British Columbia

How this Vancouver couple produced just 4 shopping bags of garbage in 3 years

Elisabeth Ormandy and Oliver Giving hope others will take up the challenge to use less and reduce waste. Officials with Metro Vancouver say the average household fills up a garbage bag a week with trash destined for the landfill.

They hope others will take up the challenge to reduce waste by buying less packaging

Elisabeth Ormandy and Oliver Giving started reducing the amount of garbage they created in 2016. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

When it comes to trying to live life without creating excess waste, Elisabeth Ormandy and her partner Oliver Giving aren't perfect — but they're pretty close.

For the past three years Ormandy, 39, and Giving, 38, have increasingly tried to keep garbage to a minimum. In July, they celebrated by finally sending the garbage they accumulated during that time to the landfill: four shopping bags worth.

"For me it's just showing that two regular folks who work 60-plus hours a week on our various endeavours can still make a personal difference in our lives," said Ormandy.

The bags were mostly full of non-recyclable items like twist ties, plastic clips from bread bags, floss, stickers and toothpaste tubes.

According to officials with Metro Vancouver, households in Vancouver produce about one large garbage bag of waste a week. That adds up to about 500 kilograms of trash over a year.

The couple said they decided to start trying to produce less waste to do their part to help slow climate change and live in a sustainable way.

"Both Oliver and I have these deep values that are committed to having minimal impact, and it's fun to try to figure out ways to live in alignment with those," said Ormandy.

Elisabeth Ormandy and Oliver Giving with the waste they created in five months after trying to reduce what they throw out. (Oliver Giving)

Like other Canadians, Ormandy and Giving were appalled when they read about trash that was shipped from Canada to the Philippines, only to be returned.

Paul Henderson, general manager of solid waste services for Metro Vancouver, says people in the region are already more progressive when it comes to waste reduction and recycling compared to other parts of the country. The region produces about 30 per cent less trash destined for a landfill than the national average.

"I think in general, we're all realizing that it's important to make change in order to protect the environment and look to the future generations," he said.

A device Elisabeth Ormandy and Oliver Giving use in Vancouver to dry and reuse plastic bags. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

It's the reason why Ormandy and Giving took up a low-waste challenge. They avoided single-use plastics and household products like deodorant because the plastic tubes it comes in are not recyclable

Giving says one thing he did was switch from disposable razors to safety razor blades to reduce waste. As they learned and experimented, they created a document with tips for others.

Elisabeth Ormandy shows off her homemade deodorant, which she says helps reduce waste by avoiding the packaging that cosmetic items come in. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

At the top of the list is to avoid impulse purchases. 

"When I think a need for an item is arising, ask myself: 'Do I really need this?' " says the entry. "Ask this question for days or even weeks, depending on the cost and size of the item."

Elisabeth Ormandy shows off a reusable produce bag that she and her partner Oliver Giving use in Vancouver to avoid plastic bags at grocery stores. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The couple says they created the guide because so many of their friends were curious about what they were doing. Ormandy says collective action around waste reduction, however big or small, can make a difference.

"People shouldn't really discount your own individual actions. If everybody did them, it's now collective action and that becomes really meaningful then," she said.

Government action

Still, the couple wants all levels of government to do more to help reduce waste and pollution.

The City of Vancouver is currently running a survey asking residents if they support a plastic bag ban and has a goal of being a zero waste community by 2040.

Elizabeth Ormandy and Oliver Giving pose for a photograph with the garbage they collected over a three-year period starting in 2016. In July 2019 they finally put it all in the a garbage bin after storing it in a closet in their home. (Oliver Giving)

With files from Jon Hernandez

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