Kicking garbage to the curb

Canadians produce more garbage per person than any other developed country in the world. We live in a consumer culture that places more value on what is new and trendy than what is practical for the long term.

Most people are familiar with the saying, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Unfortunately, many of us don’t actively practise the 3 Rs. Before you even get into this cycle, take a good look at the first and second steps. Reducing your consumption can also mean refusing to buy something entirely by finding a way to go without. Also, reusing something can mean repurposing or upcycling an object to extend its lifespan in your home.

Here are a few ideas for how you can cut back waste in your life:

  • The first and most obvious step is to stop using plastic bags. Some stores now charge shoppers for plastic bags, so there is more incentive than ever to switch over to canvas bags. If you do have plastic bags, reuse them to line smaller garbage cans.
  • Instead of buying water in plastic water bottles, buy a durable water bottle and simply refill it with tap or filtered water. The same can be done for paper cups, which are easy to replace with your own travel mug or thermos. Some coffee shops will offer discounts if you bring your own reusable cup.
  • Don’t use plastic plates or utensils. If you bring metal utensils to school or work you can simply wash them after lunch. And for picnics or camping, bring reusable containers for your food (consider stackable containers if you want to be efficient with space).
  • Reusable containers are also important for properly storing your food and increasing its shelf life. Some stores that sell bulk goods (e.g., cereals, teas, nuts, etc.) offer the option to bring in your reusable container, weigh it, and then fill it up in-store.
  • Try to avoid buying items with too much packaging, such as pop bottles or individually wrapped snack bars and chocolates. Some packaging, such as aluminum or glass, can be recycled indefinitely. Paper can be reused and recycled about half a dozen times, but plastic is generally recycled only once. Also, plastic and paper are downcycled, meaning that they are used to create something of a lower quality (e.g., a plastic bottle could be downcycled into the fibers used for a doormat, which would eventually end up in a landfill).
  • Go through the flyers, newsletters and mail that you receive every week. Unsubscribe to anything you don’t use or, if possible, request an online version of whatever you receive.
  • If you don’t already compost, start now. Put leftovers, such as vegetable peels, egg shells and coffee ground, into a compost bin. If you have a garden, you can create your own compost heap, which can then be added into the soil to provide more nutrients for your plants.
  • Invest some time in meal planning. Food waste is a big issue in North America, and although part of that happens before the food even reaches the supermarket, you can still make a big difference as a consumer. When fruit and vegetables are in season, buy local or grow your own. Make shopping lists so that you buy only what you need and don’t make impulse purchases. Try to buy some things in bulk because that also reduces waste from packaging. Take a week-long approach to cooking and think about what meals you can prepare ahead of time or in bulk (e.g., make lots of soup and freeze it). Ensuring that you use your ingredients efficiently saves time and energy down the road.
  • Be thoughtful about the clothing that goes into your closet. Shop smart by choosing items that can be worn for different occasions and paired with various items or buy used clothing. Consider trying clothing swaps, either through community organizations or with your friends. Donate clothing you no longer want, which is still in good condition, to local charities. Repurpose worn-down or faded clothing around the house as cleaning rags or for arts and crafts.
  • Instead of buying something new, consider first looking online or in your community to see if you can get it used. Finding used items is easier than ever before, not only with thrift stores, but also through websites like Craigslist and Kijiji or even Facebook. Tool lending libraries and sharing organizations can allow you to take out items that you might not use regularly enough to warrant purchasing them.

If you want to take things even a step further, investigate how some people go about living a zero-waste lifestyle and try to apply their habits in your own day-to-day practices.

Learn more about…

Canada’s unhealthy relationship with waste:

Giving and receiving used items:

Why canvas bags win out over plastic and paper bags:

How many times different materials can be recycled:  

Donating clothing:

Zero-waste lifestyle: