Wildsight Golden believes a key component of environmental stewardship is managing our waste appropriately, especially reducing plastic waste. Leslie Adams, 2020 Branch Manager, wrote this series of articles with pictures to share ideas with the community on how to reduce household waste.
I have been working towards a low waste lifestyle for a few years now. It started with some trips to developing countries and concern about the plastic waste that I saw in the oceans. It made me sad and angry and I decided that I had to take some personal action.
As I move about our community, I hear a lot of concerns regarding waste. A lot of other people want to contribute to a cleaner planet. I thought I would do some research and share what I know.
I want to thank the Golden Star for publishing this information and thank you to the board of Wildsight Golden for their support in my position as the outreach coordinator.
Now that the introduction is out of the way, the first concern that I have been hearing from people is confusion regarding recycling in Golden. What can go in the curb side bins and what must be taken to the depot?
Keeping in mind that Recycling is deliberately down the list in the order of Reducing waste, it is the easiest way to start. It is also a good way to understand what you are producing for waste. It’s a great way to start setting goals for change.
Within the Town of Golden, we have our blue recycling bins. The first rule of these bins is that they can only take clean waste. This means all items in the bin must be washed. If there are dirty cans or greasy plastic or contaminated cardboard (think pizza boxes), this can turn an entire load of recycling into garbage. Don’t be that person!
There are many other household items that don’t go in your blue bin that can also be recycled.
Waste containers can be in this way:
• curbside recycling
• recycling that needs to be dropped at the depot
• a small box for batteries
• a small box for printer cartridges
• a pail for compost, we will talk about compost in the next article
• a bag for the thrift or consignment store
• a box for all other items that may be more complicated
• and lastly a garbage can, which can be lined with newspaper and then use paper bags to collect garbage.
Almost everything you use in your home can be recycled. Some things go in our curbside bins and a lot of other items go into the bins at the Recycling Depot.
In last week’s article it was outlined systems to organize waste in the home. It does take a little bit of organization and energy, but it is worth it to limit waste. Setting goals is important and a good first is to reduce garbage to one little bag per week. Starting with recycling as much as possible and attempting to limit purchases to things that could be kept out of the landfill is a great first step.
A whole bunch of other waste can be diverted from garbage cans and the landfill. Most household items should not be disposed of in the garbage.
UPDATE: In Golden, Ace Hardware now takes used light bulbs of all sorts! (Feb.3, 2021)
The last few articles have been focused on recycling. Recycling is an easy way to start to feel better about managing waste. There is a specific reason, though, for the order of the three Rs. Reduce and Reuse come first for a reason.
Recycling is great! However, reducing and reusing are the best ways to help the environment and the bit bonus of this “R” s is that they also save you money. This article is going to start with reusing things.
In previous decades, many household managers were very thrifty. People washed out their plastic bags and used them again and again. They also re-used the paper towels used to wash windows and mirrors to clean up messes later, then when they were too dirty they were thrown away. People did not believe in single use items.
This week, the theme of reusing products continues. Working toward zero waste means minimizing purchases of items that are packaged in plastic. This is so difficult, but two alternatives are to make it yourself or buy things that are packaged in other materials instead, such as glass.
Many products come packaged in glass. Glass is a better alternative because it doesn’t degrade like plastics do so it can be used again and again. When you recycle glass it is sorted by colour, washed carefully, and then crushed, melted, and molded into new bottles and jars.
There has been a lot of chatter around the world lately about banning single use plastic bags. Thailand has banned them. London has banned them. Vancouver is looking at banning them. Many states and provinces are thinking about banning them.
Single use plastics are convenient, and often used outside the home. We’ve all been guilty of grabbing a to-go coffee or a bottle of water in the drive through before work, or ordering takeout with little thought of the plastic cutlery that it comes with. And while most people own a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, and some grocery bags, how many of people own produce style bags and glass or metal straws? Even fewer people carry reusable cutlery and bring their own containers for leftovers and takeout at restaurants.
A lot of waste is generated in the kitchen. There are a lot of ways to reduce your waste in this room.
Food waste is a big issue in our country. The first tip for minimizing food waste is to make only as much as you can eat. Leftovers can be eaten for another meal or frozen for later. Vegetable peels and other waste can often be made into vegetable broth and/or composted. Bones can often be boiled for stock to be used in recipes as well. If you don’t have a compost, neighbours with chickens or pigs may appreciate the compost or you can drop it off at Eat Pure.
When shopping, choose things with less packaging or packing you can use again. Previous articles have mentioned using plastic and glass jars. Gable topped milk and juice cartons can be used to freeze things instead of plastic bags and plastic bags can often be washed and reused again and again.
The first day of Spring has passed and as we watch the snow melt, it is time to think about getting yards going for the summer.
There are lots of ways to reduce, reuse and recycle in yards. The first thing to look at is saving water. There are a number of tricks and techniques to save water. One is to collect water in a water barrel or other types of containers. Now is a good time to set up water barrels or just buckets as the snow melts and the rains start to come in March and April. (April showers bring May flowers!) Mosquito larvae can become a problem in late May or June, so putting screens over your water containers at that time is a good idea.
Cleaning products can be toxic for the environment, aggravate breathing problems, and generate a lot of waste, generally plastic. Most plastic containers for cleaning products are recyclable and some are reusable. Homemade cleaning products are just a powerful as chemicals, can be made with easy to find household ingredients and are often much less expensive.
Starting with household items, vinegar is a powerful cleaning agent. Put into a squirt bottle, vinegar is an excellent cleaner for grease, most bacteria and dissolving away build-ups. Vinegar is not a registered disinfectant against viruses, such as Covid – 19, but as a regular cleaner, the acidity makes it effective.
To disinfect during outbreaks such as our current pandemic, it is recommended to use bleach or other powerful cleaners. The most environmentally safe disinfectant is hydrogen peroxide. Before using this disinfectant, surfaces should be cleaned first with soap and water or vinegar. To disinfect hard surfaces with this chemical, put it full strength into a spray bottle, spay on surfaces and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Because hydrogen peroxide decomposes into oxygen and water, there is no need to wipe off. This was cross checked with the Government of Canada List of Approved disinfectants and the how to use information came from the David Suzuki non-toxic disinfecting website.
One of the hardest places to reduce waste is in the bathroom. Almost everything in there is wrapped in plastic or disposable.
Start by looking in the bathtub or the shower. Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, razors, mesh sponges, everything generates waste! Most bath products can be replaced with low waste or zero waste products. If you like soaking in the tub, try Epsom salts and add essential oils to help you relax or become invigorated. Epson salts can be purchased in gable topped cardboard containers or sometimes even in bulk. They are full of magnesium and good for you.
Shampoo can be purchased in bar forms as can conditioner. If build up occurs from these products, apple cider vinegar is an excellent conditioning rinse that makes hair feel soft. Instead of bath gel, try some locally made conditioning soaps or make your own. Disposable razors can be replaced with safety razors, instead of replacing the whole razor, you can just replace the blade, which rusts away to nothing eventually.
Try replacing your plastic sponges with natural products such as loofahs or sea sponges. There are some concerns about bacteria in these natural products, but they can be easily disinfected using hydrogen peroxide, apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil.
Grocery shopping can be a challenge when trying to reduce waste. Aisles are full of extra packaging and buying items without the packaging can be more expensive. It is important though to vote with your dollar.
As summer comes, we will be able to buy much more local food from our farmer’s market and directly from local farmers and makers. This is the very best way to cut down on plastic waste particularly. Most of our local producers will package things in reusable containers or even prefer it if you provide them with a container to fill up. Local food also has a much lower carbon footprint.
Even in the winter you can save on packaging by purchasing from local producers. Almost all local meat comes wrapped in brown paper instead of Styrofoam and plastic. Local eggs usually reuse the same egg cartons over and over and they are usually made of cardboard.
Do it yourself recipes are everywhere and this is a great way to save on packaging. Making your own laundry soap, lotions, bread, condiments can be very easy and simple and can vastly reduce packaging. A good example is growing your own alfalfa or other sprouts. Sprouts always come in a plastic clamshell type container. It is easy to buy sprouting lids that are placed on a mason jar and voila, one less plastic container.
It is important to do the three “R”s in the order they are. First Reduce, second Reuse and thirdly, Recycle.
Many people feel cynical about recycling, concerned that recycling just ends up in the landfill. It makes us feel that the effort may not be worth it.
It is justified to feel cynical especially about plastic recycling as the latest statistics show that Canada recycles just 9 percent of its plastics, with the rest dumped into the landfill and incinerators or thrown away as litter. (source Recycling council of Ontario). This means that no matter how good intentioned we are, we still are very imperfect at recycling plastic.
There are a number of reasons we find that plastic recycling is wasted. First, many people don’t even bother to recycle plastic or find it so soiled that they don’t feel inclined to clean it and just toss it in the bin. What is very disturbing though is that around 25% of plastic that is recycled is dirty and contaminates the rest of the recycled materials, so the effort is entirely wasted. All of this ends up in landfills.
Some plastic, such as pop bottles and milk jugs can be repurposed into the same things that they started as.
As this series continues to be published in the paper, a number of people have provided Wildsight Golden with feedback that what we are advocating cannot be done during a global pandemic. Many of our tools to reduce waste have been taken away under public health guidelines, such as buying bulk and reusing our coffee cups.
It is still important to reduce waste wherever possible, and resist using the cardboard containers that many take-out places are giving out or taking plastic bags at the grocery store.
The number of steps backwards that we have taken during this global pandemic in order to keep everyone safe is saddening. Plastic waste is going to be even more of an issue going forward, especially with the number of disposable items we are using to keep people safe.
We still have choices though. The products that we used prior to the rampage of the Coronavirus are still available. We can still use soap primarily to wash our hands for 20 seconds which is just as effective as hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer may be purchased in bulk or you can make it yourself.
Disinfecting can be done with hydrogen peroxide or a disinfecting bleach solution, with the chemicals purchased in bulk containers, added to a spray bottle, and wiped off with a rag.
Making your coffee or tea at home and carrying it in your to-go cup takes just a few extra minutes. Purchasing it at the restaurant in a “to stay” mug and then transferring yourself into your “to go” mug creates dishes but not waste.
A lot of waste is generated camping and picnicking. Through this series, there have been a lot of “at home” hints, but often when we go outdoors to eat or send our children with lunches and snacks, we generate a lot of waste.
The answers to this lie in advance preparation and good containers. Snack foods such as nuts, cut up vegetables, cookies, and fruit are all good alternatives to the individual packaging provided in store bought granola bars and fruit snacks. These processed items are often higher in sugar and chemicals as well.
Whether camping or going out on a picnic, save some time when you are having fun by preparing your food ahead of time. Another bonus to doing this is that you are more likely to recycle and compost materials prepared at home than you would at a picnic or camping site.
Slice your cheese at home, cut up your vegetables and fruits and prepare your side dishes so all you have to do is add them to whatever you are making.
Beverages that come in refundable containers can often be recycled at sites or you can take them home. A good alternative is to drop them off at the recycle depot in the “Little Mitten’s donation box”.
Many people wear fleece and polyester fabrics that have great wicking potential and keep us warm and dry in our chilly climates. Many of these fabrics are made from recycled plastic. About 16 percent of the plastic produced annually in the world consists of these types of fibres.
As these fabrics are washed, they break down leaving micro fibre plastics which get into our water streams. This is a newly discovered concern that many people don’t know about.
The reason we want to prevent micro fibres from entering our grey water is because they are too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants, so they eventually enter our water streams leading to the world’s oceans. Fish, shellfish, birds, and other marine life ingest this pollution and became sick and die. Autopsies on marine life have shown massive amounts of plastic in their digestive systems and one theory is that they may die of starvation because they feel full from the plastic.
Micro fibres have been found in fish sold in our supermarkets that are consumed by people. However, we are more likely to ingest micro plastics through household dust from textiles than the seafood we consume.