“Project Zero Waste” has commenced! Now, I realize we’re probably not going to be completely zero waste, and I likely won’t be able to achieve quite so complete a waste reduction as Bea Johnson’s family has, especially because I live in the middle of nowhere where they are very few options for alternative-style shopping, compared to San Francisco, but I’m going to work with what I’ve got.
So far, I’ve had one failure and several small successes. The failure occurred at Bulk Barn, where I know customers aren’t supposed to bring their own containers, but I did it anyways. When I marched up to the cashier with my refilled Astro yogurt container full of natural peanut butter, she nearly had a conniption:
“Oh, um, uh, you actually, uh… you can’t do that.”
I smiled very nicely because I did not want to have a confrontation. “I know.”
She really didn’t know what to say then. “Um, the health inspector could shut us down if he saw you doing that.”
“Hmm. Wouldn’t he just get upset with me? After all, it reflects more on me than your store’s management.”
“No, we could get shut down.” We then had a friendly conversation about garbage waste, and she even mentioned the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and I left with my peanut butter.
But now I have a dilemma. I’ve already written an email to Bulk Barn headquarters, but haven’t heard anything back. These are my options, as I see them: (1) Ignore the rule and continue to use my own containers. After all, a few acts of ‘civil disobedience’ can actually do a lot of good. (2) Use a few new Bulk Barn containers up front, then continue to reuse those ones so no one knows what I’m doing. (3) Boycott the store and continue to ask HQ to reconsider their stance.
As for my first Zero Waste success, I took glass jars into the local coffee shop, Rabbit Dash, and asked them to fill the jars with fair trade, organic loose-leaf tea. The girl behind the counter was delighted to help me. “What a great idea!” she said, and so I walked out with a month’s supply of tea for under $15 and not a speck of waste in sight — no plastic wrapper, no cardboard box, no tea bags.
Next, I swung by the seamstress’s studio to pick up my toddler’s ski jacket, which I’d dropped off to get the zipper repaired. My first instinct, when I saw the broken zipper, was to toss the coat and buy another at the thrift store, but then I stopped myself, dug out the business card I’d stuck in my wallet months ago, and called the seamstress. She was happy to repair the zipper, thus extending the jacket’s life by several years.
I’m curious to see how my jar-shopping goes at the grocery store tomorrow, but I don’t have high hopes. The problem is that Ontario’s food health and safety rules are so restrictive that likely all businesses have rules similar to those of Bulk Barn. The irony, of course, is that the health department’s quest to maintain society’s overall health is backfiring terribly, considering the damage that all our “hygienic” single-use products are causing in the environment. We’re killing ourselves anyways, albeit much slower.
My best bet for waste-free shopping will probably be small, privately run, local stores where people know me and will take the time to understand what I’m trying to do — simply reduce my family’s footprint for the time we’re on this planet. And if that doesn’t work, then I will “actively discard,” as Johnson suggests. That will mean removing plastic packaging and leaving it for businesses to deal with, i.e. taking the deli meats I’ve requested and sticking them right in the jar, handing the bags back to the employee. After all, once companies start realizing that customers don’t want all this waste, then they might start paying attention.