#HaltonWasteChallenge – The Year Completed!

Hello Friends of Halton Green Screens,

My waste-free year officially ended at 9pm on Saturday October 8! In many ways it was anticlimactic because very little will change, but I am now actively looking for a secondhand garlic press :) For the most part though, my waste-free year will now just be my waste-free life.

When the year first started, I was so overwhelmed that I was having nightmares about producing waste and filling up my little bin. There were tough decisions throughout, and my will power was tested many times, but for the most part the challenge became second nature and the nightmares faded. It’s been such a great experience completing the #HaltonWasteChallenge, especially with the well over 1000 commitments we got from children and youths at Halton schools. If any of you are reading this, I hope you know that every one of you has the power to change the world. Never let anybody tell you that the choices you make won’t make a difference, because they do. Keep working together to protect this beautiful planet that we call home!

 

The Weigh-In

I did my public weigh-in at our screenings of “Greenvaders” on October 12 and 13. In 2015, Halton residents produced an average of 151 kg of household waste per person. My little waste bin, while overflowing slightly, weighed 1.1 kg. That leaves me with room for improvement but I feel pretty good about it! Thank you so much to everybody who joined me in any way, whether by participating in the challenge, reading the blog, giving me feedback/suggestions, or simply by being kind and supportive. I am lucky to have a strong support system in my amazing family and friends. Thank you to every one of you who cheered me on and went out of your way to help me avoid waste even at holidays and social gatherings.

 

What’s In My Bin

My bin at the end of the year

My bin at the end of the year

Kitchen/food related waste

Kitchen/food related waste

Baby related, medical, and other waste

Baby related, medical, and other waste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of what was in my bin was food related, and mostly packaging from grocery items. Most of what’s in the picture (above, left) is from items I bought before starting the challenge. A few are kitchen items that broke during the year. A few are packages from food that other people bought for me. There are 3 straws from restaurants: one because they brought water as we sat down, one because my family got there before us and ordered our water, and one because I asked for no straw, they misunderstood, and we ended up being the only ones in the restaurant with straws in our water. There are a few of the plastic films from the tops of tofu containers because for some recipes the tofu that comes in cardboard doesn’t work well. There are a bunch of stickers from fruits.

Most of what’s in there of the stuff I bought myself during the challenge are 1) the plastic that goes around the top of my vegan “butter” containers and 2) plastic caps, mostly from soy and almond milk. Both of those items also came with other packaging, but it was recyclable. And both were fully avoidable. Something to work towards!

The picture on the right shows the other garbage. A few things baby related: the balloon we came home to after giving birth, a gift card, tags from secondhand (and a few new) baby items, and the wrapper from my prenatal vitamins. I had hoped to avoid these by eating a well-balanced diet but I had so many food aversions that I couldn’t eat well enough to feel confident I was getting what the baby needed. There is also half of a package from some dishwasher detergent (the other half went in Neelan’s garbage) and a bag that contains the landfill waste from a trip to the dentist.

 

My Year In Summary

No landfill waste:

With my one little bin only slightly overflowing after a year of saving my landfill waste I am pretty happy with how I did on this one! There were some items in there that I couldn’t do much to avoid (such as the occasional straw that was given to me at a restaurant after I asked them to skip it) and others that I definitely could have done more to reduce (such as the plastic strip that seals my vegan “butter”, which I never did end up making myself). For a full breakdown with pictures, see “What’s In My Bin” above.

Early on in the year I started becoming very aware of the “hidden” waste for which I was responsible. This is the stuff that wouldn’t end up in your personal household waste. Some of the big ones are medical waste and food waste at restaurants, since very few restaurants compost. I avoided most of the “hidden” food waste by bringing home any leftovers, napkins, and inedible parts of food (such as lemon rinds) to either eat or compost. I did not, however, ask the servers to bring me my share of the food waste produced behind the scenes. Medical waste was trickier, especially since I was pregnant for half the year and had a young baby for the other half. When possible, I brought home the paper from the exam tables to recycle and I refused the bib when I visited the dentist. At one dental appointment, the hygienist accidentally wiped some of her tools on my shirt out of habit.

As a new mom and a cat guardian, the biggest contributers to my landfill waste that I managed to avoid or eliminate were diapers and cat littler. Neelan and I are using cloth diapers for our little one, and we used them without much issue even while travelling and camping. For cat litter, I switched to little wood pellets that expand into flushable sawdust when wet. I bought them in bulk from a farm that makes them from wood waste and I prefer them over our old litter.

No excess packaging:

Eliminating excess packaging was a little bit more challenging, and more difficult to measure since I recycled any recyclable packaging I used each week. There are some food items that I still purchased in recyclable packaging (such as my vegan “butter” and vegans milks) but I also bought a lot of things in bulk and made a lot of things from scratch to completely avoid packaging. I made vegan mayonnaise, crackers, pierogies, marshmallows, chocolate, pesto, cookies, cake, and more.

I didn’t buy a single personal care product the entire year. If you’ve been following the challenge, you might remember that I was dreading making toothpaste because I hated it so much the one time I made it before starting the challenge. I spent much of the year using Neelan’s toothpaste, but I recently got advice from an environmentally-minded dental hygienist on making my own. I tried her suggestions and I like my new toothpaste so much that I look forward to using it!

I took my own containers for ordering takeout or for bringing home leftovers, and really only had two negative experiences. Most places were really supportive or even told me how great it is that I’m doing this.

Buying in bulk can present a challenge because there are regulations in Ontario preventing the use of bags brought from home. I took my own anyway and just made sure they were clean and dry. Some places allow you to bring clean jars that they will weigh for you prior to filling, and just a couple of weeks ago Bulk Barn started trying this as a pilot project at one of their Toronto locations! If it goes well it may become routine at all Bulk Barn locations.

My pantry

My pantry

My pantry

My pantry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my pantry. I’ve transitioned to buying most things in bulk (in the re-purposed jars). There are still a few things I would like to start buying in bulk: flour, baking soda, and baking powder (in the photo on the left) and my oils (stored in another cupboard). The packaged items on the bottom shelf in the photo on the right are food items that I bought before starting the challenge and have not yet used up. I will buy them in bulk or make them from scratch as they need replacing.

Don’t buy any “stuff”:

The no secondhand items rule prompted a lot of questions. I was often asked questions along the lines of “Why can’t you buy secondhand? You’d be rescuing it from the landfill.” There are two main reasons for this one. First, is that I wouldn’t actually be rescuing something from the landfill, only delaying its arrival there. And second, buying as much as we want as long as it’s secondhand still fuels the idea that we need so much stuff. For that to be a viable lifestyle choice requires that a lot of other people buy things new and get rid of them before the end of their useful life.

I’m not a huge shopper anyway, so this rule wasn’t overly difficult for me, except that it felt like the moment I started all of my stuff started breaking and I wasn’t allowed to replace it. It was good for me to do without those things though, because it gave me a chance to realize that I didn’t really need a lot of it. I was really sad when my two favourite pairs of sunglasses broke, but it turns out I don’t need 5 pairs of sunglasses.

Neelan and I did manage to get most of our baby things secondhand, but a new baby brings out such generosity in people that it is nearly impossible not to get the occasional brand new item as a gift. We were given so many clothes for the little guy that a lot of it was never even worn before he outgrew it. Some was new, most was secondhand. Babies are some of the worst offenders for throwaway fashion.

Now that the challenge is done, I will sometimes replace something that breaks and even buy myself the occasional “new to me” item (meaning secondhand). When something does break I will try to wait a few days or a week before replacing it to give myself time to decide if I really needed in the first place. My phone has been needing replacement pretty badly for months so I will probably start looking for that. The night after the year ended I had another nightmare, this time that Neelan replaced my phone for me but bought me a brand new phone instead of secondhand.

 

My goals from the last month of the challenge

Two posts ago, I shared some goals that I set for myself for the remaining month of the challenge. Here’s how I did:

  • buy tea in bulk and stop using tea bags at home: I started doing this more often, but I have still often been going for the convenience of a tea bag when I first get up in the morning.
  • start buying oats in bulk: Done! With plans to continue.
  • make my own nut milks: I made one milk before the challenge ended, but also still bought some prepared ones.
  • make my own vegan butter: Fail
  • make toothpaste: Done, with delicious, fresh-breathed results!

Clearly my journey to zero waste is not over, but I’m looking forward to continuing on this route!

 

Take Home Message

To summarize my overall experience, it did not take that much effort to drastically reduce my waste, especially with some incredible support from my family and friends, but I think it would have been nearly impossible to completely eliminate it without removing myself from society.

When it comes to the throwaway, convenience-driven lifestyles we live in our society, not only does it not HAVE to be that way, it CANNOT be that way if we want to leave behind a liveable planet for future generations. We need to make some big changes. Some of that change must come from better laws, which we can influence by voting and by providing our elected representatives with feedback. And some of that change can start with each one of us; we don’t have to sit around and wait for better options to become available. The recent decision by Bulk Barn to try allowing the use of our own jars is probably a result of so many people showing up with their jars asking to fill them.

 

The Next Step – Another Year-Long Challenge!

I am proposing another challenge for the coming year. The theme for the 2017 Halton Enviro Guide by the Halton Environmental Network is “Mindful Consumption”. In line with that theme, I will try one new thing each week to further reduce my consumption, and once again I hope a lot of you will join me.

It has taken me so long to complete this post that I am already on the second week – stay tuned for the posts! Join me for as many of the 52 challenges as you like, or try your own. If there is anything you’d like to see me include let me know in the comments.

I’m looking forward to another year of waste reduction!