By Kris Scheuer
(Originally published Mar/8/07 for Town Crier.)
Sarah McGaughey and Kyle Glover made a pledge when they returned from a teaching stint in Korea in 2004 to try and go a full month without producing any waste.
One month has turned into two years of diligent effort for the Ossington and St. Clair couple. McGaughey updates their progress on her blog.
Rather than throw out items such as a TTC Metropass, markers, light bulbs and beer caps, they made art collages and cards for their friends out of them. And in the two years they threw out just two garbage bags of trash.
Nonetheless, “I felt we had failed,” said McGaughey in a Feb. 1 interview beside her kitchen table.
They took almost a year’s sabbatical from their mission after that, but even then found themselves throwing out only one small grocery bag of trash every two weeks. Now they are back on track.
“I have been garbage-free since Jan. 23,” she said on Feb. 1.
On Feb. 6 she confirmed she still hadn’t thrown out anything.
In that two-week period she hadn’t produced a single item of trash, whether at home, at work, at a restaurant or at a friend’s house.
However, on Feb. 6 she said she had just had a blood test at the doctor’s and now had a bandage and cotton ball to dispose of — which means the couple may have to start a new garbage-free streak all over again.
For McGaughey being green means being very conscious that everything she consumes comes with a zero-waste promise, and finding products either with no packaging or only recyclable packages is key.
McGaughey’s interest in environmentalism started well before the Korean experience, in which their production of a lot of waste inspired Glover to challenge them to pursue their green mission once they got back home.
The 29-year-old recalls being impressed by a group of environmentalists who put on a skit for her grade 3 class in Fort McMurray, Alta. She ended up starting a recycling club in her school.
She did the same at her high school in Lloydminster, Sask., but not without incurring the ridicule of some of her schoolmates.
“People would leave insulting notes in the recycling boxes,” she recalls.
Today, McGaughey writes companies she feels have got the packaging right to thank them. She also writes to manufacturers who haven’t to ask them to reduce excess packaging.
“I think reducing garbage is not in the forefront of peoples’ minds,” she says. “Making money and profit is.”
Most of what she buys she sources locally, although some environmental solutions come from afar.
And she has discovered a solution for the problem of what to do with a worn-out toothbrush.
“In the Middle East they use a branch from a tree that doesn’t have a hard core and has many bristles in it, and the sap is minty,” she says. “They use this instead of a toothbrush.”
She has heard that it is sold in Toronto and even hopes to grow the tree herself.
For those looking to follow her environmental example, McGaughey suggests starting small. “The first thing is being aware,” she says.
She recommends writing down everything you throw out, similar to what people on a budget do to keep track of how much they spend and how dieters write down everything they eat.
“If you have to be accountable with your garbage, it makes you more aware when you buy something (if it will produce waste).”