Introduction to Living Zero Waste

TEXT by Celine MacKay | PHOTOGRAPHS by Sean Boyte


EVEN WHEN YOU ARE MAKING AN EFFORT TO LIVE A CONSCIOUS LIFESTYLE, it can sometimes feel like people are handing you disposable things everywhere you go, things like coffee cups, napkins, plastic forks, promotional pens, etc. Many don't even think twice about it, they just simply accept them, make an effort to recycle it perhaps, and move on. The truth is that often things that appear to be recyclable, like paper cups, are lined with plastic and not biodegradable or recyclable. Every year about a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, which equals roughly 2 million bags per minute. Crazy, isn't it? It's one of those issues that is so big, it makes you feel powerless, but (I sound like a broken record), our actions do make a difference. Our economy works on a demand/supply basis, so if our consumption of disposables goes down, even just a little bit globally, that's progress.

Living a conscious lifestyle can take on a lot of forms, depending on what motivates you. Zero-Waste Living focuses on trash and involves tweaking your habits and consumption so that you don't utilize any form of packaging that cannot be recycled or composted. Sounds simple enough, except when you increase your awareness of it you suddenly realize how innundated we are. It's overwhelming and you may want to give up but it's also hugely satisfying to know you are making a difference!

Last week we posted about how to live sustainably on a budget, and my biggest piece of advice was to buy less. In this feature I am telling you to buy a few things, but I will provide budget friendly options as well and the even better news is that these purchases are largely one-time purchases.

For this first post on zero-waste living, I wanted to address life on the go. We are so busy, rushing to and from work, stopping to pick up a take-out coffee on the way to work, take-out lunch on our break, and possibly a second coffee or refreshing beverage on our way home. When you include all the containers, napkins, cutlery and other various packaging throughout the day, it truly adds up. The following is a short list of items you should carry with you at all times to reduce how much trash you accummulate.

Before I go on, however, I want to make a quick note. Many of the following items are heavily commoditized. Companies and brands are jumping on the sustainability bandwagon by offering branded swag like coffee mugs and shopping totes, but they are often unattractive and poor quality. They accumulate in your home and in the end, they just create more trash. Say no to these items, and invest ONE TIME in a few really good products that are well made and that you love using. You only need one (or a few in the case of shopping bags), and stick to it.


Next time you walk up to the barrista, hand him or her your mug. You won't even raise an eyebrow, promise. The only snag is that you'll need to cut out the drive-through in order to provide them with your mug. The city of Toronto says that 1 million single-use cups are disposed of every day (and that's just ONE city), so make the choice to sip your organic fair trade cuppa'joe sustainably. Our suggestions? This one is nice for coffee, this one is stylish for tea, and this one is budget friendly (and repurposes mason jars) and this one works with a straw for cool beverages.


Last year, the US used about 50 billion plastic water bottles. However, the recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles went to landfill. Also, the plastic used for bottling water is often low grade and can leach toxins into your water, and the actual water bottled is often just glorified tap water. Stop the madness, pack a bottle of water with you daily, and if you don't have good tap water, consider going to a spring or buying spring water from a commercial source in reusable 5-Gallon glass carboys. OR, this super chic water pitcher filters tap water and automatically sends you new filters in the mail (that are biodegradable, hurrah!). Our recommendation for a indestructible portable water bottle is Klean Kanteen. Their metal bottles are non-toxic and despite getting dinged, dented and scratched, will never break. You could use it for years, I'm going on about 5 with mine.


We've already covered they why, but I should reinforce here that you shouldn't collect these bags as is easy to do, because they are handed out everywhere and this just ends up as another form of consumerism and clutter. Instead, invest in a small stash, 5-10, and make them ones that you really like using. My favourite are these ones because they scrunch up really small into the handy integrated pouch, weigh absolutely nothing, and you are less likely to forget them because you can just store them in your purse, as I do. Here's another similar but more stylish option. Also, get rid of plastic produce bags with these.


Go the extra mile for a waste-free lunch, and what's with getting 15 paper napkins over the counter every time anyway? You can buy travel/portable fork and knife sets, but I fail to see the point. Simply roll up a set from home or from the thrift shop in a sturdy cloth napkin, tie with a ribbon and stash in your purse. 


Find out more about plastic water bottle waste

The Plastic Bag Pandemic


Trash is For Tossers

Zero-Waste Living