All of my garbage for the month of March
For the month of March, I took the Zero Waste Challenge at Sustainable Concordia. Every single thing that I could not compost or recycle for the entire month, I kept in a little bag.
Before it started, I vowed that I wouldn't have any garbage. But I realized on the first day that this would be way harder than I thought. I did end up with garbage, unfortunately, although definitely less than I would have made if I wasn't participating in the challenge.
So, how much garbage did I end up creating for the entire month of March? A half a pound, baby! Some of it was just random bits of plastic, like the part you peel off of a new margarine container. Some of it was embarrassing, like an individual creamer from tea at a restaurant, or just how many bags of chips I caved and ate during the month. And some of it seemed inevitable, like when my toothpaste tube ran out on the third week.
One sort of surprising thing that happened to me during the month is that I noticed garbage WAY more than I normally do. Walking down the street, I felt like I was aware of every single disposable coffee cup in someone's hand, every piece of litter around me. At a restaurant, I had to either eat ALL of my food, or tuck the rinds, teabags, or raw tomatoes (ew. I can try to eat them sometimes, but I'm not a fan.) into a napkin to compost later. At parties, I had to make sure that my beer caps were recycled, and that I didn't eat any candies or anything individually packaged. I was hyper-aware of everything everyone else ate, all the paper towels that ended up in the trash can instead of getting composted, all of the apple peels that get thrown out because composting really isn't available to most people, unless they do it at home.
Another, weirder thing happened to me. I became oddly attached to my trash. Keep in mind, I carried my bag of trash with me pretty much everywhere I went. At work, it was in my desk or in my backpack. At home, it was pinned up on the fridge. I kept some of the grosser trash (tofu packaging, sandwich wrappers) in the freezer so they didn't get rancid, but the rest of it came with me everywhere. But I felt like I knew really well what was in that bag at all times, and even now, almost a month later, I feel like I could make a list of everything in the bag. A coworker and I were discussing our trash, and we joked that we were going to to feel kind of sad to throw our trash away. I'm sure it sounds pretty weird, since most of the time we only keep trash for only a few seconds before throwing it in the garbage can. But bring it everywhere for a month, and suddenly it's not someone else's problem- it's yours.
I'm going to watch a documentary called The Clean Bin Project on Tuesday at Green Drinks downtown. It looks pretty cool; it's about this couple who have a competition for one year of who can produce the least waste. It'll be playing on April 24th at 6pm in the Thomson House basement on the McGill campus.
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.