Ready to take the Zero Waste Challenge in 2019? Here are some tips

It can be daunting to look at your household waste as a whole, so an expert suggests starting in the kitchen, one product at a time.

Start in the kitchen, one product at a time, to make challenge less daunting

Using reusable containers for packed lunches and to store leftovers is a great way to work toward zero waste, says Tippi Thole. (Joanne Bayly/CBC)

If you're looking to shrink your carbon footprint this year, residents of Rosemont–La Petite Patrie can offer inspiration.

They're taking part in a Zero Waste Challenge held by the borough to learn more about what it takes to reduce the garbage created by borough residents.

Jonathan Nordland said he didn't know what zero waste meant when his wife signed up their family, but it became a fun challenge as they tracked their progress each week.

"For me, it's a game," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak, saying he's now always looking for more ways to reduce.

"Once you start going down the rabbit hole, it's easier and easier to do."

Nordland's household is one of 50 taking part in the challenge that began in October and continues into May. Their progress is tracked online, and they get assistance from the borough to learn how they can further cut down on their garbage.

With Canada among the worst in the world when it comes to food waste, and the plastic that you put in the blue bin not guaranteed to be recycled, the borough is looking for ways to encourage residents to change how they consume.

Douglas Beeson, a software engineer who lives in Rosemont–La Petite Patrie with a roommate, says three months into the challenge, his household is down to about a half a kilogram of garbage per week.

He says it's fun to weigh your waste and see the impact of your efforts.

"Very quickly in this project you [start] discussing with yourself the role of plastic in your life," he said.

Cutting down on the amount of food you throw out can save money while also reducing what winds up in landfills. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Nordland, a residence life manager at McGill University, says at first he was worried they would have to hide the family's garbage in the basement.

Now, they're even looking at how they can reduce the amount of compost they put out as part of the city's curbside pick-up program.

He said it's a matter of changing everyday habits which we usually don't give a second thought.

Changing your shopping habits is a great way to start living a zero-waste lifestyle, says Tippi Thole, who shares tips on how to live a low-waste lifestyle on her blog Tiny Trashcan.

"One of the first things we did is we changed the way we shopped," Thole said on CBC Montreal's Radio Noon.

"I shop plastic-free and package-free."

Don't stress if you can't get to zero

While the movement may be called "zero waste," Thole says it's better to think about shrinking your footprint, since hitting absolute zero waste is virtually impossible

"Perfection is not the goal here," she said.

She suggests starting one product at a time.

Since much of a household's waste comes from the kitchen, she advises you start there. When you run out of something, think about a zero or low-waste alternative.

That can mean shopping at bulk stores with your own containers and, in warmer months, visiting farmer's markets.

If you don't live near a farmer's market, opt for loose produce that isn't wrapped in any plastic.

She also recommends only buying the amount of food that you can conceivably eat in a week and using airtight, glass containers to store any unused food.

Listen to the Radio Noon interview with Tippi Thole here.

While she, her son and their cat only produce a handful of waste a week, she stresses that nagging others about their carbon footprint is not the way to change their behaviour.

"You can't change people by forcing it upon them. I think it's about showing them a different way," she said.

From switching to soap bars from liquid soap, to bringing a travel mug instead of using single-use coffee cups, she's focused on the little things that citizens can control in their lives.

At a time when it's easy to feel overwhelmed about human activity leading catastrophic climate change, she says these little actions can help you feel like you're contributing to a positive shift.


Colin Harris


Colin Harris is a digital editor and producer based in Montreal.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Radio Noon