Posted on / by Emily / in Blog

A Zero Waste Guide for Toronto

This is a guest blog from @itsahashtaglife – blogger, social media manager and content creator for non-profits and charities in Toronto. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet. #LetsGetWasteless

Since the 1950s, some 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, and to date, only 9% of that has been recycled.

Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

Skip the intro, take me directly to the guide! or jump to a section:

  1. Don’t start with a jar challenge
  2. Remember the seven pillaRs
  3. Never leave the house unprepared
  4. Locate package-free stores
  5. Borrowing > buying
  6. Find stuff second hand
  7. Community swaps
  8. Repair
  9. Make it yourself
  10. Find alternatives
  11. The art of reuse/repurposing
  12. Zero Waste Toronto support group
  13. Follow zero waste bloggers/instagrammers
  14. Get political

#PlasticFreeJuly 2019 marks the fourth year that I’ve been actively striving to live a low waste lifestyle and avoid plastic like it’s the plague on the planet that it is.

My introduction to the zero waste lifestyle was atypical compared to many people’s journeys – I usually say that I entered low waste living through a back door. While most seem to wake up to the enormity of the waste problem upon seeing dead sea birds full of plastic bits their mothers accidentally fed them, or washed up whales with stomachs stuffed with plastic bags, or the many and ongoing reports of microplastics in everything from fish to rainwater to…yup, even human poop, my entry point was via the problems with the system of consumption itself, of which single-use plastics are but one amongst many symptoms.

As one of the original team members behind the first tool lending library in Toronto, my primary fixation point was on the absurd notion that in our culture, it’s perfectly acceptable (encouraged, even) for every household to have a power drill sitting in a basement, garage or closet – even though the average drill is used for just 13 minutes in its useable lifespan (when tools sit idle, they depreciate). When you factor in all the rare earth metals and resources that make up a drill, the pollution released into the air from creating and shipping that drill and the impact of its end-of-life on the planet, the idea of “a drill for every household” begins to appear as wasteful as it actually is.

Hence taking the same system we’re already so familiar with for books and applying it to tools. Most people do not need access to such items all the time; they only need the use of them occasionally, so why not put them in a community hub and borrow them instead? We soon expanded this line of thinking to camping gear, board games, children’s toys, party supplies and sports equipment through The Sharing Depot.

At the time we were launching these projects, we all lived together in a communal house, sharing all the things (#PracticeWhatYouPreach). It was a beautiful experience and the community atmosphere we fostered at home fed directly into the vibe of these lending libraries we were investing all our time and energy into. But one day when I was in the kitchen, I noticed something horrible: there hanging by the door were several large plastic bags filled with many other smaller plastic bags. While most of us were using tote bags to carry our groceries home in, we were not doing anything to avoid the flimsy plastic veggie bags. So into these monstrous bags of bags they would get stuffed, continuously expanding with each grocery trip.

I decided right then and there that enough was enough. I couldn’t possibly talk about the problems with our consumer society and not make some effort to curb my reliance on single-use plastic (#PracticeWhatYouPreach). So I put together a Zero Waste Kit – my first step towards fending off disposable demons – and went from there. Soon after, I released a post called A Zero Waste Guide for Toronto to share the things that were working for me in my little war on waste.

Why am I telling you all this? Well because it’s #PlasticFreeJuly and I’ve updated my initial guide to include more useful tips and tools for those of you interested in waging your own war on waste. #LetsGetWasteless Toronto!

Zero Waste Guide for Toronto

1) Don’t Start With a Jar Challenge 

The zero waste movement became visible to the mainstream a few years ago when small mason jars filled with trash began to surface on the internet. But not just any trash – each jar represented a year’s worth of waste created by the innovators and early adopters of the zero waste movement. Several flashy stories about bloggers who were taking the ‘jar challenge’ went viral – they would only make enough trash to fill a single mason jar over the course of a year (Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers can now boast TWO years of trash in a single jar). I considered starting my zero waste journey like this, but began having panic attacks and feared I would fill the jar only with tears of failure if I started here. And as it turns out, there are some pretty solid reasons that the jar challenge is bullsh*t anyway.

After spending a lot of time online and monitoring the conversations around waste, it seems the major barrier for most people in beginning a zero waste journey is the sense that it will be too difficult. People become overwhelmed at the enormity of the problem and give up before they start.

If this is how you feel, my advice is to find a place from which to launch and take baby steps. I started with a Zero Waste Kit and this felt manageable for me. If that still feels like too much for you, maybe just pick a couple of things and go from there: challenge yourself to stop using disposable coffee cups and water bottles, for instance, by carrying reusable alternatives for those two items.

The Zero Waste Movement began to gain widespread visibility several years ago when bloggers such as Lauren Singer (Trash is For Tossers) went viral for being able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a single jar.

2) Remember the Seven PillaRs

Every movement needs a set of guidelines. For far too long our culture has leaned too heavily on the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” with the emphasis on the latter R (which, as many are now becoming aware, is not as environmentally friendly as we’ve been led to believe).

We can reinvent that system of Rs to put an emphasis on reducing and reusing, reorienting our notions of waste management towards a circular economy:

The seven pillaRs of a low waste lifestyle:

  • Refuse what you do not need.
  • Reduce what you do need.
  • Reuse everything you can.
  • Recirculate items within your community.
  • Repurpose old materials into something new.
  • Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recirculate or Repurpose.
  • Rot the rest.

3) Never Leave the House Unprepared

In the beginning, I found a lot of my slip ups happened because I was not prepared – I would forget my reusable bag, my glass jars, my coffee cup. That’s when it dawned on me that if I had a system of resusable items I carried with me all the time, that would eliminate the mental labour involved with remembering what I needed to bring. I put together a Zero Waste Kit – now I never leave the house without it, it’s become so much a part of my natural routine. If I’m heading to a bulk store, I also bring my extra cloth bags and jars.

In my Zero Waste Kit:

4) Locate Your Package-Free Stores

Look for package-free and bulk stores where you can find what you need without plastic packaging. Not sure where to start? When in doubt, check out Bea Johnson’s Bulk Store Locator App where you can search for package-free shops near you as well as add stores to the app yourself. This app is particularly useful because it allows users to note what is available at each store listed.

Here are a few of my favourite spots to fill my jars and cloth bulk bags and find package-free products in Toronto:

  • Bare Market, the package-free shop that has been hosting pop-up shops throughout the city for the last year, has just secured its first permanent location. This will be a one-stop package-free shop where you’ll find a range of plastic-free products such as cosmetics, soaps, cleaning supplies, beeswax wraps, stainless steel containers, cutlery sets, food items and so much more!
  • Unboxed Market is another one-stop package-free shop from a couple who have first-hand experience with how wasteful the food industry can be. After years of owning a restaurant, the pair launched their Unboxed Market as a solution where you can find a variety of food items and other package-free products.
  • Eco + Amour – a sustainable living boutique that carries a range of package- and plastic-free products
  • Green & Frugal – natural, handmade personal care products with locally sourced ingredients, housewares and bulk DIY ingredients (bring your own container!)
  • Pretty Clean Shop – offers alternatives to single use plastic items and a selection of all Canadian products for household and personal care in sustainable packaging. Many of them are available in bulk and refills, including Green and Frugal’s beauty line. You can find bulk shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower gel, baby bubble bath, sunscreen, deodorant, all purpose cleaner, floor cleaner, laundry detergent, dish and hand soap, toilet cleaner tablets, dish washer tablets, bath soaks, and a whole bunch of raw/DIY ingredients like salts, clays, carrier oils, butters, essential oils for refill from Anarres.
  • Karma Coop Toronto – a non-profit food co-operative owned and operated by its members. You can bring your own containers here! Package-free castile, laundry and dishwashing soap, refills on detergents, shampoos and conditioners, unpackaged soaps and candles, bulk spices, grains, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and even eggs!
  •  Anarres Natural Health – uses glass & metal packaging for natural toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, shaving cream, room deodorizer sprays, moisturizers, body wash/scrub, cosmetics, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. They offer a container return program so that you can put your used containers back into circulation. Anarres also carries a number of reusable products: cloth face masks, stainless steel straws, sporks/travel cutlery, food storage containers, menstrual cups/pads and nursing bra liners. You will also find petrochemical free items: dish washing brushes, water filters, bamboo toothbrushes and naked beeswax tealight candles. And, very importantly, they reuse packaging from suppliers when shipping.
  • Binz – a kitchen supply store in Bloor West Village. It has everything from reusable containers to portable coffee cups to this awesome Redecker brush with replaceable heads. If you are looking for products to replace disposable items in your home, you will find them here.
  • Nuthouse – a bulk food store located in Bloor West Village that carries quality bulk dried goods, coffee, oils, candy, etc and allows you to bring your own container.
  •  Saponetti Inc – Toronto’s first and only soap refill delivery service! They offer premium, Canadian-made, environmentally friendly, soaps and detergents for home and personal care. Saponetti Inc bulk-buys all their products and delivers them to you in reusable glass mason jars. Alternatively, we have Saponetti Soap refill stations at both our 192 Spadina and 830 St Clair West locations. Now you can borrow stuff and get package-free soap at the same time!
  • Sweet Potato Toronto – a natural and local food service located in the Junction that offers fresh, local, organic food. They also sell skincare and cleaning products that are petrochemical free, biodegradable and without synthetic dyes/fragrances.
  • Strictly Bulk – an awesome local bulk food store whose motto is “because you don’t eat packaging.” Cheers to that. They also let you bring in and tare your own containers.
  • Urban Bulk & Refill – In addition to carrying bulk foods, the store is also dedicated to providing a wide selection of refills for soaps, household cleaners and personal care products.
  • Bulk Barn – launched a reusable container program last year – so now you can bring in your own containers and cloth bags to Canada’s most prolific bulk food store chain.
  • Greg’s Ice Cream – will fill reusable containers, by the litre or half-litre (bring a scoop/spoon to do the packing and note it’s cash only)
  • Ed’s Real Scoop – will accept containers
  • Fiesta Farms – has a great cheese deli counter and they will let you bring your own containers. They will tare for you but not all staff are trained. They also have grated cheeses (reggiano, parmigiana) and cream cheese.
  • Hooked Fish Market – can bring your own containers
  • De La Mer Fish Market – can bring your own containers
  • Ella’s Meat Market – can bring your own containers
Saponetti is Toronto’s first refillable soap delivery service. They will bring you soap in jars and take your empties. They also have a storefront and refill stations at both our 192 Spadina ave and 830 St Clair W locations.

Help bring the _________________ Reduces to your neighbourhood!

Several initiatives around the city are helping people reduce their reliance on single-use plastics by encouraging both consumers and businesses to practice waste reduction together. Participating businesses are invited to display a sticker on their door that tells customers they accept reusable containers/cups/mugs, etc and in exchange, those businesses get promoted on the reduces social media pages. You can read more about this amazing grassroots, community initiative online here.

Here are the active programs so far:

“This is such a fabulous initiative and we are thrilled it’s spreading to neighbourhoods across the city.”

Adrianna Couto, co-ordinator of Beaches Reduces

5) Borrowing > Buying

“We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses. … But between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.”

– Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, lead author of this study

Probably one of the best things you can do to cut back your waste is refuse to buy things at all. People are finally becoming aware of the negative impacts of mass consumption on the planet and are looking for alternatives in how they access goods. Thanks to apps like Peerby and stuff lending libraries such as Toronto’s Tool Library and The Sharing Depot, consumers can now choose to opt out of consumption altogether.

Before you venture out to purchase something, consider alternatives to buying. Ask yourself, first of all, if you need to own the item at all. Is it something you are only going to use occasionally? For instance, The Sharing Depot carries all the camping gear you could ever need, party supplies like folding chairs, projectors, record payers, popcorn machines, etc. along with board games, children’s toys and sporting equipment. I’ve been using the Sharing Depot to borrow toys for my daughter on a weekly basis since it opened last summer and it has been GREAT. It has become our routine to visit the toy section every Wednesday night, and every Wednesday night my daughter happily returns the toys she took out previously in exchange to borrow something else.

QUICK LIST: places in Toronto to #BorrowDontBuy

The Toronto Tool Library & Sharing Depot allows you to borrow tools, camping gear, board games, children’s toys, party supplies and more – just like a book library, but for stuff!

6) Find it Second Hand

Consumers must recognize that the most sustainable item is the one that already exists.

2018 State of Reuse Report

If consuming new products individually is destroying the planet, what’s a lover of beautiful and shiny things to do?

Fortunately, Toronto is the Bunz capital of Canada and on this fabulous trading app, you can swap for what you need. You can either make a call out on the app for what you’re looking for OR use the convenient search bar to search for a specific item.

Toronto also has Freecycle whose mission it is to cut back on waste while building and strengthening a community of people who share. On Freecycle, there’s no need to swap for an item – you just pick it up from the designated location.

Another Toronto gem is the Really, Really Free Market. Although you can’t necessarily be specific about what you’re going to find there, it’s worth checking out because, while you may not get what you want, you just might find what you need.

And of course, there are many amazing thrift and consignment stores available in this city, such as  Common Sort.

QUICK LIST: where to swap, trade & find things second hand in Toronto

7) Organize a Community Swap

Rather than purchasing things new, why not host a community swap to recirculate the stuff that already exists in your community? The more people who attend the swap, the better the selection will be and the easier it becomes for people to find what they need.

It is best to partner with a local community organization or hub that can provide space and help spread the word about the swap. For example, we ran a successful Kids Stuff Swap at Withrow Park Farmers’ Market last summer. We also host an annual spring swap and a Holiday Gift Swap – what has become our most popular swapping event – in December so people can swap like-new items to give as gifts.

To get notified about upcoming swaps, sign up for our monthly community newsletter.

Swaps are a great way to recirculate items within a community, keeping stuff from going to landfill while helping people find what they need without buying new.

8) Get Broken Items Repaired

This is an important one. While Toronto is not quite as far ahead in the Repair Movement as say somewhere like Sweden – where they have implemented tax breaks for repairing broken things and a full blown repair/reuse mall – we do have an incredible Repair Café. When something breaks – whether it be clothing, books, electronics, appliances, bicycles, etc. – you can bring it to Repair Café Toronto where their skilled volunteers will do everything in their power to heal your broken treasures (there’s even a mini-documentary about them). We host weekly repair events with them at our 830 St Clair West location from 12-4pm every Sunday.

Repairing things rather than replacing them with new ones is a huge step towards putting less trash in our landfills, leach chemicals into the ground and waterways (e-waste alone represents 70% of toxic waste in landfills).

QUICK LIST: places to get things repaired in Toronto

Repair Café Toronto hosts weekly repair events with them at our 830 St Clair West location from 12-4pm every Sunday.

9) Make It Yourself

Making your own laundry soaps/detergents, cosmetics, shampoos/conditioners, cleaning supplies, candles, perfumes, etc. is a fantastic way to cut back on wasteful, unnecessary packaging and harmful chemicals. Following zero waste bloggers/instagrammers (see #13 on this list) is helpful in locating instructions for how to make all kinds of things. @yourecofriend on Instagram, for example, runs DIY workshops through the Toronto Public Library. Check out her instructions for a DIY citrus cleaner.

Anarres Natural Health also offers workshops and classes on how to make all these things and conveniently sells reusable containers and all the DIY ingredients you will need to make them (butters, oils, clays, herbs, hydrosols, etc.).

10) Find Alternatives

Find alternatives to everyday products that, while you might not be thinking about it, actually cause a lot of waste. Whenever you come across a single-use item or an item that is wrapped in plastic, search around for an alternative (but DON’T replace things in your home just because they are plastic. Going around replacing perfectly good items with the more “sustainable” alternative will lead to unnecessary waste. Only replace products once they are worn out).

Here’s a few to get you thinking:

  • Tape: consider using Washi, Japanese tape which is compostable
  • Toilet Paper: there’s a number of alternatives to toilet paper. Some zero waste bloggers are advocating for the bidet, which eliminates the need for toilet paper altogether. Other options include individually wrapped rolls of Caboo (bamboo toilet paper found at Karma Coop and Nuthouse, mentioned in the list of zero waste stores above) and Sustainable Earth Toilet Paper which can be ordered from Staples in bulk.
  • Toothbrush: a bamboo toothbrush can replace the standard plastic ones, which can be found at Anarres Natural Health or Bare Market.
  • Toothpaste: find toothpaste in glass jars at Bare Market and find toothpaste in bulk at Saponetti’s storefront location.
  • Menstrual Products: every body is different, which is why we’re so lucky that there are many different types of reusable menstrual cups so we can skip the wasteful pads and tampons. You can also look into Period Panties.
  • Straws: it’s just one straw, said 8 billion people. Straws are a big waste problem. Consider getting a stainless steel straw instead, which you can find online or from places like Anarres Natural Health in Toronto.
  • Wrap: swap out plastic wrap and ziplock bags for beeswax wrap! You’ll find instructions on how to make them yourself here and here. You can use upcycled fabrics and leftover beeswax drippings from beeswax candles. Not up for the DIY challenge? Toronto’s Bare Market has them and etee wraps are made in Toronto.
  • Soap: switch to bars of handmade local soaps and shampoo/condition bars

It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about all the things in our lives that create waste. I recommend writing them down as you think of them and selecting one a week or even just one a month to find a wasteless alternative for.

11) The Art Of Reuse/Repurposing

Consider giving things you would normally toss a new life by upcycling them. For instance, @myzerowastelifeintoronto made a spray bottle for her homemade vinegar scrap cleaner with an old perrier bottle and spray nozzle she picked up via Freecycle. Here are some others to help you put your upcycle cap on:

The internet will, of course, be your best friend in this endeavour. Upcycling is endlessly creative and saves perfectly good resources from ending up in landfills.

QUICK LIST: places where you can learn to make your own upcycled things or purchase things that have been made with upcycled materials  

Creative Reuse Toronto takes materials that already exist and teaches people the skills needed to transform them into something new.

12) Join the Zero Waste Toronto Support Group on Facebook

There’s nothing quite like having community support when navigating the sometimes complicated and tricky zero waste lifestyle. Maybe you want advice about which menstrual cup is best for you or which bidet you should go with (my sources tell me this one and this one are pretty good). Maybe you want to learn more about package-free/sustainable cosmetics or need to trouble shoot difficult-to-find package free products like tofu.

Enter Zero Waste Toronto, the Facebook group extraordinaire for people interested in pursuing the zero waste lifestyle in this city.

You will find some handy resources in the files section of this page, as well as in the recommendations section.

13) Follow Zero Waste Bloggers/Instagrammers

Follow the journey of those who have already been there and are doing it. There are some great Zero Waste blogs and resources out there, such as Trash Is For Tossers, My Plastic Free Life, Going Zero Waste, Zero Waste Home and Litterless. If you’ve got a question about something or are stuck finding a zero waste solution to a product you need, it’s likely these folks have already taken it on. It may also be handy to follow along with Toronto-based zero wasters on Instagram:

Zero Waste Shops to follow:

Go above and beyond following, join the chorus! Start posting about your own zero waste endeavours to inspire others to jump on the zero waste train. The more passengers, the more effective we will become at pressuring big manufacturers, corporations and government to change their minds about the throwaway culture we are currently filling our garbage cans (and our planet) with.

14) Get Political

Individual acts to reduce waste will never be enough to fully resolve the waste crisis – it needs to be cut off at the source via bans and regulations at the Government level. That being said, individuals can cause a culture shift through their actions and put pressure on Governments to force the changes to our waste system that we need.

In June this year the Canadian Government announced plans to ban single-use plastics and hold companies accountable for their waste. This announcement comes after months of consultations with the public and pressure from environmental groups. There’s no question that the public’s rising awareness and demand for action on plastics is having a significant impact on the government response (it helped that China shut its doors to 96% of western waste imports and now much of our recycling has no where to go).

Keep the pressure on by following along with groups and organizations that are actively engaged at the political level. This is a critical time – even as we push for change, lobbyists from big businesses whose bottom line is directly impacted by bans and regulations are already pushing back (which is exactly what happened when a Right to Repair Bill was introduced in Ontario).

Stay on top of what actions you can take to make sure Governments side with the people over corporate profits, follow these organizations:

  1. Toronto Environmental Alliance
  2. Environmental Defence Canada
  3. Greenpeace Canada
  4. Open Media

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