So maybe you don’t want to buy nothing and produce zero waste for a year. But maybe you want some ideas on everyday things you can do.
Here’s a list of our top ten easy steps. Not all of them reduce curbside garbage, but I think you’ll agree that they all reduce the amount of garbage in our environment. There’s an ongoing list of resources at the bottom, with some ideas on where you can get things and find services.
- Stop Using Plastic Bags. I know everyone knows this one – they sell fabric bags in every super market these days – but still, every time I’m in the checkout line, there’s someone without one. Make a rule for yourself. No bags. If you forget your bag, don’t buy it, or carry your goods without one. Use cotton or mesh bags for produce and bulk as well. This isn’t just for groceries either. Have a pocket-size bag on you when you’re clothes shopping or just going out – you never know when you might buy something.
- Set Up Your Recycling in a convenient place. This sounds like a little thing, but it has a big impact! We found that if we have bins for newspaper, mixed paper, and bottles and cans next to each other in the kitchen, we were more likely to use it than if we had to walk downstairs and outside every time we wanted to recycle a tin can. These are all “dry” recyclables, so they should be washed clean and won’t smell. Don’t be afraid to put them out in the open. If you have a nice set of baskets, people are more likely to ask what your system is all about, and you can share your recycling knowledge.
- Compost! This is the single most effective way to cut your garbage output. According the the David Suzuki Foundation, “roughly 40% of the waste in our landfills is compostable organic matter”. That’s crazy! If you compost properly, composts don’t smell, and you can cut your trips to take out the odorous trash by half! You can get a small worm composter for your deck or kitchen or a bigger one for outside. See the resources page for more info.
- Recycle everything you can. I mean everything. Look on your municipal website or give them a call to find out exactly what they take. Do a bit of research to seek out alternative recyclers – maybe ther don’t take milk containers in your curbside pick up, but they might at your local grocers. We find it helps to have a list posted on the inside of a kitchen cupboard as a quick reference. Remember that even little bits, like paper receipts, are recyclable, and small things add up.
- Give Up Take Out Containers. And I’m not just talking about coffee cups. When you’re leaving the house in the morning, and you don’t have a lunch with you, it’s pretty obvious you’re going to have to buy something, so grab a container and some cutlery. We keep a couple “to go kits” in the car with our fabric bags. If you’re buying something simple like a piece of pizza or a muffin that you’ll eat right away, just ask for it in your hand.
- Check the Package BEFORE you Buy It. This is another one that sounds easy to do but is also easy to forget. You can keep a reminder card in your wallet listing they types of containers your city picks up. If they’re not recyclable, we make a choice when we’re in the store not to buy them. We also try to go for “pure” packaging products like glass instead of composite products like tetrapaks that are hard to recycle.
- Buy Secondhand. Besides saving you money, previously loved goods don’t come with packaging. Who says you need a brand new bread machine or a brand new frying pan. There are millions of them already out there, and a lot of them need a new home. Try craigslist, freecycle, or your local thrift shop.
- DIY (Do It Yourself). You can make a surprising number of things yourself (and save some serious cash at the same time). From bread to clothing to laundry soap, check out what we’ve been making on our DIY page.
- Get Educated. Read about recycling and going waste-free to learn about what others are doing. Watch The Story of Stuff , an eye opening animated, short film about the cycle of waste and consumerism. Search the internet for information on waste. Check out our Resource page. There is tons of information out there that can help you reduce your garbage.
- Let businesses know how you feel. Leave your packaging at the till or mail it back to the manufacturer. Writing a letter or calling a company goes a long way; I almost always get a response of some kind.
38 responses to “top ten tips”
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Under tip #4 Recycling – is it possible to connect people with Metro Vancouver’s new Metro Vancouver Recycles database? It’s at metrovancouverrecycles.org.
Where do you get necessary hygiene products (like toilet paper) that come in non-recyclable plactic packaging? Or is this one of those items you have to bite the bullet with and put in your trash can for the year?
Meghan. I was buying 100% recycled toilet paper wrapped in plastic for the majority of the project. (we do recycle the little soft plastic that we have, but we’ve been avoiding it where possible, and it seemed like the TP plastic was the final holdout to being soft plastic-free.) However, I have since discovered that janitorial supply stores have TP in big cardboard boxes sans plastic. I found one that has 100% recycled paper, and the cost is slightly cheaper than in the grocery store (but not much). The added bonus is that I get about 40 rolls at once, so we have to shop less often. They are each wrapped in a piece of paper, but I think it’s worth it because I can just compost it.
Can you tell me which janitorial supply store you use? I’ve been finding ways to re-use the plastic wrap (not on food!), but would love to be done with it.
I live in East Van, if that helps.
Hi Lisa – I went to the Janitors’ Warehouse Distributors Inc (also known as “Planet Clean”) in North Vancouver. They also have a location on SW Marine Drive (http://www.janitors-warehouse.ca/). Just google janitorial supply for one close to you – I think there is one near main and broadway. . .
The TP I ended up with isn’t the plushest, but it is more than 50% recycled content and plastic free, and you get 48 big rolls in a box, so it lasts forever.
Thanks, Jen. I’ve been using recycled TP for a while now, so have no standards for plushness anymore. 🙂
Amazon now carries toilet paper shipped only in a box, no plastic wrapper.
Amazon now carries TP shipped in a box, no plastic.
While on a recent thrift store shopping trip, I found some collapsible tupperware for about .50/each. They fit in my purse and then when I need them, I just open it up and put in my left-overs.
Nice score! I’ve seen those around, and they seem great for packability. The only reason I haven’t bought some is they we were tryign to stay away from new stuff, so good job on the thrifting!
I know there are a lot of people moving away from plastic, but when you’re on the go, I still use it because it is so durable and light. When I’m just at the office, I try to use my glass pyrex ones.
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Deep Honouring to Jen’n Grant
Lord, you’re in New Brunswick! So Great. Here’s Rule #11: When entering the Urban Wilderness, Pack it In ? – Pack it Out !
Always pack all your valuable resources back to the safety of your home recycling system. We are with you and pray you can avoid all those dangerous Wasting Receptacles out there. But if things get REALLY BAD, use your emergency back up…..Mail a package back home if there’s no more room on the bikes!! 🙂
Thanks for the note Brian. We did end up with a few bits of waste to bring home, but we managed to find recycling homes for most of it.
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Toilet paper no more….. Recycled toilet paper is good, but a friend of mine showed me the light. The hand held bidet.
Works great, anyone can install one, it can be a little cold at times but it’s worth it. No toilet paper needed at all. Just make sure you wash your hands properly after… =)
Hi Jeff, I second the notion of the hand-held bidet. We bought one for cloth diapering but now we don’t buy tp anymore and just use the bidet supplemented with a set of cloth wipes that sits atop our toilet.
I am willing to bet we have the cleanest bottoms in town! (although I doubt anyone would want to put that to a test 😉
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Hi. Great movie, guys. You mentioned you had something like 10 bins beneath your sink for easy collection. Do you have a list of what these were? I imagine stuff like “batteries”, “bottle caps”, etc? What’s the lowest number that would yield the greatest benefit (so that I don’t have 40 bins under there… haha). Thanks for the inspiration!
We have the following bins: mixed paper, compost, blue box (curbside pick up by our municipality), hard plastic (un-numbered or numbers that our city doesn’t pick up), soft plastic, metal, other (batteries, electronics, light bulbs etc that all go to different depots), landfill. We don’t keep them all under our sink anymore because we like to have bigger containers 9that we have to empty less often), but you get the idea.
Hey thanks. This is a great list.
BTW, we watched your movie on Telus TV (on demand).
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Some great tips made in this post.
On the subject of plastic bags, there are bio-degradeable plastic bags that are available, admittedly a little more expensive but are disposable without the adverse affects on the environment.
We use bio-degradeable bags as part of our cleaning service so I know you can get them up to sizes for a 300 litre bin.
Keep up the great work guys.
Thanks for the feedback. I haven’t seen bio-degradable plastic bags that are truly inert, and they definitely don’t allow them in our compost pick up, but they do seem like possibly a better alternative than the standard.
Totally got a lot out of your documentary – Thank you! I’ve been doing my bit for some time now but, I’m always looking for new ideas. Composting is a big deal to me, as I’m an avid (or rabid) gardener. My big problem seems to be cat food cans. They do get recycled however, I’d be interested in finding a good recipe for making decent wet cat food, that my older cat will eat.
We bought dry cat food bulk at the local pet food store, but I’m sure there are some great homemade cat food recipes online.
I guess this is to do with ‘conscience’ and active conscious. With these tips, we are not just helping our self but also contributing for the larger world; for humanity and for the planet we live in! Thanks for sharing this wisdom, I no longer use plastic and actively seeks for recycling and composting. It is my contribution 🙂
I like the tip to DIY as many things as we can. It is not only eco-friendly and cheaper but also better for our health. And you will be amazed how vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice are the only things you need to keep a clean and disinfected home. There are lots of recipes for DIY cleaning products and I suggest you to give a try to some of them because they really work and you will be satisfied with the final results.
The easiest thing to do is to start using plastic alternatives. Cloth bags instead of plastic ones. Paper packaging instead of plastic… things small like these can make a big difference.
hi, we are very new to zero waste and I seem to spend time each day looking up if something is recyclable. I have 4 girls and 2 of them are teenagers. Can someone please make some suggestions on what to do for sanitary pads and tampons?
I use a divacup and lunapads. The lunapads in particular took me awhile before I tried them, but now I just find them normal. Regular tampons and pads go in the garbage.
I guess you could technically buy organic cotton tampons and then compost them in a greencone…..don’t take my word for that one.
I use a divacup and reusable cloth wipes folded up when necessary. Diva cups are way better than tampons, less leakage as they hold quite a bit relative to a tampon. My sister started using a diva cup and her husband loves it! (no more bloody mess in the garbage can)
Great post – motivational, thorough, informational!
Now that reminds me of something I’d like to share with you.
Back in the day when I was starting my drumming career out, I had no drums! And it was a problem.
Took two hours to salvage some scrap materials around the house and come up with my own version of a home made drum kit. Later in life, I did buy an electronic kit for well over 1k bucks but thats 1k I saved at the time when I was still very inexperienced.
Its true we can do a lot of things with the “garbage” instead of tossing it. I am sure we can all think of at least a few things we could do today and help live in a greener place.
Everything started with just paper recycling, but the last few months I’m making very big changes in order to go zero-waste, but it’s definitely not so easy. Thank you so much for sharing the tips!
Recycling and reusing are essential nowadays. My advice is to donate if you don`t want to reuse things. Checking out the package before you buy the product is very useful tip. I am like the rest of the people. Just forget…. 🙂 Best regards!