Recycling Zero Waste

Food packaging waste

My 2019 New Year’s resolution was to reduce the amount of garbage my family creates. It was an uphill battle for sure and certainly made me question a lot of the habits that I had adopted, even with the best intentions.

The big myth is about recycling. So many times I’ve told someone that I don’t buy something because of the amount of garbage or plastic in it and I’m told not to worry, “It can be recycled.” The truth is, very little of our recyclable waste actually gets recycled and the only way to truly reduce the amount of material that gets wasted is to buy less. In Canada, it’s estimated that just 9% of our recyclables get recycled – whether it’s because there’s no market for the material or because it’s contaminated with food or other materials, it goes to landfill. We also export a tremendous amount of plastic waste to the developing world which costs fuel to ship, pollution in another country and abysmal working conditions for the people tasked with sorting and recycling those materials.

Most of my family’s plastic waste comes from food – plastic-wrapped cucumbers, clamshell berries, yogurt and bread bags. With a few switches, we’ve been able to reduce our footprint. Buying from the farmers’ market allows us to bring our own bags and containers for fruit, vegetables and bread. Trying to get yogurt in recyclable glass containers or even making our own cuts down on little plastic cups. Buying in bulk whenever I can, especially from retailers that allow you to reuse your own containers is huge. Those shops are pretty uncommon in the suburbs, but prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, you could refill your own jars at Bulk Barn, take your own containers to the deli at Loblaws or at least ask for your deli products to be packaged all together.

And when plastic is unavoidable, I try to find a way to reuse it. In our house, plastic takeaway containers are everywhere – organizing cutlery, Lego and craft materials. I braid plastic bags into strong ropes that can be used in the yard and I fill the bottom of plant pots with plastic containers to reduce the amount of soil needed to fill it up.

There are steps that we can take in our homes to reduce our plastic consumption, but it really needs the cooperation of retailers and producers to give consumers the option to buy products with more environmentally friendly packaging. The federal government’s move to ban single-use plastics is a huge step and hopefully is the impetus producers need to make those changes.

In the meantime, find the retailers that let you reuse. And if you’re planning a trip into the city, be sure to visit one of the many zero-waste shops that have refill stations.