Zero waste goal hard to realize

Avid Toronto recyclers inspire my goal to throw out no trash

Kris Scheuer
(Originally written  January 31/07)

What if the city’s garbage trucks pulled up to our houses and found all the trash cans empty?
While this situation is unlikely to be realized at any point in the near or even distant future, at least two families are attempting to get to the point where they are throwing out zero garbage. The Town Crier has featured attempts by Beach resident Karen Buck to get her family to produce no trash. They now throw out only about five or six garbage bags in a 12-month period.
She is diligent. She tries to buy clothes that have biodegradable fibres and products that can be repaired, and to donate used products to Goodwill. She also keeps separate containers (for blue and green bins) throughout the house so nothing recyclable gets mixed in with regular trash.
Another couple, Sarah McGaughey and Kyle Glover, are attempting to throw out no more than one small shopping bag of waste every two weeks, but want to reduce this to zero waste. Click here to find out more about the Oakwood and St. Clair area couple’s process.
These families inspired me to give zero waste a try. I decided to conduct a test and report my discoveries here, but with the deadline looming I had only two days to do a trial.

My first test was when I ordered hot chocolate in the cafeteria at our offices. I asked for a mug and spoon to avoid using a plastic stir stick and paper cup, which I was not sure were recyclable. The café owner was going to measure the milk in a paper cup, but I stopped him, explaining that since the cup would then be thrown out, this would defeat the purpose. For several weeks I have been packing my own lunch rather than buying it from local eateries. The benefits are saving money, greater say over what I eat and more control over the amount of waste and packaging I use.
I have a reusable vinyl lunch bag and package my salads, stews and soups in reusable plastic containers and bring my own cutlery. During the two days of the test I brought fruit, sandwiches and granola bars for snacks.
But by day one I had messed up. I had two fruit stickers (with product codes) that came on the apple and grapefruit I took for lunch. The granola bars I brought (purchased before this test) came in a recyclable paper box, but were individually wrapped in plastic packaging that had foil on the inside.
I looked on the city’s website to see if this packaging could go in the blue box. It was not listed. I cross-referenced using a list of non-recylable products that the Town Crier got from the city when we did our series on garbage. Under the packaging heading I saw foil wrappers, so I threw out the granola wrapper.
At home, I had to throw out the large plastic packaging that the toilet paper came in.
In the future, I will try to find granola bars and toilet paper that come in recyclable packaging.
While I could live without granola if there is none available in a recyclable wrapper, I am not ready to resort to using leaves instead of toilet paper — so here’s hoping there is some environmental packaging out there!
One of my worst habits is the use of plastic bags — the clear kind you put your grocery fruit in. I use them to wrap my tupperware of soup, in case of spillage, and for pickles and orange wedges. I could not bring myself to throw these out afterwards so I washed out each one and tossed the orange peels, used tissues and paper towels into my green bin when I got home (as there are no such facilities at work).
At an evening community meeting, I had two small chocolate cookies and water in a recyclable cup.
I did not make any purchases in the two days that could not be fully recycled.
In the end, I still threw out toilet paper packaging, two fruit stickers and a granola bar wrapper. But my quest has sparked a desire to be more conscious about whether what I buy comes with a zero-waste promise.
With some careful planning and research I hope to find some alternatives, but I am skeptical of reaching a zero-waste goal.
What of toothpaste, bread and frozen peas? They all come in plastic tubing or bags. If there are no alternatives, maybe this is nature’s way of telling me to resort to the old days, when we used baking soda and water for cleaning our teeth, got bread from the bakery in paper bags and bought fresh peas still in the pod, not frozen in a bag.


2 responses to “Zero waste goal hard to realize

  1. Sandy,
    cheers. Any advice on reducing the amount of trash we throw out?

  2. Kris – excellent blog and I too wonder about going back to the days of – no plastic. I am making a strong attempt at it, but at times it can be challenging!

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