*Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or complete list of steps to take to reduce consumption of plastic and packaging. This post is simply to share some love and appreciation for some great habits I learned from my mom growing up, and to outline some simple and easy steps to take to reduce household waste.
Over the last six months or so, my boyfriend James and I have been trying to reduce our consumption of plastic and packaging. I was inspired to do this because an interview that I heard with Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home on The Lively Show. I will go over a few of the steps that we’ve taken to reduce our household waste below. Before I get into the tips, I’m going to share a little bit about my experience growing up with a mom who was composting decades before it became part of city waste programs; who adhered to a 100-mile diet before it was a buzzword; who taught me values that I am finally coming to understand and come back to in my late twenties.
Throughout my childhood, my mom always brought cloth bags with her to the grocery store. She and my dad would make a meal plan for the week, and she would make the grocery list so that she knew roughly how many bags to bring to the store. She also made a point of getting produce from the farmer’s market whenever possible in the spring and summer months. If she was able to buy a product from a local producer, that’s what she would do; from honey, meat and eggs, to knitted toques and handmade yoga mat bags, etc. My parents also built a compost bin, way back in 1995, before composting was on many people’s radars. I grew up composting all of my food waste. When I moved out to go to college, I didn’t have a compost, and anytime I threw a banana peel into the garbage can I was hit with a pang of guilt for not having built a compost box myself. Now I’m lucky enough to live in North Vancouver where composting is part of the city waste program and is municipally mandated.
I have a lot of memories of grocery shopping with my mom, with our cloth bags in tow. I remember one instance when I asked her if we could buy some Lunchables because I they were really cool (in reality, it was the kids who brought them for lunch that I thought were really cool). Her response: “There’s too much packaging.” I was lucky to grow up with a mom who cooked mostly from scratch, and made my lunches. Now even though she wouldn’t buy me Lunchables, my mom wasn’t one to let me go without. She would let me get packaged treats from the grocery store here and there, but like I said, she made things at home. There was no shortage of homemade cookies, muffins, cakes, rice crispy squares, etc. And I’m just remembering as I’m writing this, she bought pretty much all of her baking ingredients from a bulk store. She was also an avid gardner and grew vegetables and flowers in our backyard. In more recent years, she started tending a plot with a friend in a community garden, and also helps other people take care of their gardens. Generally, if my mom can make it herself, grow it herself, or get it from someone else’s farm or garden, she will.
All that said, I simply want to point out that a lot of the values that I am re-discovering now as an adult, were being instilled in me since childhood; I did not have to figure this out on my own – I simply had to remember what my mother modelled for me growing up. My mom instilled in me the value of thinking not just of your own wants and needs, but of the planets; thinking not just about the cheapest place to get something, but also considering who is profiting from those purchases; and the value of being a member of your community and supporting those in it. She also modelled and instilled in me a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency.
For all of these things and more, I am eternally grateful to you, mom. ❤
Tips to Reduce Household Waste:
- Make a meal plan and write a grocery list. The first step in prevention is intention. Is that a saying? I don’t know; but if it isn’t, it is now! I think intention (i.e. planning) really helps when you’re trying to reduce the amount of waste you bring into your home. If you know exactly what you want to buy beforehand, you’re able to think about what items you can try to find in the bulk section, and can guess-timate how many cloth bags you’ll need to bring with you before you leave the house. Also, if you’re planning ahead, you’re less likely to buy things on a whim (like packaged cookies or bag of chips). Instead you can plan on buying the ingredients you need to make them yourself.
- Bring your own bags. Probably the easiest, simplest and most obvious tip of the bunch. Bring cloth bags! Bring a backpack! Or if you’re grabbing only getting a couple things on your way home, just carry them. Anything you can do to avoid using those grocery store bags is great. Imagine how much waste we could eliminate if everyone brought their own reusable bags to the store!
- Buy in bulk. James and I try to buy all of our dried foods from the bulk section: lentils, beans, rice, flour, sugar, nuts, dried fruit, spices, chocolate chips, and of course OATS! (We go through a lot of oats, haha). If we can find it in bulk, we’ll get it there. It’s also great for anyone on a budget, generally things in the bulk section are always cheaper than the same item in a package.
- Store your bulk items in recycled jars. Do you eat a lot of peanut butter? Hot tip: Adam’s Peanut Butter jars make for great storage for dried items like beans, rice, oats, lentils, you name it. Now, even though glass is technically recyclable, often it breaks in the bin or in transit and then is simply thrown in the landfill. Instead keep ’em and re-use ’em.
- Re-use bulk bags and twist ties. We save all of our bulk bags and reuse them. After they’ve been washed, we put them back in James’ backpack to have with us whenever we’re in the grocery store. We keep the twist ties in a separate little sandwich baggie that also lives in the backpack. A tip within a tip: Re-use bread bags if you buy bread from a bakery. We get a loaf of bread every week from Cob’s Bakery, and recently we asked them if they could put our new loaf in a bag that we brought with us, rather than taking it with us in a new plastic bag. They were totally cool with it.
- Don’t bag your produce. I’ve never really understood why people put their produce in plastic bags… You’re going to wash them when you get home anyway right? Right?! If not, then gross – the plastic baggie won’t help you. I simply don’t use any produce bags, however if you prefer to bag your produce, invest in some lightweight mesh bags. You can find some good options on Amazon.
- Make Your Own Treats. I sort of alluded to this in tip #1. Avoid all the extra packaging that comes from buying packaged cookies, cakes, chips, etc, and start making your own. Not only are these better for you, they taste way better too! And you have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what’s in it. You don’t have to worry about all the extra junk that they add to extend the shelf life. You also don’t have to worry about all that non-recyclable material that goes straight into the trash if you’re buying packaged stuff. Win. Win. Win. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for my favourite cookies. Practice makes perfect; the more you do it, the quicker and easier it becomes. If you like salty, you could make your own kale chips or potato wedges. Or if you’re strapped for time, you can buy some salted and roasted nuts or sunflower seeds in the bulk section (in your recycled bulk bags of course ;)…) Or if you have a sweet tooth and don’t have time to bake, get a little bag of chocolate covered almonds or your favourite candies.
- Pack what you need when you’re on-the-go. When James and I started getting serious about meal-planning and budgeting, we started making sure that we were packing food so we wouldn’t be tempted to spend money on food while we were out. I generally pack breakfast and lunch for myself in my tiffin, pack cutlery in my bag and bring my own tea in a to-go mug, as well as a water bottle (scroll down to see photos of my “to-go kit” below). It does seem like a lot to carry, and I guess it is, but it’s totally worth it. It saves money, it’s healthier for me because I’m not tempted to buy crappy food at the cafeteria, and I’m not having to use any plastic or throw anything in the garbage. The amount of waste that could be saved simply if everyone brought a to-go mug instead of using the disposable cups from coffee shops is pretty crazy to think about. Now if you’re seeing this tip and thinking that you don’t have time to pack your own food, I gotta tell ya, it is not that much effort. When you consider how much time it takes to go somewhere, order food and pay for it, it’s actually way quicker to bring your own. I have overnight oats for breakfast, and it takes me all of five minutes to pack it up the night before. In terms of lunches, we make sure to cook our dinners in big batches so that we have leftovers to take for lunches. These Enchiladas are a great thing to make at the beginning of the week and then you have leftovers for lunches for the rest of the week.
Our Grocery Kit:
- Weekly Meal Planner (we got this one from Indigo – you can find it here) We also write our grocery list on the backs of our meal plans.
- 2 backpacks
- 2 cloth bags
- Pile of saved bulk bags
- little baggie of twist ties
*We keep the bulk bags and the twist ties in the small pocket of James’s black backpack.
My To-Go Kit:
- Onyx Tiffin (two-layered stainless steal container with a handle-frame – you can find it Here)
- Cutlery – you could get fancy here and get some cool cutlery gear, but I just bring my own from home.
- To-go mug
- Water bottle