waste not,want not

Is it possible to have a waste-free home? Vanessa Reid experiments.

illustrations by Elisabeth Belliveau

I am at ņ Votre Sante organic health food store, filling small plastic bags with organic turmeric and Thai basil while imagining the possibilities of dinners to come. Iím also kicking myself because I didnít think to bring the plastic bags from the last time I purchased spices here. It may seem a minute detail, but Iíve committed to a zero waste apartment experiment and plastic adds up Ė in the back of my kitchen drawer and in the 10,000 landfill sites across Canada.

I know this, and I cringe. So I decide to buy only a few spices this time, and make a mental note to create a clever system so that my daily errands and consumer habits donít contribute to the stockpile of waste weighing on, seeping into and contaminating the earth.

zero waste at a daily pace

For the past four months, I have been shifting my daily habits to create an urban living environment that generates as little waste as possible. I had imagined what it would look like if I had to literally face my waste. What is my relationship with what I throw away? Statistics tell me that the average Canadian creates his or her body weight in garbage every month. If I had to deal with my own waste, what would my back balcony look like after a week, a year, a decade? What would it smell like? How would it change the way I bought, behaved?

In North America, we have little to no relationship with the waste we produce. Our practice is to make it disappear. We send it to other countries, throw it into the earth or burn it into the air. It remains invisible to the eyes of most North American urban dwellers. I wonder if we dealt with our waste differently, would it bring together or disrupt our relationship with neighbours, urban wildlife, and the earth on which we live and which we call home?

I began my ďzero wasteĒ experiment with the misguided assumption that I was already a responsible consumer with a fairly small ecological footprint. I used my own shopping bags, took food and water with me every day to avoid foods packaged in styrofoam or plastic and rode my bicycle everywhere. I bought organic and local foods, had few appliances and used locally made eco-biodegradable cleaning products in my home. Yet, I wasnít nearly as aware of my wasteful habits as I thought.

My zero waste practice began with noticing how I consume. I began to really look at what I bring into the apartment, and what I actually need. What do I buy and support as a consumer? How does that which comes in go back out (composting, recycling, etc.)? What happens to the food, organic waste, plastics, containers, wrappings, paper, toilet paper, clothes, water, electricity?

I began to notice my erratic buying habits, too often based on curiosity, inspiration or compulsion. I was shocked to see how my weekly purchases, coming mainly from organic and health food stores, produced a heap of plastic in my recycle bin.

Vanessa Reid practises the yoga of sustainability in her day-to-day life, with organizations, through networks and in communities around the world. www.vannyfreedom35.blogspot.com

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