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Recycling and a Zero Waste Lifestyle

Living a zero waste lifestyle is a change many people are making. At Quinte Waste Solutions we had the pleasure of speaking to Laura Nash from Zero Waste Countdown Podcast and radio show and asked her a little bit about her journey on becoming zero waste, the challenges she has faced, and how she has overcome some of these obstacles. The reason the podcast is called Zero Waste Countdown is because becoming zero waste is not something that happens overnight, it’s a change in behaviour that takes time to get used to, but like anything it becomes a habit in your life and then it becomes easier. When I asked Laura what being zero waste meant to her, she said “being zero waste to me means sending nothing to landfill, so that means if I buy anything or use anything I want to be able to send it to recycling so it to be made into new material, or it can be composted or I want to be able to give it or sell it to someone so that an item can be reused.”

One of the biggest reasons Laura switched to a zero waste lifestyle was because she was about to have a baby. After she researched the chemicals that can be in plastics and that most of them may not be good for humans, and especially babies and children, this is what sparked her interest in plastic reduction. From there she was surrounded by not only the negative health consequences of plastics but also the negative environment implications. She started learning about dead zones in oceans and microplastics being found in fish. She expressed her concern for our local environments as well and said “ I see garbage all over our roadways and that is a big problem. So I believe that if everyone tried to reduce as much as possible that would make a big difference. I want to go as extreme as possible and not produce any garbage at all. And sometimes I can do it, I’ll go a week without producing any garbage but I still do product a little here and there.”

Making the choice to reduce plastic consumption is the first step, but there are still many areas of life that are made easier by packaged products. The convenience of these items is often the hardest part of the switch. Laura expressed that finding food without packaging is still the hardest part of being zero waste. “Often times we go to the grocery store and we go to buy tomatoes and there will be five different kinds of tomatoes all pre-packaged in plastic and only two kinds without.” The packaging is so unnecessary, and it isn’t even a recyclable plastic. Not only is non recyclable plastic wasteful but it also isn’t good for your health. “Fatty foods in cans really bring out BPA’s in our food.” You also don’t know how long most things have been in their packaging, and the more processed a food is, it typically also has more preservatives.  At first it does take a bit more time to grocery shop, but it becomes a routine. Laura has found stores in the Quinte Area that support her lifestyle. She goes to BulkBarn with her own cloth bags and reusable jars to fill up on all the dry ingredients she needs. In the summer it’s much easier to get package free food either by growing it in your own garden or going to farmers markets. For meats she goes to Bib’s Meats, and they also allow her to bring her own containers. You just have to live simpler, which is harder to do now because of all the convenience, but back in the day, you just couldn’t eat fresh veggies all winter long. So what Laura does in her home is can lots of tomatoes from her garden so that she can eat things like soup and pasta sauces from the produce she produced in her own garden during the winter. She also grows potatoes and carrots that last for quite a long time in her cold cellar. “I also try to make everything I can from scratch right at home. So bread, I make my own bread and I have my own sourdough starter that I keep, and yogurt and I make my own yogurt. Yogurt is a great substitute for salad dressing, dips and pasta sauces.”

When I asked Laura how she reduced her waste when she had a baby she said that it was tricky to be waste free all the time, but we can only be expected to do the absolute best we can. She used cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers which reduces a substantial amount of waste. It is also more cost effective. “I used cloth diapers to diaper my kid, which cost me about $600 for the cloth and then I did have to buy some disposable diapers for airplanes and travelling so overall it cost me about $800 to diaper my kid. Families that choose only disposable diapers it costs them about $3000 to diaper one kid.” So not only is it more environmentally friendly, it is way more pocket friendly. Now that her son is seven, I asked how he feels about their lifestyle, “My kid is super on board with everything. He brings a litterless lunch and I do my best to educate him with documentaries.” It is important not to hide things from kids, even though it can be scary for children to think about the oceans and the health of our planet, they are the generation that it’s being given to next, so if children are taught from a young age how important it is to recycle and be conscious of their consumption, our planet may be a healthier place in the future.

Having pets can also be tricky to have when you are trying to be waste free. Not all pet food bags are recyclable so making sure the bag you buy is recyclable is a really easy thing to do to reduce pet waste. In cities it can be harder because you have to be concerned about poop bags and other plastic products but there are some more eco-friendly choices. Using compostable poop bags is a step in the right direction.

Hygienic products that almost always come in non- recyclable packaging but are essential to daily life, so how do you avoid these packages? Turns out it isn’t that difficult to switch to waste free. Laura makes her own toothpaste or buys it from a waste free grocery store in Ottawa. There are tons of recipes online that you can try out. When it comes to soap and shampoo, shampoo bars are a great alternative and bar soap as well.

Finally, it is often thought to be more expensive to live a waste free lifestyle. “I actually save money on food.” Laura emphasized that buying processed foods is more expensive than buying whole foods. When you can’t buy food in packaging you are essentially removing all processed foods from your diet. Processed foods are more expensive because you’re buying food with convenience and companies take advantage of that premium. Buying things in bulk is cheaper than buying single servings, so when it all boils down it is more cost effective and beneficial to your health. Laura also pointed out that she does spend a little bit of money on Terracycle boxes in order to recycle things like rubber bands and small plastics that are not accepted in our program or too small to make it through our facility. However if you do the math, the average household in Quinte Area is 1.15 bags of garbage per week. Each bag tag is $3.75 and there are 52 weeks in a year. This means it costs on average households $224.25 annually to dispose of garbage. One Terracycle box is about $100, and Laura estimates she will go through about two to three boxes per year. So to recycle items that are not normally recyclable instead of sending them to landfill is actually a very comparable price in regards to your wallet but an outstanding difference to our planet. “I do sympathize with people that are busy but you do have time if you make it a  priority. You don’t have to do things expensive, thrifting and using the things you have, and simply being aware of your consumption makes all the difference”