By Kate Reekie
With governments and businesses around the world finally getting serious about climate change and setting ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, the focus now turns to making sure these commitments are met. To date, the focus has primarily been on renewable energy and energy efficiency as the main ways to meet climate goals. But while the energy sector accounts for about 55 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, the other 45 per cent comes from how we make and use products and how we produce food.
That means that our consumption patterns are critically important, not just in reducing pollution and the resulting stress on land and water ecosystems but also in fighting climate change. While a low percentage of Ottawa’s emissions come from the waste we generate – about eight per cent – this does not count the huge emissions generated in the rest of the product value chain, including emissions from the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, packaging and transportation.
Though it’s better than sending trash to landfill, recycling isn’t a panacea. It entails significant emissions, so it is only a partial solution and should be avoided as much as possible. Packaging accounts for a significant proportion of our waste and recycling. While governments begin to regulate producer responsibility for packaging, and businesses innovate new packaging solutions and circular business models, citizens have an important role to play in reducing the amount of new stuff we consume and the amount of waste and recycling we produce as a result.
Are you up for a challenge?
The Glebe Community Association’s Zero-Waste Committee is launching a challenge to Glebe households to halve your waste and recycling footprint by the end of August. It’s time to really get serious about changing our ways. If you typically put out full garbage and recycling bins at every pick-up date, why not set a goal of putting them out every second time only? This can be done relatively painlessly once new habits are formed and a growing number of Glebe residents are already adopting these practices, based on the simple Reduce-Reuse-Recycle waste hierarchy, prioritizing Reduce and Reuse.
Reducing your packaging waste
Opportunities to reduce your waste footprint are expanding. A tip as you begin your journey: don’t be dismayed if you can’t do it all. Start with what’s easiest for you. Do more as it begins to become second nature.
One of the highest-value actions to reduce packaging waste is to purchase food, personal care and cleaning supplies in bulk and not using plastic bags. Save your jars and containers and bring them to the Nu zero-waste grocery store on Main Street for refilling. Bulk Barn at Billings Bridge has just announced that it is reinstating its reusable container program, so you can bring in clean containers for refilling there as well. Unpackaged options for fresh produce are now available at most major grocery stores. Shopping at the Lansdowne Farmers’ Market or through community-shared agriculture (CSA) programs will also ensure less excess packaging. Don’t throw out empty liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, laundry or dish detergent bottles – bring them in to All Eco on Bank at Fifth for refilling.
Takeout meals and beverages are another big source of waste, which largely goes straight to landfill. Most Glebe restaurants offering takeout allow you to bring in your own containers when picking up your order, if you call ahead and ask them not to package it (and don’t use third-party delivery services). While some coffee shops have stopped allowing customers to bring in reusable mugs during COVID, Café Morala and the Wild Oat are two that still offer this option. And single-use drink containers – both cans and bottles – merit self-reflection: Do I really need that soda, juice, energy drink or bottled water? Ottawa’s tap water is top-notch, free and the best option for your health. Consider getting a SodaStream to easily turn tap water into sparkling water – available at Capital Home Hardware on Bank at Second.
Finally, e-commerce has skyrocketed over the past year because of the pandemic. The packaging waste, like cardboard boxes and fillers and the emissions generated by home delivery are clearly unsustainable. While ordering online is difficult to avoid completely, buying from Glebe vendors and opting for curbside pickup instead of delivery can help mitigate this waste.
Tell us about your progress!
We want to hear from you on your journey towards reduced waste and recycling. What are some of the practices that work well and what are some of the more challenging aspects? We may profile your story in a future edition of our regular “Kudos” column. Also, if you are interested in joining a zero-waste community to exchange tips and tricks, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com. By consciously changing our personal consumption behaviours, we can all do our part in reducing pollution and addressing climate change.
Kate Reekie is chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Zero-Waste Committee.
for reducing your waste footprint
In addition to reducing packaging waste, there are many ways to give new lives to old items, and that is always preferable to recycling, given the energy, waste and pollution involved in the recycling process. One person’s trash is another’s treasure!
Plant nursery pots: Ritchie’s Feed & Seed accepts these for customers wanting free pots for transplanting. Or find a local gardener who will use them by advertising them on the popular Buy Nothing the Glebe Facebook group.
Boxes: Before you discard your large cardboard boxes and fillers, consider offering them to someone who may be moving. Reach out through the Buy Nothing group. Smaller boxes can be decorated and are great for kids to store their treasures!
Furniture and household goods: Helping with Furniture is a local non-profit organization that will take furniture, household goods, electronics and bikes in good repair for families in need. Selling furniture on Kijiji or Marketplace allows creative buyers to upcycle older pieces and give them a new life.
Building materials, fixtures and appliances: The Re-Store accepts donations to be resold, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity.
Computers and related equipment: CompuCorps have a zero-landfill policy. They fix and redistribute donated computers for the underprivileged and at-risk youth. If computers are not fixable, they will send them to responsible recyclers. Secure data sanitization is performed.
Tools: The Ottawa Tool Library accepts donations of tools of all sorts to lend out to others. This is a great way to maximize the utility of underused tools in your basement or garage. It is also a useful service to avoid buying tools for occasional use only.
Clothing: Dress for Success takes donations of clean, gently used suits and business attire to empower their women and gender non-conforming clients who are preparing for job interviews. Most lower quality clothes donated to the large used clothing stores unfortunately end up in Africa where they are not wanted. The best solution is to buy far fewer clothes and select better quality items that will last.
Textiles: Eco-Equitable is a social enterprise that accepts donations of clean, unsewn, good quality fabrics of over one meter to help newcomer women gain job skills in sewing.
Wire hangers: Glebe Tailoring or any dry-cleaning store will take back wire clothes hangers or, better yet, leave them behind at the store (along with the plastic wrap) when you pick up your clothes.
Prescription pill bottles, egg cartons and 4-litre milk bags: Earthub collects these items at drop-off locations across the city, including a new one in the Glebe! Pill bottles are reused for medical missions abroad, egg cartons are reused by food banks and farmers, and milk bags are made into mattresses for homeless veterans.
As a last resort for items that are recyclable but not accepted in Ottawa’s blue/black box program, here are some ideas to stop these items from ending up in our landfill
Batteries: The Glebe Community Centre, when it is open, collects batteries of all types for recycling.
Electronics cables, printer ink cartridges and toner, old pens and markers: Staples recycles all of these.
Plastic bags: McKeen Metro collects certain plastic bags for recycling at the Novolex recycling centre in Vernon, Indiana, where they are converted into pellets and then recycled into new bags.
Wine bottles and beer cans: Bottleworks is a social enterprise that holds a monthly drive for empties in the Glebe in support of Operation Come Home. Bottles and cans can be returned to the Beer Store for a deposit return – they are recycled into new bottles and fiberglass and new aluminum products, respectively.
Personal care and cosmetics packaging: These difficult-to-recycle items can be brought to a box at Terra 20 on Wellington, whose partnership with TerraCycle allows these items to be made into park benches and outdoor play structures. Their Pinecrest location also collects razors and blades separately.
Styrofoam: Although not accepted for recycling in Ottawa, expanded polystyrene (from electronics packaging, takeout containers, egg containers and single-use plates and cups) are accepted at Gatineau’s EcoCentre in clear plastic bags. Collected material is repurposed into blown insulation and furniture. Proof of Gatineau residence is required so ask friends living there to help.
One of the best ways to reduce packaging is to buy your food, shampoo and cleaning supplies in bulk and store them in jars and containers.