Ontario family produced just one bag of trash last year

An Ontario family of four has gone an entire year producing just a single bag of trash.

Vandermeer family changed buying habits, recycled and composted more

Stacey Vandermeer, along with her husband Matt and two children, produced just one bag of trash for an entire year. They recycled, composted and changed their buying habits to produce less waste. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC)

An Ontario family of four has gone an entire year producing just a single bag of trash.

Stacey VanderMeer and her husband Matt live in Breslau, a small community just outside Kitchener, along with their two children, ages six and eight. The family had pledged to limit their garbage output to just one 75-litre bag over the course of the year.

By the time the challenge has ended on Monday, the family had managed to get all their garbage over the course of the year in a 77-litre bag instead. The bag weighs 32 lbs., which is well within Waterloo Region's weight limit for garbage pickup.

"Everyone was really supportive, everyone thought it was quite an interesting experiment. But it was funny the way we ended up being kind of the conscience of our friends. Like, if we would go to their house and they would say something 'Oh my gosh, I'm sorry we're not composting right now,'" said Stacey VanderMeer in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition on Wednesday.

"It was funny, but it was the fact we made them aware of what's going on.

"Our goal was not to make anyone feel guilty but to think about 'Hey is there one thing I can do that would make this a little better in our household?'" 

Everyone was really supportive.- Stacey Vandermeer, on producing one bag of trash in a year

VanderMeer and her family reduced their trash by diverting more waste to composting and recycling programs, and by changing their purchasing habits. 

The family never got to the point where it opened packaging in the store and left it behind after purchasing something, said VanderMeer. Rather, they tried to buy things without a lot of packaging in the first place. 

"A lot of it has to happen at the consumer level, you just have to stop bringing into your house that packaging that you're going to end up throwing in the garbage, that cannot be composted or recycled," said VanderMeer.

"That's where we definitely made some of the biggest changes."

No more store-bought granola bars

VanderMeer said the biggest challenge was giving up on convenience foods, the sort that are pre-packaged and easy to grab on the go. 

"No granola bars, cookies, crackers, that sort of thing, all left at the grocery store," she said.

Instead, VanderMeer tried to recreate them at home.

"Homemade granola bars actually turned out to be really tasty, but they fall apart really easily," she said.

For Christmas, the family put presents in reusable gift bags and reused their tissue paper. Children were limited to three or four gifts apiece.

On Monday, VanderMeer said the family went to the grocery store when their challenge ended. They kept the shopping habits they had picked up during the challenge. She said the family may go back to buying granola bars, though less often than they would have earlier.

VanderMeer and her husband Matt were spurred to action by news coverage about the cost of the region's green bin program and the low rate of usage. 

"For us, it kind of flabbergasted us, because as soon as the green bin came out, we were big adopters of it and quite enjoyed the fact that we could now compost more than we could when we just had our backyard composting program," said VanderMeer. 

She said her and husband enjoyed learning about how others reduced their garbage as well.

As for what they'll do next, VanderMeer thinks things will stay mostly the same. "I think we're just going to continue on the path that we've gone down," she said.

"Are we going to produce more than one bag next year, I would say probably, but I'm guessing not a whole lot more than that, so we'll see what happens." 


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