Challenge Accepted! Waste Bucket 2017

posters at the uOttawa campus prompting people to go waste free

In the spirit of Barney Stinson and in an attempt to really walk the sustainable walk, this past week I accepted a challenge from a fellow environmentalist to truly trashless. What challenge you ask? Sure to be the latest mannequin or ice bucket challenge to have all the youths blowing up their social feeds, the waste bucket challenge raises awareness to the amounts of waste we produce every single day.

So this is how the challenge works. Any trash you produce is kept in a bucket or receptacle or whatever of choice allowing you to see how much of what you consume regularly is non-compostable or non-recyclable. So to reiterate, if it cannot be composted or recycled, it goes and stays in the bucket.

An empty glass container that will used to collect waste

I used a 32 oz. glass container rather than any sort of garbage cans as I moved about my normal life for a week. I also equipped myself with my trusty travel mug, Nalgene, mason jars, canvas bags, a fork/spoon and reusable containers. So now five days later, with a glass container overflowing and compost and recycling bins happily brimming, let me tell you about what I learned.

And to preface all this, as a person who eats a vegan diet, most of my culprits where fruit stickers and frozen fruit bags. And I understand that this experience would likely be challenging in different ways for folks who choose to eat more normative diets. I recognize that grocery store meat or dairy comes with a lot of plastic packaging. However, I learned that there are creative ways to skip the packaging regardless of dietary preferences and although not as convenient or routine without practice or intention, the entire challenge made the notable events of my week - my grocery shop, brunch date, study sessions, baking, going out and work - not only more waste free, but also more eco-friendly in other ways.

A full glass container stuffed with plastic

Fruit stickers are a great example. All the produce at grocery stores comes with stickers on it, regardless of whether or not it is organic. This is hard to avoid. BUT by consciously collecting all the fruit stickers for my container, I made sure none went down the drain. This happens to the best of us, but when it does the stickers are very likely to pollute our water systems. To avoid this further, I also bought some of my weekly produce at the Lansdowne Farmers Market (my fave post Sunday-brunch ritual) which is even better because it supports local farmers AND is sticker-free. I also bought my bread at a local bakery to avoid the plastic bread bag and the plastic bread tag.

Tofu was harder for me. I rely on tofu for typically three-ish meals a week as a high source of protein. However my fave tofu brand at Loblaws comes with not one, but two layers of plastic packaging. To avoid this, often health food stores like Herb & Spice allow you to bring you own reusable container and get your tofu that way. And perhaps if you typically do eat meat, you could try getting your meat from the butcher's counter wherein butcher paper is totally compostable!

As a side note, places like H & S, Whole Foods, Bulk Barn etc. allow you to make your entire shopping experience plastic free if you simply bring your own containers and mason jars! I've been doing this for a while and it's really fun! (just ask your cashier to weigh your jars and write their weight on the bottom in sharpie beforehand and then you're set)

This leads me to another point, which is that the closest grocery stores to campus do not have bulk bins. Therefore this weekend while I was making homemade granola bars (to avoid buying prepackaged and processed ones) and I needed almonds last minute, I had to buy the ones sold in a plastic pouch, which was a major bummer. If Loblaws had bulk options, students would have easier access to zero waste options. Another nearly unavoidable culprit is the plastic pouches most brands of frozen fruit come in. I eat lots of smoothies and I make homemade jam frequently, so I really wasn't able to avoid that especially given that fresh berries aren't really in season right now.

Furthermore when eating/drinking out this weekend, I chose to eat at restaurants which were vegan-friendly scratch kitchens meaning that they make everything in house (no ketchup packet plastic for example) and I got my drinks at the bar without straws!


A variety of plastic products layed out across a table

So until the last day (Monday) of my challenge I was doing pretty well. The container certainly wasn't empty, but I wasn't worried. And then the new sleeping bag I ordered in the mail arrived... and it was absolutely covered in bulky layers of plastic packaging. It was devastating and unavoidable. I couldn't choose a plastic-free option here; all of this plastic just sort of happened.

So on the last day of my challenge, I cannot get the lid back on my glass container. In summation, I could have sustained the low to no plastic life indefinitely in the places I can control my impact, but then sometimes life throws you plastic curveballs. Frankly we don't realize the amounts of plastic all around us until we begin taking note. I didn't choose the plastic life, the plastic life choose me. And that's okay. It's hard to be zero waste in a world that doesn't have zero waste systems readily in place. This entire eco-conscious thing is about becoming more conscious, it's not about rigidity or perfection.

A glass container whose's lid cannot close because it is stuffed with plastic


This challenge was more demanding than pretending to be a mannequin, more fun than having ice water dumped on my head, and was overall better for the environment at large. And I nominate everyone reading to give it a go. Make intentional and conscious consumer choices when purchasing and getting rid of all the things in your lives. Set your own goals and limits. Challenge your friends/family or do it with your housemates. Try to think about the everyday waste around you differently. Best of luck!

~ jennie @trashlesslovemore

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