Each Quebecer produces on average 750 kg of waste per year, which represents a total of six million tons each year for the entire province. Most of the waste is stacked in landfills outside cities. These sites consist of hills of garbage and have serious consequences for the environment. In addition to the disturbing odors for nearby residents, garbage degradation emits gases that contaminate air and water. Some of this waste could be reused, recycled, or composted. Fortunately, there are simple ways to reduce garbage production and turn, step by step, to zero waste.
1) Buy in bulk
The first step to adopt a waste-free routine is to buy bulk groceries rather than packaged goods. More and more stores allow consumers to bring their own containers or sell containers that you can bring each time you go shopping. Many types of food can be perfectly preserved in jars and do not require the use of plastic packaging, such as dried fruits, rice, cereals, etc.
A quarter of our waste consists of organic matter. This represents about 200 kg per year for each Quebecer. When this waste is thrown away, it is incinerated or stacked with the rest of the garbage. Compost is a rich and fertile material for plants and is therefore futilely wasted. If you have a garden or balcony, it is very easy to install a compost bin. You can then use the compost for your plants. In cities, more and more districts offer organic waste collect. In Montreal for example, more than 410,000 accommodations have access to this service. The compost is then used for gardens or redistributed to Montrealers each fall.
3) Avoid straws and plastic cutlery
Every day, more than 500 million straws are thrown away, only in the United States. Plastic cutlery and straws are very thin and pass through sorting lines and are, therefore, not recycled. They are often swept away by wind or streams and end up in the ocean. Straws are among the top five most common types of garbage found on beaches. In addition, plastic straws and cutlery are made of a material that is extremely harmful to marine animals. More and more restaurants or cities around the world have banned the use of plastic straws or have been replaced them by biodegradable or reusable metal straws.
4) Opt-out from advertising mails
We receive advertising material every day in our mailbox. However, the majority of these flyers are directly thrown away, before even being read. It’s easy to place a “no adverts” note on your mailbox and sign up for online flyers if you’re interested. If you continue to receive them despite your note, you can contact Canada PostTM.
5) Always carry a reusable bag
It takes about a hundred years for a plastic bag to degrade. In 30 years, if nothing is done, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Being very light, plastic bags are often blown away and land in the sea. As well as polluting, many marine species, such as turtles, swallow these bags, thinking that they are jellyfish. Various cities and countries have banned non-reusable plastic bags. Many people are now used to bringing their reusable bags to the grocery store. However, other shops still have far too many plastic bags. Bringing a reusable fabric bags everywhere is a simple habit to add to your zero-waste routine.
6) Drinking tap water
Every day, one million plastic bottles are bought in the world. A bottle takes about 400 years to degrade. They are made of PET, which is a recyclable material. However, PET is a very cheap plastic to fabricate, which makes the recycling industry unprofitable. Therefore, most beverage manufacturers prefer fabricating bottles rather than recycling them. In Quebec, tap water is subject to very strict quality standards and is drinkable throughout the province. It is very easy to limit production of waste by consuming tap water and having a reusable bottle, rather than using bottled mineral water. There are also water fountains everywhere in Quebec where you can refill your bottle.
7) Buy local
Buying local and seasonal products is a simple way to reduce waste. In fact, local food requires less processing and packaging. In addition to contributing to zero waste, eating local products is also healthier: fresher ingredients, harvested when they are ripe and with less preservatives. It also supports the local economy. Three times more reasons to eat locally!
8) Use cloth wipes
Disposable wipes, whether they are used for disinfecting, removing makeup or dusting, are not recyclable. A Quebec household consumes an average of 23 kg of wet wipes per year. In addition to being non-recyclable, these wipes are often soaked with products that are harmful for the environment. Moreover, they are often thrown in the toilet, which causes drain problems. Using washable and reusable wipes is a simple habit to help protect the environment.
9) Recycle and buy second-hand
As well as sorting plastic, glass and cardboard, many items can be recycled and have a second life. For example, clothes that are no longer used can be donated to second-hand shops or to homeless shelters, rather than being thrown away. Buying in these thrift shops rather than buying new is also a way to encourage the reduction of waste. The same applies to furniture, electronics, decorative objects, etc.
10) Use an insulated bottle
Just as plastic bags and straws, disposable cups represent a large part of our non-recycled waste. Each Quebecer consumes an average of 250 cups a year. These cardboard cups have a plastic coating that makes them waterproof. They are not recyclable in Quebec. Bringing your own cup or insulated bottle to cafés is a simple solution to move toward a zero-waste world. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, are proposing to tax these cups, similarly to what was previously done for plastic bags, hoping that it would push consumers to bring their own containers. Some cafés in Quebec offer a discount on drinks when you bring your own bottle.
Reducing waste is an everyday challenge. Adopting simple habits could considerably reduce our waste production and thus help protect our environment. Many cities and countries are adopting legislations that promote zero waste, but the small actions of every consumer are very important to build, step by step, a greener Quebec.
Par Caroline Foucher