I can’t get “Zero Waste” out of my mind

I can feel a subtle change starting to manifest itself in my life. Ever since I first heard about Bea Johnson’s ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle, and wrote about it for Parentables last year, then again for TreeHugger more recently (read my post here), I’ve had a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I should really be doing more to work toward Zero Waste. As much as I loved the idea, I pushed it from my head with the justification that, “Oh, I’m already doing a lot. Plus, I don’t live in San Francisco like she does!”

I do try to be extremely conscious of every single purchase I make — paying slightly more for, say, paper-packaging instead of plastic, choosing meat from the local butcher shop that’s wrapped in paper instead of sold on Styrofoam. All lunches are packed in reusable containers; I refuse takeout containers and coffee cups; the thermostat is kept low; all laundry is hung to dry. I buy second-hand clothes almost exclusively, shovel the driveway by hand, and keep a smelly compost bin. All vegetables and many grains comes from an organic local CSA, eggs from a friend’s farm, meat from a local butcher, and our bread is homemade by yours truly.

But we do have one major household problem — and that’s the recycling bin. I realized it more than ever this week when the biweekly pickup was cancelled due to the blizzard. Since we missed the curb-side pickup over Christmas, we had six weeks’ worth of recycling piled on our front porch. There was so much stuff, and it was so depressing that I could hardly look at it every time I stepped out the door.

Sure, it's been "recycled," but it still has go somewhere… and this picture sickens me.
Sure, it’s been “recycled,” but it still has go somewhere… and this picture sickens me.

This is not acceptable. As Bea Johnson states clearly in her book, Zero Waste Home, which I’m now devouring, recycling must be thought of as a last resort, not as an integral part of the cycle. I learned that plastic is not actually recycled; it’s downcycled, always taking on a reduced, slightly less recyclable form in each reincarnation until it’s eventually sent to the landfill. Glass, wood, and metal, on the other hand, can always maintain their level of integrity through recycling, but that process is incredibly subjective based on municipal and city guidelines, not to mention costly in terms of energy.

Something’s got to change, I realized with shock as I hauled the overflowing blue bin and three bags of paper waste to the curb yesterday. There’s nothing quite like living with one’s garbage to realize how much we create. Seeing it all there made me understand how, despite being “recycled,” it’s still unsustainable and absurd. But how and where to start?

Bea Johnson's pantry
Bea Johnson’s pantry

Most change will have to occur in the kitchen, since that’s what generates the majority of our recycling waste, but there are certain things I’m unsure of. Can I really just take a glass jar into the store and ask for a pound of feta cheese, please? I guess I’m going to have to try and see what happens. Really, there’s no reason why they can’t do it — just tare the jar on the scale and print out the price tag as usual.

I have no problem with going against the grain, with doing things that I believe are right, but trying to go zero waste is definitely daunting. My goal, in the meantime, is to reduce the quantity of recycling that we generate every two weeks. Slowly but surely, anything is possible.

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10 thoughts on “I can’t get “Zero Waste” out of my mind

    1. I know that, but it didn’t stop me from trying again today. I went in with my yogurt container to fill up with peanut butter, and the cashier looked completely shocked, especially when I answered, “I know,” when she told me it’s not allowed! Anyways, we had a good chat about it and I emailed Bulk Barn HQ today. I’m definitely going to try at Independent, and I also downloaded the BULK app made by Bea Johnson, which lists package-free bulk locations throughout Canada and the US. Surprisingly, there is only one listed in Toronto, but I’ll check it out when I’m down there next weekend.

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself! You’re doing better than 95% of people I know, and that’s coming from a girl in an urban, progressive city with municipal compost etc. With that said, kudos to you for your efforts. We have an atrocious amazon prime habit which drives me to near tears when I see our recycling bin overflowing with one-time-use boxes. We have a lot of work to do on this level. Best of luck to you!

  2. When I was in Greece, lately – before I immigrate here that is 9 years ago – and as I was growing up any plastic box from packages foods that was arriving home was used and reused many times until was permanently damaged. Though, we did not have enough of them coming in from the supermarket, as the Greek yogurt and feta was bulk and packaged only with paper and very thin layer of plastic and the same for the meats and cold cuts and cheese , the olive oil was in reusable huge metal boxes, the onions were bulk and not in the plastic net, the cucumbers without plastic wrap, the green beans were bulk and put in a paper bag when they were sold to the final customer and the same with other vegetables and fruits, the bread was in a paper bag without any plastic window, there was no ready to eat salads and fruits but only the fresh vegetables and fruits, most of the sausages where sold individually and not prepackages as well as all the cold cuts and cheese. I am not saying we did not have plastic at all. For instance, the salt was packaged in plastic bottle and all the milk was in carton boxes as it is here for the 1-2lt size, but still at the end of the day we did not have so much plastic arriving at home. Moreover, we rarely bought new plastic boxes and plastic baggies. Of course, this picture is not true for all Greece and especially for those in the upper classes but it is true for people in middle class, at least. And moreover, the packaging became much more prominent as the huge franchising supermarkets were taken over the Greek market out throwing the smaller shops. Though, there are still plenty of small shops in Greece that continue having the same old packaging style.

    1. That sounds wonderful, Marina. Hopefully we can return to a world that stops filling our landfill sites to the point of overflow. It’s so unsustainable. I wish we could buy all our meat and cheese wrapped in paper here!

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