I must admit I love telling people that my family recycles so much. Our large recycling bin is front and center in the kitchen and our smaller garbage bin lives under the sink. When there is a party with friends, I might be the one making sure to collect the plates and glasses so I could be sure to stack them together and head to the recycling bin. Even if it’s not my party. Some think I’m annoying, others have accepted my quirky behaviour and know what to expect.
Until recently, I thought I was doing a great service to help the environment but it turns out, I may not be helping as much as I thought. I came across author Bea Johnson giving a Tedx Talk on Zero Waste and what it means. And in her very first sentence she says “How many of you think we should be recycling more?” Most raised their hand. She continued by explaining it was a trick question and that she believes we should not be focusing on recycling as much as we should be focusing on creating a zero waste lifestyle.
Her talk opened my eyes. And for the record, she is not a hippy living in a tipi in the woods. She is a fashionable, stylish, mama of two teenage boys and lives in a beautiful, minimalist home. Her family of four have adopted this lifestyle so well, and through her blog and book, The Zero Waste Home, she has become the guru of Zero Waste life, and is educating people around the world.
The biggest shock that got my attention was that what I think is recyclable may not be. And the process of filtering through the waste that people deem recyclable requires so much more work and energy that is not good for the environment that it becomes counterproductive.
When I visited Switzerland, a country that seems so advanced in so many ways, I was so surprised to see that many items were not recyclable. But that is the exact reason; they have informed their residents properly to let them know what plastics are not actually recyclable. And the reality is, many are not. The truth is, for consumers, waste is easy to place in recycling bins if they are available and we might think we are doing a good job.
After getting a little disappointed with this new found knowledge, I wanted to go to another highly reputable source: DavidSuzuki.org. A national treasure of Canada, David Suzuki has been educating people around the world for decades, so I wanted to see what he had to say about recycling. Here is what I found. This video gives a lot of information in a very easy and clear way for viewers to absorb. Take a look:
So! Now that I was visibly able to see what was actually not recyclable, I was able to see that the start of a Zero Waste lifestyle was going to make more of an impact on the environment.
It’s not something you can change cold-turkey. And I think it would be unrealistic of me to think otherwise, with my three boys and my husband. But as the CEO of my home, and the main decision maker on items purchased, I knew there were some things I had to try my best to start implementing as soon as possible. With the list below, you may find you are already doing some of these things, just as I was.
17 Ideas for a Zero Waste Lifestyle
- Go grocery shopping with reusable bags
- When out at an event or activity, try to bring a snack when allowed and when possible that limits packaging you would have purchase otherwise.
- Bring your own to-go cup when heading off to get an iced-latte (and be sure to tell someone in advance at a drive-thru)
- Buy in bulk when possible – there are a ton of bulk stores popping up and they allow you to bring your own containers
- If you use a lot of any one item, try seeing if there is a Zero Waste alternative and make a switch. I recently wrote about one easy switch I made with reusable makeup remover pads. You can read about it over on Omaiki.com .
- Compost! I admit, I tried this a couple of years ago and got maggots in my bin, so I gave up. But there are many ways avoid that and be very successful at composting (even in your own backyard)
- Use fabric napkins – this is something we have done since my husband and I were married. It’s simple.
- Use glass or stainless steel straws – also real easy to have one in the car for drive-thru meals or in your bag for coffee breaks.
- Use reusable plates and glasses for parties – there are so many nice items on the market now, even at your grocery store, making it easy to have festive dishes for parties without waste.
- Find biodegradable balloons. Ask your store – they do exist. Even bunch-o-balloons are biodegradable.
- Get to know what your community is doing to make less waste – are there programs? Workshops? Do they have recycling areas for special items?
- If you are a DIY kinda person (I am not) try making your own cleaners and cosmetic products.
- Buy second hand clothing and other items.
- Do not throw out items before offering them to friends, second hand stores, or good will. Someone might find your junk to be their treasure.
- Also, fix things. Before you give up on an appliance or a tool, see if there is way to have it fixed before tossing it for a new one.
- Buy produce at your local market – you will be helping local farmers, plus you won’t have unnecessary additional packaging.
- Do not buy bottled water! In Canada, there is no need to purchase water in a bottle. If you are concerned about the water quality, as I was, consider investing in a filter system instead. Then make sure you have a reusable bottle and fill it up before you leave the home and on the go.
Chances are, you are already doing some of these things. And with this long list, it could be easy to implement another few in the next month or year. Then before you know it, you are living a better lifestyle for you, and for your environment.
In a report done analyzing the waste of Canadians in 2009, an estimated 4.4 pounds of trash is created per person per day – that is crazy. With landfills reaching their capacity, the only route will be to live a more sustainable life.
For more information on Bea Johnson, visit her blog here. And if you have teens and young adult in your family, Lauren Singer is another fantastic source with great videos.
What ways are you already living a Zero Waste lifestyle and what ways are you considering to live even more sustainable?