When I posted on Facebook that my first-ever New Year's resolution would be to stop using take-out cups for coffee and other to-go drinks, a friend commented that I should join the Waste Not YXE Facebook group. I didn't know it then but clicking that 'ask to join' button would be a turning point in both my mindset and habits. Admin sets challenges for the members like "post a picture of your week of garbage" or "share something for which you've found a new use", there are workshop opportunities like a how-to-compost class, and there are always plenty of tips, questions, encouragement, and sage advice in the vibrant page discussions. I joined at the beginning of this year but my membership has been only as an observer, the other members being my unwitting mentors. Some days I'm proud of the many changes my household has made and other days, I've been disappointed in myself, but either way, I have made a lot of progress and I'd like to share both my baby steps and challenges with you. I'd also love to hear what you're doing in your days to waste less because when it comes to creating less waste, I thrive on constant inspiration.
To-Go Cups Are A No-Go
Eliminating disposable/recyclable cups has been pretty easy with the help of my Contigo and enough steel water bottles for the whole family. There have been two times when I failed at this: once when my babe was asleep and I couldn't run into Starbucks and the drive-through barista accidentally made my drink in a paper cup, and once when Tim Hortons gave me a Roll Up The Rim cup alongside my refill. I was mad at myself for taking that little lottery cup but would have been more mad had the person behind me won a boat. I want a boat, guys.
Purging Plastic Bags From Use
My new punishment for forgetting my cloth bags is carrying a million items from the cart to the car to the house. It's annoying enough that it rarely happens.
Buying In Bulk
I haven't gone the mason jar route yet though I do plan to switch to a fully reusable bulk container like a pretty mason jar and I wish there was a Bulk Barn closer to my house, but I have made the switch to bulk nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and do take my own bags. And though we've roasted our own coffee beans for a while, only recently did we switch to making very large orders of green beans. Next step is growing them in the backyard. (Ha, if only!)
Buying What Can Be Put To Use
So on one hand, I've been heading to the bulk section to save on packaging. On the other, I've stopped buying more than what I need. Those bags of avocados may be a better deal than buying one or two, but I almost always had to toss one or two in the green bin because I couldn't use them all before they turned to mush. Oranges, apples, and tomatoes were the same for me. Not only was I wasting the resources it took to grow and transport that food but everything was contained by a bag or net. It would be nice if grocery stores stepped up to give equal deals on single items but until then, I think I'm breaking even when taking what I was wasting into consideration.
Seeya, Saran Wrap
This is the one I've been the best at. I used to wrap halves of avocado, bits of cheese, or the side of a cut watermelon in plastic wrap and now, everything goes into a lidded, glass container. I also previously used Saran over a bowl of soup but now use a microwave-safe lid overtop. Some people in the Waste Not group use reusable beeswax wraps they've bought at The Better Good but I haven't really found a need.
So Long, Straws
My two-year-old, Petra does not love this rule but wow do straws add up to create waste in the world and we are no longer using them because they're totally unnecessary. Remember to let your server know in advance that you prefer no straw. And if you can't let go of your love of straws, there are stainless steel ones you can buy and reuse endlessly.
Cutting Down on Paper Towel
Cat puke still gets the paper towel treatment because I CAN'T but pretty much anything else can be solved by a dish towel or rag. It makes me cringe to think about how much Bounty I went through before. And yep, paper towel is recyclable or compostable depending what is on it, but just the waste of creation, transportation, and packaging is enough reason to avoid it when possible.
Cloth Napkins are Key
I only gave up paper napkins when my grandma moved to a condo and I was treated to an influx of cloth ones but when I made the switch, I wondered why I hadn't sooner! Cloth napkins are elegant, easy, and just get thrown into the washer with the dish towels. This is my favourite environment-protecting improvement.
Going Veggie (or Veggie-er)
I've been vegetarian since I was a teenager so not eating meat doesn't feel like a big deal but if you'd like to reduce nitrogen in water, methane in the air, and conserve water on a pretty drastic scale, even doing a Meatless Friday is a step in the right direction. My next challenge is choosing more vegan foods, which is gonna be a lot easier in a few weeks when the Gud Eats food truck is up and running!
Fixing It, Not Tossing It
It's tempting to buy new things when yours break, especially because the other day my over-the-range microwave repair bill was equal in price to my doing just that. Before it was fixed, three people told me to "just get a new one". Gah! Vacuums, phones, laptops: there are so many things we can get more life out of if we choose to and though I'm not perfect (as evidenced by my new phone-- though I sold my old one so it assuaged a bit of guilt), I am making an effort.
Try Cloth Diapers
Okay, this is an oldie as my daughter's been out of diapers for a while, but I wanted to put it on my list because it's a way simpler solution than its rep insinuates. Sure, you have to wash them and that takes water, but they can also be worn for more than one child and they save untreated human waste from leaching into water supplies. Disposables are a landfill horror story. And though there's no study to prove it (I looked), anecdotally, kids in cloth diapers are out of diapers sooner because they can feel the wetness.
Choosing Items With Less Packaging
Once you decide to notice packaging, it's impossible to put it out of your mind. Grocery clamshell containers for EVERYTHING, toys that have just as much plastic holding it to a piece of cardboard than it's made of, bags inside bags, BABYBEL... I find it tough to avoid all the packaging pitfalls. In a few weeks, I'll be picking at the Strawberry Ranch and plan to take my own container but in the meantime, I have a few clamshells of shame in my recycling pile. It's also hard for me to choose heads of lettuce and bunches of radicchio over a ready-made and washed salad and I must admit, I fail sometimes. Sigh, please tell me you are achieving this goal so I'll feel challenged to pull my socks up!
The City of Saskatoon offers a Green Bin service that runs Spring, Summer, and Fall so putting a little compost bucket beside your garbage makes it easy for egg shells, veggie trimmings, and coffee grounds to join the grass clippings in your big bin outside. My one complaint is the Green Bin programming should be financially accessible to everyone by running on taxpayer-driven funding rather than a user-pay system but hopefully, you're able to make it a priority in your budget. Otherwise, there are plenty of indoor and outdoor composting ideas-- a bunch of which you can get instructions for here. My next challenge is tackling winter composting which I felt really guilty about not trying earlier this year.
Have Hankies Handy
Something I never thought I'd carry around is a hankie but being that my daughter, Petra is a faucet when she has a cold, this has been a remarkable change in waste. I keep hankies in a decorative kleenex holder so they're always ready and just throw them in with the towels at wash time.
Placing a 'No Flyers, Please' Sign on the Mailbox
Want to see what's on sale at a grocery, home, or reno store near you? Check out Flipp. Feeding the need to produce those flyers only to have them see your blue bin the same day is just lazy. And yet (monkey-with-hands-over-his-eyes), only recently did I do this super simple thing. I just wrote mine by hand but The Better Good gives out stickers free of charge. If you're not already in love with that Broadway shop, pop in to see their selection of sustainably-made, environmentally friendly home décor, clothing, shoes, body care, cleaners, mattresses, kids' stuff, and more. It's walk-in inspo.
Selling or Giving Away Items to Friends or Local Short-Term Aid
I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called The True Cost and it illustrates how damaging it is for "first world" countries to ensure "third world" countries rely upon them for assistance by sending it relentlessly. Watch this doc. In it, I learned that when big chain second-hand stores like Value Village can't sell clothing, they send it to poor countries and aid organisations pay for it, distributing it to people for free and rendering the 'benefitting' countries' own textile and clothing manufacturing economies moot. It's an eye-opener and a must watch, and it has me finding local homes for my no-longer-needed items.
See? Some successes, some stumbling blocks, it all adds up to doing better than I was. I'd love to hear what is working and not working for you, and why not join the Waste Not YXE group? Whether you plan to be a star student with your hand up for every question or a studious pupil like me, you will feel welcome and inspired.