How Sustainable Goals can be More Than Reducing Plastic Waste – Adapting to a Lifestyle Forced by a Pandemic

More than any other time, the beginning of the year feels like a good chance to start fresh, plan new ideas, dream big, and make new goals for the year ahead. Through the past year, Covid forced many eco-minded folx to rethink the best way of reducing waste, and make waste free purchases that were also Covid-friendly. This looked different for everyone depending on where you live and what is available to you in your community. In general, it made using any kind of reusable container more difficult, the ability to use reusable beverage containers and make bulk food purchases for example. Online purchases also became more convenient and a safer shopping option than ever before.

Maybe one of the most wasteful years yet, 2020 yielded plastic waste increasing everywhere, some of it unavoidable. But, there are still many ways to reduce waste on an individual level with the choices we make that can help in the big picture of waste reduction. You might even refer to the saying, many hands make light work. In this case, many small actions make a big change

11 Small Changes for a Greener 2021

For the most part, our lifestyles have changed in the last year to accommodate social distancing and safe practices for everyone. More time is spent at home and indoors, food is ordered more through takeout instead of restaurant dining, and learning or working online has taken place. This means more time at home with lights on, heat turned up, electricity running, facets going, and more take out containers. There are many goals you could set for yourself to reduce your waste in 2021, based on the change in lifestyle from the past year.  

Below are eleven home-based goals to help your 2021 be more sustainable. If you are anything like me in trying to live a low waste lifestyle, much of your waste reduction has probably been centered around plastic waste. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that although plastic waste is a HUGE concern, there are so many other ways to have a more sustainable lifestyle.

Turning Down the Heat

Help climate change by turning down your thermostat by just 2 degrees! Every degree lowered during the winter not only lowers your energy bill, but it helps your cold appliances like the fridge or freezer not work as hard. Lower interior temperatures also slows the speed at which the house cools off as the walls, floor, and furniture all hold the heat of the house.

Using Less Water

Turn off running facets and flush less to save on water. Running your tap for one minute generates on average between 4-8 litres of water, about the same as a water saving toilet. Try to be more conscious about running the facets without using the water. 

Ordering Takeout Sustainably

Say no to styrofoam and non-recyclable takeout containers and support eco friendly businesses. This takes a little more research to find out what kind of packaging a business uses, but the best way to figure this out is to phone and ask or order and find out. I love ordering from local businesses that use compostable and recyclable containers for takeout food, as local smaller businesses are the ones needing more support anyways. Another way to cut down on waste is to write notes in your order, instructing to skip the plastic cutlery, wooden chopsticks, plastic bags, or straws. 

Turn off the Lights

Let daylight do its thing and turn your lights off during the day, just like you would if you weren’t home. In the evening, turn the lights off, use candles, and use LED lighting when you can to save energy. If lights are turned off every time you leave a room, greenhouse gas emissions would reduce by 0.15 lbs per hour. This doesn’t seem like a big amount, but if every household in Canada turned off their lights for one extra hour, it would reduce more than 2 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. This equates to taking 208 cars off the road for an entire year. Now imagine if each household turned off their lights for an extra hour each day of the year.  

Support Local More Often

Instead of solely ordering from large companies like Amazon, try supporting small local businesses. These businesses may even offer delivery within your community, curbside pick up, or mailed deliveries. Think breweries, coffee shops, bakers, local farms, and florists! They are also much more receptive to making packaging changes such as skipping the plastic bag upon request.

Shop Second Hand

Everyone has a list of weird online Covid purchases! Marketplace, Kijiji, Poshmark and buying from other secondhand shops is another way to reduce waste and the need for new product production. New and like-new items are sometimes listed on these sites as well. For example, I was able to snag a brand new coffee grinder off of Facebook Marketplace just before Christmas. Someone had purchased it and changed their mind. Even if the item needed to be shipped, because it is used and is an item already in circulation, it is still better than buying brand new from a large company. 

Reusable Mugs

Sometimes drinks at home just don’t cut it. If this is true for you, try to find cafes that still allow reusable mugs. In my experience, local cafes are much more willing to accommodate this request and will pour a beverage directly into your reusable cup while you hold it. No item transmission at all. Rossos, a coffee roaster in Calgary, has been my go to place for hot beverages. All I do is go into the cafe and ask for my beverage in my own mug, I receive a discount, and they pour my chai latte right into my mug. What’s not to love about that system? Sometimes, while asking if a place is willing to accommodate, it is helpful to explain why you are asking. 

Find a Refillery

Refilleries are places that offer purchases of raw ingredients in reusable containers. Before Covid, the bulk barn was a common example of a place that offered bulk purchases in your own containers. However, now, they no longer allow it. In Calgary, The Apothecary is where I go for all of my cleaning supplies, soaps, and some bulk baking ingredients. They offer a service where you can either go in store, use your own clean containers, they sanitize and fill them for you, OR you can order curbside/mobile refillery and pay deposit fees on jars from their shop. Once you return the jars, you get the deposit back into your online account. It is a closed loop, zero waste system. Depending on where you live, this kind of service may not be available, however, local coffee shops often sell coffee beans and grounds. Asking if they will allow you to refill a clean container or used coffee bag from their shop is always worth a shot!

Try more DIY Projects

If you have more time on your hands these days, why not try to make products like lip balms and hand creams yourself. Start with simple recipes and a few ingredients that are natural and easy to combine. Even if the purchased ingredients come packaged in a bag, in the long run, the products made from those materials would be low waste, reducing individual plastic tubes and containers from pre-made products. This lip balm recipe has become my new favourite.

Ditch Pre-Packaged Fruits and Vegetables

Although convenient for you, plastic wrapped vegetables is not so kind to the Earth. While shopping at the grocery store, there is nothing wrong with keeping your produce o-natural in your cart, even during Covid. All of this food will be washed when you arrive home from the grocery store anyways. Switch out the pre-packaged peppers for loose ones, or bags of apples for individual apples, plastic free cucumbers, and bunches of herbs and greens over the ones in plastic cases.

Become a Better Recycler

Recycling seems as though it would be an easy feat, but so many of the items you may throw into the recycling may never actually get recycled. This is due to many factors, including wish-cycling and improperly disposing of recyclables. Wish-cycling is the act of throwing something into the recycling while not know if it is recyclable or not and “wishing” for the best. However, this can cause issues if these items are not recyclable, for example, contaminating entire batches of recycling which then ALL diverts to landfill. When in doubt, throw it out… or research the product and find out for yourself. Secondly, make sure to try doing the following tasks to ensure your recyclables have great success in being turned into other objects:

  • Bag all stretchy plastic bags together and tie the top (otherwise these bags are too light in weight and float)
  • Make sure your containers are clean and dry
  • Remove lids from containers such as sauce bottles (items with different materials and grades of plastic get sorted separately and may be swept off the line if still attached)
  • Wet things contaminate recycling! Keep your cardboard and paper recycling in a dry location
  • Crumple aluminium foil pieces into a ball, once it is bigger than your fist it can be recycled!
  • Anything smaller than the palm of your hand = not recyclable
  • Do your research about your local recycling facilities to find out what is and isn’t accepted

Low waste living is for everyone, and each person has a responsibility to limit their waste where they can. What will you change about your lifestyle in 2021 to make the world a little less wasteful? Turn off your lights more often? Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth? Switch to plastic free veggies? Perhaps even complete your own at home waste assessment (see my post on waste audits)! You could also come up with a different goal of your own that isn’t mentioned here… think composting, house cleaning, using natural products, eating more vegetables, trying meatless Monday’s, and more!

Whatever you choose to focus on, remember that every small action contributes to the bigger picture of reducing waste globally. There’s no better time to start your journey than right now.

Here’s to a less wasteful 2021, a more sustainable you, and a happier Earth!

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