Achieving Zero Waste at Home Requires Creativity
Sarah McGaughey loves to talk trash . While the rest of us try to go to the gym more often, her resolution for 2007 was to make absolutely no household waste for a month -- and she and her husband, Kyle Glover, managed to do it.
In 2005, the Toronto couple produced one garbage bag of trash for the year. In 2006, they relaxed a bit and took one grocery bag to the curb every two weeks. But this year, the committed environmentalists are striving for zero -- a project that has changed how they shop, eat and work. "Adjusting is hard," Ms. McGaughey says. "You can't get hungry in the middle of the night and go to the convenience store."
The couple recycles as a last resort to avoid sending trash to the landfill -- but they're most committed to reducing waste, and the obstacles can be surprising. "Our biggest problems are the smallest things, like stickers on fruit," says Ms. McGaughey.
In a city where the average household generates a tonne of waste a year, it's nearly impossible to reduce waste down to the last sticker. So the couple has put out a call on the website ‘craigslist’ for others to join them with waste-reduction projects of their own. Their aim, Ms. McGaughey says, is to build a network of support where people can share tips for reaching their goals. But the main idea is simple: Avoid buying any packaged goods in the first place.
The couple made the decision to limit their waste after spending time in Korea, where Ms. McGaughey was teaching English. The language barrier made asking for items difficult, so they ended up buying a lot of pre-packaged goods. "One day, we created so much trash, it just struck me," explains Mr. Glover, 32. "I thought, when I got back, I would try a whole month of making no garbage. After three months, I kind of gave up, but Sarah didn't." Ms. McGaughey only grew more enthusiastic. "In November of 2004, I said, 'Okay, let's try again, totally hard-core,' " she says.
The couple's commitment is all-encompassing. In their cozy apartment, newly washed plastic bags attached to a fan in the kitchen dry in the wind. She figures she'll start making her own rice milk and almond milk again, since the refillable milk bottles they order from a health-food store are sealed with disposable plastic tops. And though the husband and wife team enjoys music (they perform in a band called Push Buttons), they'll have to refrain from buying plastic-wrapped CDs.
Ms. McGaughey, 29, says she spent much of 2006 researching places to shop for package-free goods. When trying to avoid packaging, one-stop shopping is not an option. The couple buys food in bulk, using their own containers and cloth bags.
Going without plastic, however, was tough. Bulky containers were difficult to carry and often leaked when traveling on foot or by bike. Plastic bags are more malleable, and can be wrapped around containers to prevent messes. The couple wash and reuse each bag until it begins to deteriorate, a process that can take up to three months.
One of the biggest challenges for Ms. McGaughey has been getting people in stores to realize that she wants to make garbage-free purchases. Drinks should be straw-free. A single muffin should go directly from the tongs of the counter attendant to her hands -- no napkins required.
"I often end up just looking really crazy," Ms. McGaughey admits, describing the weird looks shop attendants give her in response to her requests. Ms. McGaughey, who works at the Colborne Lodge museum in High Park, has been documenting their experience on her daily blog (nomoregarbage.wordpress.com) in hopes of invigorating others to cut back the trash they produce.
Her advice for others wanting to go garbage-free: No. 1, carry a "survival kit" containing Tupperware containers, a handkerchief, a travel mug, some plastic bags and a shopping bag. No. 2, figure out your vices and then find a way to get them without creating any trash.
(Adapted from “Zero garbage? Can do — In 2007, one local couple is striving for an empty trash bin” by Dale Duncan, Special to The Globe and Mail Jan 6/07, in February 2007 WasetWatch)
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