Looking back on the last four years of my life, I have seen a huge shift in my lifestyle as I researched what it means to live a more environmentally sustainable life. I never gave much thought to the products or food I purchased, or the companies, people and processes that produced them. Most of the changes I went through were subtle and gradual, and actually started with food. After discovering a dairy allergy was keeping me tired through the day and causing problems with my digestion, I started paying more attention to the food I was putting in my body. I began to draw conclusions for myself, like I didn’t want to eat vegetables that were laced with harmful chemicals used to kill insects and weeds (I worked as a gardener as a teenager, and I know firsthand how harmful some of the substances used to prevent weed and insect damage can be). It was around this time when I met Tiffany, who has been a lifelong vegetarian, and strict vegan for many years. She never asked me to give up eating meat, but encouraged me to eat ethically raised and slaughtered animals, and research meat industry practices. It didn’t take me long to decide I would never buy factory-farmed meat again, and I gave up eating meat altogether not long after – it was just easier, and I felt healthier than I had ever felt before.
I promise this personal tangent ties into the idea of a zero waste lifestyle. As I began to increase my knowledge of the products and companies I supported with my wallet, I discovered what a tremendous problem landfill waste has become. Garbage needs to go somewhere, and we give up precious land so we have a place for it to sit and very slowly decompose. It leaches into the soil and groundwater, it finds its way into rivers and oceans killing marine life, and we use non-renewable resources like oil and metals to produce increasingly more components and packaging for food and consumer products that will inevitably make their way to the landfill.
Whenever I’m looking for inspiration on reducing the amount of waste in my life, I watch this video of Bea Johnson and her family who have created a nearly zero waste home.
We aren’t a zero waste family like the Johnson’s, but it is a goal of ours, and we’re definitely moving in the right direction. Here are some waste-reducing initiatives you can use in your day-to-day activities that will add up to some serious environmental impact:
Photo credit: Go Green in Stages
Bring mesh bags to the grocery store for produce instead of using the plastic bags the store provides.
Rather than individually packaged wherever you can – we buy oats, nuts, flour, rice, lentils, quinoa and other supplies without bringing lots of extra packaging home. Buying in bulk can also save you on your grocery bill by buying just the amount of ingredients you need for cooking. It also helps to bring tupper ware or your own bags to the store instead of using store-provided plastic bags for bulk foods, as this kind of defeats the purpose.
Photo credit: makefive
Bring canvas bags to the store so you don’t need a plastic bag to carry everything in – it helps to leave a bag or two in the car for any last minute trips to the grocery store where this can be an oversight.
Photo credit: perpetual kid
Love coffee as much as we do? Bring your own mug or travel thermos to the coffee store if you’re taking it to go. While some paper cups are compostable, most aren’t even recyclable as they have a paper outer and plastic lining. Not only do you normally get a discount for bringing your own mug, but the baristas may even give you more of the caffeine-filled goodness than you would get otherwise. Yum.
Where possible – we wash and reuse glass jars for storing things like homemade condiments, leftover pasta sauce, etc. We reuse cardboard boxes for shipping things (like Two Birds Apparel orders).
Photo credit: Wellesley College
Make use of composting and recycling as your primary options for waste disposal at home. All fruit cores, vegetable peelings, paper towels, tea bags, coffee grinds and more, should get put into the compost. If you live in a city where a green bin program is in place, this is really easy to do. If not, you can buy a compost bin at any home improvement store and do it yourself – this method has the added benefit of creating rich soil you can use in your garden – turn your waste into plant food!
Plant herbs on your window sill or in your garden – they are easy to grow and you will always have fresh herbs for cooking. We find the packaged herbs available at grocery stores have a short fridge life, and, of course, are packaged in plastic.
Photo credit: The Soap Dispensary
Buy cosmetics and cleaning supplies in bulk where possible – we know of places in Toronto (Grass Roots) and Vancouver (The Soap Dispensary) where you can bring your own bottles to be filled up and reused with shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, etc. These places exist elsewhere too.
Photo credit: Lush Cosmetics
If you aren’t ready to buy cosmetics in bulk, try supporting companies that take waste seriously. Lush Cosmetics is one of our favourites as they have a recycling program in place with their plastic tubs where you get free product by returning 5 pots. They also make packaging-free “toothy tab” which is a pretty fun way to brush your teeth waste-free.
Photo credit: Lyziwraps
Next time you give someone a gift, try wrapping it in reusable wrapping paper, reuse a gift bag someone else gave you, or simply wrap it in a nice scarf or handkerchief. We did this with Christmas stockings this year and it gives a nice personal touch.
Photo Credit: Granville Island Brewing
Craft beer lovers can often buy “growlers” aka. 2 litre jugs of beer directly from breweries and have them refilled as needed. Granville Island Brewing in Vancouver, Bellwoods Brewery in Toronto, and The Filling Station in NYC’s Chelsea Market are just a sampling of places we’ve seen in the past few months that promote reusing beer bottles.
It will save you money in the long-term. One of the reasons we started Two Birds Apparel was to create well-made clothes that won’t need to be replaced every season. The same goes for bigger ticket items like appliances, kitchen ware, bedding, etc. We also tend to take better care of nicer things we buy. Buying for longevity means you will have better “stuff” in your house, and send less of it to the landfill.
What do you do to reduce the amount of waste you create at home? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share the best answers on our facebook page and twitter.
Want to learn more about the impact of waste on the environment? Here are three blog posts I have written on the subject on my other blog, Long Bottom Line:
From farm to landfill: why we are throwing away billions of dollars of food every year
Where does all the garbage go?
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s……garbage?