I don't live a zero-waste lifestyle. It's halfway through the month, and I have definitely made some garbage. I have been bringing my little bag of garbage in my backpack to work every day. There was a joke on one of the first days of the pledge that the little bag of garbage is the bag of SHAME, and let me tell you, it feels like it. Here are my most embarrassing pieces of garbage that I've collected so far:
5) Chip bag. I haven't eaten any chocolate bars, granola bars, gum, or individual candies in two weeks. However, last weekend, my friend Daryn came over. As we had planned for serious chilling out, I made cake, and he brought a big bag of chips and reese pieces. God they were good. But I had to add them to the bag of shame.
4) Empty chocolate chip bag. These lasted a while, since I bought them to make chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine's day. I have to say that they were excellent, and my very not local strawberries were so incredibly delicious dipped in these melted chocolate chips.
3) I could seriously eat vegetarian sushi every day for lunch. The foil of the individual soy sauce containers at Sushi Shop are not recyclable. I have a few of those.
2) Daryn also brought me a lotto ticket. Not only did I not read the instructions and did the game totally wrong, but I didn't win. And I've been carrying it around ever since.
1) Styrofoam take-out container. Man, that thing is shameful. Let me explain. This past week, my friend Stefi and I went out for lunch. I had already explained my no-garbage situation, so we had to pick somewhere that only had real plates and silverware. Of course, I forgot a tupperware that day, but I told myself I would just have to eat everything on my plate to prevent food waste. I didn't take into account how little time I had until my class would resume, so I ended up with a big plate of fries, salad, and a hamburger with 15 minutes to devour it. I had just taught my class about how food in landfills rots due to lack of oxygen, and produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas. So which is worse to sit in a landfill for hundreds of years- a Styrofoam container made from oil, or rotting food that contributes to climate change? I scarfed away, but with only two minutes and half my meal left until I was supposed to get back to teaching, I had to ask Stefi to get a to-go container for me. I hoped that it would come in a clear plastic recyclable container, or an aluminum one with a carboard lid. When I saw her again, I realized with horror what I was stuck with carrying around for the rest of the month: STYROFOAM! I don't mean a little Styrofoam container. I mean a big, spongy, bright white huge container that makes me really wish I had remembered to bring my tupperware to lunch.
These past two weeks have definitely been a challenge. But it's kind of funny sometimes, when I notice I've been hoarding snotty tissues or orange rinds at work so I can compost them at home. Or trying to explain to the ladies who work at the bubble tea place that I want a bubble tea with NO straw, because I brought my own and they can't be recycled. You have your own straw? Yes, I brought my own plastic straw. Or the other day, when I went to a lunch meeting. I figured there would be reusable dishes, since it was a pretty environmentally-themed project. Nope. I stared at the food, figuring out which I could eat without a disposable fork without completely embarrassing myself. I snuck out of the meeting with a paper plate so I could compost it at home.
I was working in Quebec City over the weekend, and I brought my own tupperware to the sushi shop before leaving for the bus. Realizing that I forgot my own chopsticks at home, I decided that I probably don't even need chopsticks as long as my hands are clean. People looked at me kind of funny when I ate sushi on the bus out of a tupperware with my hands.
I work with some awesome people at Sustainable Concordia who have been working super hard to reduce the waste on Campus. Their goal is to get Concordia to become Zero Waste. This means that all materials are reused, recycled, or composted, and nothing is thrown into the garbage. Honestly, I was pretty skeptical about this idea at first. No garbage? At all? No granola bar wrappers, no water bottles, no coffee cups? But as I've seen how their team is working on it, I think it's something that can become real. The first step to achieving a goal is believing that it can be done. But we have to make some changes to the types of packaging that's created, and all have to make some better choices.
Sustainable Concordia has teamed up with the other Montreal universities to create a zero waste pledge. This means that for the month of March, you can pledge to create as little garbage as possible. Everything you use should be reused, recycled, or composted. At the end of the month, everyone can get together and compare how much waste they've created, and tell the manufacturers of the products that their packaging isn't recyclable. The idea is to have the least garbage as possible, and people can bring this bag of garbage around them all the time as a means of talking about this issue. They will also be meeting up to talk about how it's been going for people. Today is only March 3rd, so you can totally still sign up! Check out the facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/zerowastecampusconcordia
Two days of garbage
I think I've been doing pretty well so far in the first two days, but I has definitely been a challenge. I will definitely have some garbage this month, but I've tried to be super cautious about not making waste.
The tricky part started out at 9am on the first day. I chewed a piece of gum on my way to work, and only when it started to taste gross a half hour later did I realize...uh oh. I'm going to have to throw out this piece of gum. I thought at first that I could compost it, so I put it in a piece of toilet paper to save for later. I did a little research afterwards, and found out that you can't compost gum. BAM! Fail at zero waste.
Next, I didn't have much for lunch, so I had packed a Lipton cup-a-soup to just add water to. I realized later that not only was the whole thing way expired, but that the packet probably isn't recyclable because it has foil inside. I composted the soup, but had to add the packet to my garbage.
Yesterday was day two. I was determined to be better! I was meeting my out-of-town friend Andrew for lunch, so I had to decide a place in advance that wouldn't have any disposable plates. However, when we got to Le Panther Vert on Mackay, there were no empty tables. Uhhh...okay, new plan. Pressed for time before a meeting in a half an hour, I had to make a decision fast. Andrew suggested Boustan, the best schwarma joint in town. I can't say no to Boustan.
The trifecta of awesome
Unfortunately, Boustan is a place with waxy wrappers (a no), styrofoam plates (definitely a no), and the most delicious garlic potatoes are microwaved in styrofoam bowls (soooo wrong). (but so right).
I skipped on the garlic potatoes because of the styrofoam, but the schwarma HAD to come in a wrapper. I realized too late that I should have carried a tupperware on me. As I ate the greasy, super delicious chicken schwarma, I thought about the fact that I was going to carry this greasy wrapper around with me for a month. If I had planned it out better, I could have totally avoided that situation, but I wouldn't have been able to go to Boustan. (Before you think that I'm totally disgusting for toting around a greasy-meat wrapper all month, I washed off the wrapper at home and will put it in the freezer until the end of the month to add to my garbage total.)
This is definitely harder than I thought it would be. My goal at the beginning was to have ZERO waste for the whole month. But my first few days have taught me a few things:
First: I need to plan my lunches better. I usually eat leftovers from the night before, but I tend to bring a granola bar or a cheese string (yes, my mom buys them for me, yes they have trivia questions about animals on them, and yes I am eight years old). I need to whip up more snacks and quinoa or chickpea salads for lunch that will keep me full the whole day. I should carry a tupperware and cutlery with me if I'm going to eat out, or even in my purse at all times.
Second: Before getting something, I need to think about what will happen to it when I'm done. Like the gum: only when I went to throw it away did I realize what would happen to it. I went to the Snow Village in Montreal last night, and I wanted to get a drink. I had to pick a drink off the menu that would come in a glass or recyclable container, which took me about five minutes to figure out. I thought I was doomed when they handed me a beer in a plastic cup instead of a bottle like I asked, but I was psyched when I realized they had plastic recycling.
I've been really excited about this challenge, and I think this month will teach me to be much more careful about what I consume.
I'm an eco-conscious girl from Montreal, Quebec. I'm currently an adjunct science professor at Champlain College of Vermont (Montreal Campus). I'm interested in any opportunities to expand my experience with grassroots activism, climate change legislation, or environmental education.