“Project Zero Waste” has officially begun!

Step 1: I need to buy reusable cotton produce bags.
Step 1: I need to buy reusable cotton produce bags.

“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.

you might also like:
I can’t get Zero Waste out of my mind
A country without enough garbage — imagine that!
It’s time to pitch the stuff


19 thoughts on ““Project Zero Waste” has officially begun!

  1. The bulk barn rule makes perfect sense. Not everyone would bring in perfectly clean containers. That’s how listeria, e. coli, etc. spread. If you don’t like the rule, don’t shop there. Wilfully disobeying is being kind of an asshole, in my opinion.

    1. And, sorry, I didn’t want that to sound like I’m calling you an asshole; I’m just a terrible wordsmith.

    2. Haha. Of course I realize you were calling me an asshole, but I understand the context 😉
      But I disagree with you that the rule makes such good sense, because the food is only going INTO my container and staying there, and I’m using a common scoop, which is out in the open anyways, touching the plastic tops and hands of shoppers. The cleanliness of the container doesn’t matter so much because I’m the one buying that product, which will then be consumed in my home. If I measured too much and dumped some back into the communal bin, that’s a different matter — but I don’t do that.

      1. That is awesome! Can you send me an email with as much info as you’ve got and some more history behind the petition? I’d love to cover on TreeHugger. knmartinko[at]gmail[dot]com. Thanks!

  2. Katherine, I will be watching this with much interest and seeing which local stores ar supportive of reduced waste. I imagine a lot of local readers will benefit a lot from your research, so thank you in advance for doing it and posting the results!

  3. It seems like you have a new mission every month! I love reading about them 🙂

    Imagine a bulk food store where customers brought in (or purchased on site) glass containers to store their food in. Incoming clean jars could be sterilized in-store. Customers could return used jars much like at the LCBO. Next, imagine a pantry; shelves beautifully organized with jars of all shapes and sizes.

    The only thing I don’t love about this daydream is the idea of lugging all the jars to-and-from the store, with baby in tow. The rest is giving me tingles just thinking about it.

    1. I LOVE your vision. In-store jars are a fine idea. People could even make a deposit for them, to cover the costs of sterilization. Sadly, it’s not likely to happen… at least not in this small community. At times like these, I sort of wish I lived in a more progressive urban setting where very alternative shopping locations already exist!

  4. This is a great idea Feisty! I’ve been getting some funny looks reusing my shopping bags, but so far so good. I think I’d be arrested in Qatar if I tried to take my own jars, but you’ve got me kinda tempted…:D

    1. Yes, the independent ones certainly are more willing to accommodate jars. The only problem is that my town is so small that there aren’t many different stores to choose from! I might have to go further afield for certain bulk items. Your blog looks great, by the way.

  5. I am a bee-keeper, and make my own natural herbal soaps which I sell at a local farmers’ market. I ask people to bring me their used jars, which I sterilise, and refill with honey. I pay them two bucks and buy new lids.No-one has ever questioned the hygiene or food safety issue. Everyone is quite happy to do this, and I at least feel I am doing my little bit for the environment. Some people even refuse the two bucks and are just happy to find a place to dump their empty jars!!!

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