it from a borrow store or a neighbour is not an option. Fortunately, Toronto is the BUNZ capital of Canada and on this fabulous little app, you can swap for what you need. You can either make a call out on the app for what you’re looking for OR use the convenient search bar to search for a specific item.
If BUNZ fails you, Toronto also has Freecycle whose mission it is to cut back on waste while building and strengthening a community of people who share. On Freecycle, there’s no need to swap for an item – you just pick it up from the designated location.
Another Toronto gem is the Really, Really Free Market. Although you can’t necessarily be specific about what you’re going to find there, it’s worth checking out because, while you may not get what you want, you just might find what you need.
This is an important one. While Toronto is not quite as far ahead in the Repair Movement as say somewhere like Sweden, where they have implemented tax breaks for repairing broken things, we do have a wicked awesome Repair Cafe. When something breaks – whether it be clothing, books, electronics, appliances, bicycles, etc. – you can bring it to the Repair Cafe where their skilled volunteers will do everything in their power to heal your broken treasures.
Making an effort to repair an item rather than tossing it to rush out and buy a new one is a huge step towards putting less trash in our landfills, which ultimately leach chemicals into the ground and waterways (e-waste alone represents 70% of toxic waste in landfills). Have something broken laying around your home? Bring it to the next Repair Cafe on February 11th.
8) Make Your Own
Making your own laundry soaps/detergents, cosmetics, shampoos/conditioners, cleaning supplies, candles, perfumes, etc. is a fantastic way to cut back on wasteful, unnecessary packaging and harmful chemicals. Aside from the standard use of vinegar as cleaner and the no poo method for washing my hair, I haven’t ventured too much into this territory yet. I recently found this DIY citrus cleaner from @yourecofriend on Instagram and I’m going to try it out this week.
Anarres Natural Health offers workshops and classes on how to make all these things and conveniently sells reusable containers and all the DIY ingredients you will need to make them (butters, oils, clays, herbs, hydrosols, etc.). This Friday, in fact, they are holding a workshop on DIY Natural Cleaning Products.
9) Find Alternatives
Find alternatives to everyday products that, while you might not be thinking about it, actually cause a lot of waste. Whenever you come across a single-use item or an item that is wrapped in plastic, search around for an alternative. Here’s a few to get you thinking:
- Tape: consider using Washi, Japanese making tape which is compostable
- Toilet Paper: there’s a number of alternatives to standard toilet paper. Some zero waste bloggers are advocating for the bidet, which eliminates the need for toilet paper altogether. Other options include individually wrapped rolls of Caboo (bamboo toilet paper found at Karma Coop and Nuthouse, mentioned in the list of zero waste stores above) and Sustainable Earth Toilet Paper which can be ordered from Staples in bulk.
- Toothbrush: consider using a bamboo toothbrush, which can be found at Anarres Natural Health.
- Straws: small but mighty, straws are a big waste problem. Consider getting a stainless steel straw instead, which you can find online or from places like Anarres Natural Health in Toronto.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about all the things in our lives that create waste. I recommend writing them down as you think of them and selecting one a week to find a zero waste alternative for.
10) The Art Of Reuse
Consider giving things you would normally toss a new life by upcycling them. For instance, @myzerowastelifeintoronto made a spray bottle for her homemade vinegar scrap cleaner with an old perrier bottle and spray nozzle she picked up via Freecycle. Here are some others to help you put your upcycle cap on:
- Save glass jars from purchases you’ve made and use them when when you visit a bulk store (rather than purchasing jars new).
- An old juice jug easily becomes the perfect watering can.
- Make a wallet using an old juice carton.
- Take an old pair of jeans that have seen better days and make your own bunting (those pretty strings of triangle flags) and then use the scraps to make these cute bracelets.
- Old pillow cases can transform into these garment bags or into reusable shopping bags (there’s even a no-sew way to do this).
- Old t-shirts are actually just no-sew tote bags waiting to happen. Wine bottle or a vase? What you thought were just silly old plastic bottle are actually so many different things – from bird feeds to self-watering gardens to lawn sprinklers.
The internet will, of course, be your best friend in this endeavour. Upcycling is endlessly creative and saves perfectly good resources from ending up in landfills.
11) Follow Zero Waste Bloggers
Follow the journey of those who have already been there and are doing it. There are some great Zero Waste blogs and resources out there, such as Trash Is For Tossers, My Plastic Free Life, Going Zero Waste, Zero Waste Home, The Rubbish Diet and Litterless. If you’ve got a question about something or are stuck finding a zero waste solution to a product you need, it’s likely these folks have already taken it on. It may also be handy to follow along with Toronto-based zero wasters such as Pare Down and on Instagram: My Zero Waste Life In Toronto, Your Eco Friend, Eco.Glo and Refusereuse.
Go above and beyond following, join the chorus! Start posting about your own Zero Waste endeavours to inspire others to jump on the zero waste train. The more passengers, the more effective we will become at pressuring big manufacturers, corporations and government to change their minds about the throwaway culture we are currently filling our garbage cans (and our planet) with.
This is a guest blog by @itsahashtaglife, who has been perfecting the art of online storytelling as a method to amplify the important messages of non-profits and charities in Toronto for the last three years. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.