Beginner Tips for Zero-Waste Living in Vancouver
Have you ever stopped to notice how much garbage you create?
Each July people around the world review their waste by participating in the plastic-free July challenge. We look at how you can take the plastic-free challenge a step further by living zero-waste. Plus, we share our best tips for starting your zero-waste journey in Vancouver.
What is Plastic-Free July?
Plastic-free July is an initiative that began in Australia to encourage people to become more aware of their plastic waste. In 2018,120 million people from 177 countries across the globe took part. The movement now includes participants from around the world and inspires many to take their efforts beyond July and beyond plastic.
Reducing single-use plastic is an important first step to living more sustainably. The Canadian government’s plan to ban single-use plastic as early as 2021 also means that it’s worth exploring alternatives and changing our habits now.
Taking it one step further and living zero-waste is a logical next step towards minimizing our ecological footprint. A zero-waste lifestyle means reducing all types of waste – including recyclables.
One of the byproducts of a plastic-free July journey is increased recycling waste. This is because consumers trying to avoid plastic will opt for goods packaged in recyclable materials. However whether recycling is much better in terms of waste is now unclear.
In recent years the effectiveness and economic viability of recycling have come into question. More and more countries that were once accepting our waste for recycling are now refusing it because the demand for recycled materials does not match the cost of cleaning and processing it. This means that a lot of what we are putting into recycling could be ending up in landfill, especially if we aren’t recycling it properly.
It’s become clear that of the ‘R’s, recycling is becoming the least effective, so the focus has shifted to the others. To refuse, reduce and reuse is to live a zero-waste lifestyle.
Going from living a conventional modern life to living plastic-free can be daunting. Especially when you start to examine the environmental impact of your choices. It’s important to note that the decisions we’re faced with aren’t black and white – we have the complexity of our lives and other environmental issues to consider.
So, when you begin your zero-waste journey, remember that there is no such thing as perfection. The best solution is one that is considered, realistic and works well for you.
Tips for Starting a Zero-Waste Lifestyle
Don’t Throw Plastic Away
It can be tempting to rid your home of all plastics at the start of your plastic-free or zero waste journey, but this is just adding to the problem. One of the biggest issues with plastics is the effect that they can have as trash, so finding ways to reuse your plastic is key.
If you don’t like the idea of using plastic containers for food, use them to organize and store other items such as stationery, tools, or hair accessories. If you can’t find another use for your plastic, sell, swap or donate them instead of throwing them.
Create A Zero-Waste Toolkit for Home
A lot of the waste that we deal with on a day-to-day basis is packaging. Finding alternatives to packaging is a good place to start your zero-waste lifestyle as bulk and zero-waste stores make it easier to shop waste-free with minimal compromise of convenience.
The list below is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start for some easy wins:
- Shopping totes to replace new plastic bags, but if you already have plastic bags - use and reuse them!
- Lightweight produce bags. It’s worth noting that many grocers don’t need you to separate your produce into bags, but for loose items such leafy greens or smaller fresh items like berries a bag or container is a good idea.
- Jars and reusable containers for purchasing bulk dry goods such as snacks, nuts and baking supplies.
- Beeswax wraps are a good replacement for plastic cling-film but putting food in a container works well too.
- Absorbent microfiber cloths to replace paper towels
- Reusable pump, squeeze and spray bottles for personal care items like soap, and home cleaning solutions. If the bottles you already have in your home are refillable, consider washing and reusing them.
Be Prepared with a Portable Zero Waste Toolkit
Fast dining habits are also a large source of waste. The easiest way to avoid single-use plastic and waste when you are out is to prepare food from home or eat at the restaurant when you can. Just be sure to look at what the food is served in – many places still serve eat-in meals with plastic cutlery, straws and disposables.
For spontaneous food decisions, we would recommend having the following zero waste food basics on hand:
- Reusable coffee cup
- Refillable drink bottle
- Reusable cutlery
- Metal or silicone drinking straws
- A reusable take-out container for leftovers.
Where to Shop Zero-Waste in Vancouver
Getting familiar with the plastic you use in your life is the first step to phasing it out. A single audit and overhaul can be overwhelming, which is why we would recommend slowly swapping items out as you need to shop for them. Shopping at the right places is a good place to start.
Vancouver is lucky to be home to fantastic stores that help to balance zero-waste shopping with convenience.
Nada is a package-free grocery store in Vancouver that has revolutionized zero-waste by making BYO container shopping more convenient. Shoppers can bring their own reusable containers to Nada, weigh them, then fill them with only what they need.
When you go to the register, the tare of your container gets ringed up so that you don’t have to pay for the weight of your container. You can find fresh produce, dry kitchen goods, personal care products, zero waste tools, bread, dairy and even deli items at Nada.
The Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples
The Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples feels like a beautiful apothecary of ingredients and staples you need to live a zero-waste life. The store stocks refillable cleaning supplies, personal care products, kitchen staples, zero waste tools and countless DIY ingredients (including essential oils) for those looking to make their own zero-waste solutions.
Produce & Farmers Markets
Farmers and produce markets are great places to source fresh produce – not only for zero-waste but also to support our local community and reconnect with local produce. Vendors and independent market owners are generally more open to accommodating your zero-waste requests, especially if you develop relationships with them.
If you can’t make it to specialty stores and markets, you can also find solutions at traditional grocers and bulk stores. Several Bulk Barn stores around Vancouver sell a wide variety of bulk snacks, baking goods, drinks, candy, personal care, pet foods and even vitamins and supplements. They have also introduced a reusable container program that allows shoppers to use their own containers in-store.
Some grocers such as Whole Foods Market, Loblaws and Save-on-Foods have a small bulk food area selling dry goods. If you do get stuck and need to buy something packaged, opt for something you can reuse (such as a glass jar) or something that can be recycled (such as aluminum, cardboard or hard plastics).
How to Recycle in Vancouver
Despite your best efforts, it’s likely your first foray into zero-waste will leave you with some waste.
Hopefully, some of that waste will be recyclable. Recycling is far from a perfect solution, but as a last resort, it is still an option worth taking. Even if it is to simply encourage more mindful waste disposal.
A big issue with recycling is contamination, so if you do have items left to recycle, make sure they are accepted by your local council’s curbside recycling program and are washed and sorted accordingly. If your items aren’t accepted by curbside recycling, look for recycling drop-off areas or depots that will accept them.
Things to Remember When Going Zero-Waste
Zero-waste and plastic-free living are still alternative, which means that finding solutions can be a challenge. When it all feels like too much, remember these tips to help you stay on track.
There Will Be Surprises
Just because something is packaged in a cardboard box on the outside, doesn’t mean that there will be no plastic on the inside. If you have a cardboard packaged item in your hand, shake it to see if you can hear the rustle of plastic inside, ask the store attendants or do a google search of the product before you buy it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Tell your friends and family about the changes that you are making to your lifestyle. If they aren’t aware of the issue, then you can educate them. If they are, then maybe you can swap tips.
Asking stores and business owners if you can bring your containers can be intimidating, but the worst that can happen is they say no. You’d be surprised at how accommodating and interested people are when it comes to zero-waste. You may even send them on their own plastic-free journey!
You Can Make a Difference by Voting with Your Dollars
As a consumer, your dollars make a big difference. If you have brands or products that you love to use, get in touch with them and ask them about their plans for zero-waste solutions.
At AspenClean, we use refill and reuse practices in our house cleaning services in Vancouver. This gives our clients the option of having a clean home with reduced waste, without forfeiting convenience.
Many products customers have written to us asking about bulk options, and as a result, we’re in the process of developing refillable options of our cleaning products. We look forward to completing this project and making it available to our service clients and in stores. Stay tuned!