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The City of Toronto recently began distributing it’s waste management guide and collection schedule for 2017. If you are lucky like us, you already received yours in the mail.

But before you switch over to the new year, the city of Toronto included a Holiday Campaign for the month of December 2016 encouraging people to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle correctly over the Holiday Season. While this is most excellent, we are reminded that the education around waste reduction has been stuck on the three Rs for quite some time now. If we want to shift our waste management strategy to a Zero Waste approach (as recommended by Toronto Environmental Alliance) there is a bigger, badder sister to the three Rs that we can call upon. Her name is

R E F U S E.

While it’s great to reduce consumption, reuse items where you can and recycle things properly, it’s also awesome to just not buy offensive culprits of waste in the first place. So here’s our edition to those of you looking to approach zero waste status. Happy Holidays from the Toronto Tool Library!

1) Avoid Excessive Packaging

Whether you are looking for Holiday gifts, food items or out and about enjoying the Toronto Christmas Market shenanigans, say no packaging. Try to avoid products wrapped in excessive plastic and bring reusable shopping bags with you for gifts and groceries. Shop at the select Bulk Barns in the city that are conducting a pilot program to allow shoppers to bring their own reusable containers. Carry a reusable mug with you at all times for your candy cane hot chocolate (here’s a most amazing collapsible mug that will fit in your pocket).

GREEN TIP: shop or swap for gifts second hand to avoid the waste involved in producing, shipping and packaging items new. Use BUNZ Trading Zone to swap for gifts. BUNZ Trading Zone has branched out from its beginnings as a Facebook page for community trades into a fully fledged app with a search bar. You can actually search for the exact item you are looking for and then meet up with the person in Toronto who has it. They are currently using the hashtag #GiftIt on their app to signify items that are giftable (new/like new or #BNIB – brand new in box).

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2) Avoid Cheaply Made Products as Gifts

At this point, we are all aware of the negative effects that mass, excessive consumption has on our planet. The cheaply made goods that look so pretty in window displays and colourful advertisements are not made to last. They break down and fall apart in no time and live out the rest of their non-biodegradable lives in landfills, leaching harmful chemicals and dyes into the ground.

GREEN TIP: buy less, buy better. When you are shopping for gifts, don’t go over the top buying all kinds of things. Focus on spending a little more on the one thing you know that person is going to actually love and cherish and make sure it’s built to last. You can use the website Buy Me Once as a handy guide to products that are made with these principles in mind. ‘Let’s throwaway our throwaway culture,’ as the site’s motto suggests.

 

3) Refuse To Buy Physical Gifts At All

You can take your green Christmas a step further by refusing to purchase physical items as gifts. There’s a growing body of research that suggests the accumulation of stuff doesn’t make us happy anyway, so why are we still so devoted to the image of a mountain of boxes under the tree?

GREEN TIP: think outside the gift box and give the gift of experience instead. Giving something experiential is going to be more meaningful in the longterm, as this study suggests. Here’s a handy list of 10 Ways To Give The Gift Of Experience.

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4) Say No To Gift Wrapping

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t wrap your presents, but for the love of planet earth don’t buy your gift wrapping materials new. According to Zero Waste Canada, every person will produce 110 lbs of garbage during the Holidays. We really need to step up our Zero Waste game at this time of year.

GREEN TIP: change your approach to gift wrapping. Use upcycled materials such as newspaper and other items you have laying around the house that could be useful. Use an old paper bag and decorate it with pretty designs. Make your own bows using upcycled materials, such as magazine pages or film strip. Make your own ribbon by cutting up old clothing that you’re not going to wear anymore and isn’t fit for passing on (we lack good textile recycling programs in Canada, so may as well give those used textiles a new life!).

Open gifts carefully with the intent of saving the wrapping (bows, ribbon, bags and boxes) and encourage those around you to do the same (work it into your Holiday tradition to have a box on the side where everyone puts their discarded wrapping).
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5) Don’t Buy Holiday Cards

Let’s face it – we’ve all got that drawer in our living quarters that’s stuffed full with old greeting cards from birthdays, our grade 8 graduation and Christmases past. If you’re like me, you’ve got cards dating all the way back to when you first came home from the hospital. This is unnecessary clutter and you certainly don’t need to add more to your pile or someone else’s.

GREEN TIP: get those old cards out of the drawer right now and start reusing them to make new ones to give out to people during the Holidays. You can also make your own cards from scratch by upcycling materials you have lying around the house. Maybe even stick a little note to cards you give out asking people to save them in order to reuse them again next year!

 

6) Refuse Wasteful Entertaining Practices

Holiday parties, meals and gatherings. This is truly one of the most meaningful and magical aspect of the Holidays and really what this time of year is meant for: spending time with friends and family. However, these social gatherings are an opportunity to cut back on that 110lbs per person of waste mentioned above – cut out as many throwaway items as possible when hosting.

GREEN TIP: Zero Waste Canada has many tricks in this handy guide to cutting back waste during Holiday get-togethers. Things such as deploying the reusable cloth napkin set, cutlery and dishes. Reaching out to invite guests via phone, email or text message rather than sending physical invites. Keeping reusable containers at the ready to store away leftover food. Read them all here.

 

7) Portion Plan Your Meals

It’s not just disposable napkins and gift wrapping that gets wasted during the Holidays: when people put too much food on their plate and fail to finish it, it gets chucked into the compost – or worse – the garbage. Why is food waste a problem? 1/3 of all food produced globally is wasted annually and when that food ends up in landfills it releases methane gas – which has 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

GREEN TIP: use this handy dandy portion planner from the folks at Love Food Hate Waste: “the portion planner removes the guesswork by suggesting how much to cook, depending on who’s coming for dinner, and ways to measure it.” Also, you can use smaller dishes so people can’t overfill their plates with food – guests can always come back for seconds.

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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.