Forced to Live Waste Free for a Week


Jon has proposed a one-week waste free challenge for my next post. I secretly want to refuse, but my childhood shrieks to my parents of “What about the whales!” echo in my head. Instead I ask for a guide and am provided with this: http://www.sustainable.uottawa.ca/recycling.html. Realize quickly that this guide still allows for waste and ask for clarification on ‘contaminated papers’ and dental floss. Turns out floss is a plastic (good to know) and ‘contaminated papers’, which I assume also include used tissue (cleverly polite guide!), are compost.

Realize the location of my city-issued compost bin is unknown to me. Decide that starting a waste free challenge at 11pm on a Sunday is not ideal as it would mean riffling through my garage in -20 to find my green bin. Also, procrastination is fun. And the week always starts on a Monday, right?

Commit to waste free week. Starting tomorrow.

Day 1: Have decided to approach my waste free week by going on the offensive. If I don’t create waste then I don’t have to worry about disposing of it in a non-wasteful way. Seriously consider bringing back the handkerchief, and then contemplate consequences. The battle between my germaphobia and environmental aspirations has begun.

My plan immediately fails when I eat a banana for breakfast and realize I must compost the peel.

I learn the location of my green bin. It is buried under a heap of my brother’s car tools and spare parts, and was most certainly never going to be at risk of being used. The sticker announcing the start of the green bin program reminds me that I’ve had this bin for two years. I emerge from the garage coated in car grease and bleeding quite liberally from one hand, but I am now able to ethically dispose of my banana peel.

Soaked through first band-aid quite quickly. Re-applied, but am left with soiled band-aid that I must dispose of ethically. Google is useless. It is beyond useless, as it is telling me band-aids are 100% waste. Jon has said waste does not exist for me for the next 7 days. I hope wonder if there is a flaw in waste-free week. I do what any sensible person can do while clutching a soiled bandage and staring at the three bins that are my only options. I tweet @uottawasustain and ask them what to do. I wait. I find out I have posed an excellent question, and that it has been kicked upstairs to the ‘waste specialist’. I go on with my day, leaving the soiled bandage to its fate on the counter. I later receive another reply. I must take apart the band-aid and separate the cotton from the plastic. Oh waste-free week, you are disgusting.

Go to Second Cup with a friend, and without thinking order myself a tea. I remember to order my tea to stay in. I think to myself "I don’t have to bring this cup home and compost it as a contaminated paper". I feel proud of myself. I am getting the hang of this. As the barrista hands me my mug of tea, I stared down at the teabag inside and realize what I’ve done. When we leave, I sigh deeply and pick up the tea bag, wrapping it in a (soon to be composted as well) napkin. It quickly soaks through. I must wring out the tea bag and napkin, wrap it up again, and, while fighting the urge to wave awkwardly and inform the cafe that there is nothing to see here, drop the damp tea bag into my coat pocket. I spend my 40 minute bus ride home hoping the tea does not soak through. When I go to dispose of the tea bag, after identifying it’s various components (string, tab, and leaves in compost, bag in plastic) the whole thing explodes all over the kitchen floor.

Accidental garbage use and subsequent retrieval: 3

Day 2: Have not left house. All recycling and composting needs are at my fingertips. I am rocking my waste-free week today.

One dilemma: is the packaging of a Knorr Sidekicks contaminated paper or plastic? Mission to eat foods packaged in easily recyclable containers fails on its first night.

Accidental garbage use and subsequent retrieval: 0

Day 3: Plan to hide at home with my recycling and composting bins was so successful yesterday that I am doing it again. Incidentally, overall life productivity has gone up now that I no longer feel like popping off to a café for tea.

Jon has taken issue with my hide-from-the-challenge plan. He wants me to go out and try to find only recyclable products to use while on the go. I explain the failed incident of the tea bag. He suggests guerilla composting.

Guerilla composting is the idea that since it will all decompose anyway, one can merely ‘compost’ in a discreet location outdoors, such as a bush.

It occurs to me: I DIDN’T NEED TO CARRY A WET TEA BAG HOME IN MY POCKET.
Waste-free week is laughing at me. I can hear it.

Accidental garbage use and subsequent retrieval: 1

Day 4: Plan to safely survive waste-free week by hiding in my house has been foiled by work. Thankfully I left the house prepared—with a bag to carry home my compost and recycling, thus sparing my pocket further humiliation. Said bag also made me the subject of ridicule among my co-workers, who helpfully suggested I just throw my stuff out at the store instead of taking it home, and then stared in shock as I explained waste-free week to them. Shock, ridicule, and incomprehension being the top three responses to this project; support comes in at a very distant fourth.

It is with great relief that I headed home to the comfort of my compost bin and handy recycling box.

Tomorrow will be a long day away from home, but it’s ok. I have a baggy now.

Accidental garbage use and subsequent retrieval: 1

Day 5: Did not need to use baggy today. Instead, I first convinced my friend to take up composting again, and then I got her started by sending her home with my muffin wrap and some damp paper towel.

Remembered not to order tea at all today, and found out that the World Exchange Plaza has a bin for organic and biodegradable waste. It’s the small things that make me want to weep less.

I am getting the hang of this.

But then came the arrival of a book, helpfully packaged in paper and bubble wrap, all glued together. I figured, no worries, I shall play this out Band-Aid style. Of course, I should have known: why would waste-free week let me off that easy?

It wouldn’t, is what.

My counter is now covered in tiny pieces of plastic and paper. I am desperately searching for yet another corner that I can attempt to pull from. I have none. Feel like complete environmental disaster. The whales will have to go on without my help. I don’t have the nails for ethical living!

I refuse to give up to an envelope. Instead, I throw the whole thing into the recycling bin. If someone wants to prove the outer layer wasn’t plastic, they are welcome to rip it to shreds themselves.

Accidental garbage use and subsequent retrieval: 0 (Hahahahahahaha!)

Days 6 and 7: Didn’t leave house (proven method). When waste-free week came to an end quietly on Sunday night, I considered celebrating with a shower of glitter. Realized I would have to clean up glitter afterwards (impossible) and abandoned plan. Also, is glitter recyclable?


Day 1 after waste-free week: Still composting and recycling like I can’t throw stuff out. The past week was painful, but I’ve got some great new habits to be proud of.

~ eleni - associate editor, ottawa arts review
photo credit: jonathan rausseo

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