waves of change

The secret to living zero waste? Start small

The zero-waste movement is still so new in some parts of Atlantic Canada that people like Jane Rovers and Kate Pepler are taking measures into their own hands.

'You can't do it overnight because you'll go mad,' says Jane Rovers, who started Zero Waste Nova Scotia

Jane Rovers, holding her two-month-old Charlie, says trying to live zero waste with a family of five means planning ahead. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.

When someone tried to give four-year-old Lydia Rovers a plastic bag recently, she responded simply: "We don't really do plastic at home."

It was an answer that made her mom, Jane Rovers, chuckle but it was also proof that the Port Williams, N.S., family's quest to drastically reduce how much they throw out is having an impact.

The zero-waste movement is still so new in this province that people like the Rovers are taking measures into their own hands. Whether it's turning to social media for advice or opening Halifax's first package-free store, Nova Scotians are building a burgeoning zero-waste community. 

Rovers admits starting the Zero Waste Nova Scotia account on Instagram last fall was largely for selfish reasons. She was having trouble finding food and home products that weren't wrapped in plastic, and was looking for inspiration online. 

Four-year-old Lydia Rovers says her family tries not to use plastic “because the animals will eat it and they’ll get really sick.” (Emma Smith/CBC)

"It would be easier if it was just more mainstream, if I could walk into my local grocery store and find what I need there … if it just became something you expect to find places," she said. 

Rovers doesn't see herself as an environmentalist.

In fact, she'd never really considered doing away with waste altogether until her sister-in-law shared a book by zero-waste guru Bea Johnson, who talked about fitting an entire year's garbage into a single mason jar.

So when Rovers and her husband Stephen began cutting out plastics and garbage three years ago, they started small by remembering to bring their reusable bags to the store.

"As soon as we told ourselves we could do it, we did," she said. "It's not easy to start new habits but once you get into it, this starts to become second nature."

After the bags came the bamboo toothbrushes, buying shampoo and detergent in bulk, and even making homemade deodorant and condiments. 

Now, the family of five can usually fit two weeks' worth of garbage into a medium-sized jar.

"Sometimes the challenge is fun and sometimes it's not fun," said Rovers. "So there have been some things that have been difficult to find or we do without or we haven't made that change yet."

'A plastic epidemic'

Kate Pepler, a recent graduate of Dalhousie University, is opening The Tare Shop in Halifax to help people like herself and Rovers who are frustrated with the lack of options at traditional grocery stores. 

The package-free, bulk-food store and coffee shop is set to open in the north end later this year. It's the first store of its kind in the area, said Pepler.

Kate Pepler began reducing her waste in 2016, and when she had trouble finding places to shop, she decided to open up her own store. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"I think we're in such a plastic epidemic right now," she said. "Like everything comes in plastic and when I was making the transition to a zero-waste life, or a plastic-free life, it was pretty hard to find some of the stuff I wanted."

Her apartment is stocked with items that will soon line the shelves of the store — silk dental floss, glass to-go cups, reusable coffee filters. 

"One of the most rewarding things about this has been seeing the ripple effect of the way that I'm living my life, my friends and my family have started noticing and they start making changes as well, so I think that's where it has the biggest potential for impact," she said. 

The Tare Shop will open in the next couple of months on the corner of Cornwallis and Creighton streets in Halifax. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Pepler said she's cognizant of affordability, and knows some of the items can be more expensive upfront. Still, she said living zero waste usually pays off in the long run.

For example, she said a reusable menstrual cup that goes for $36 saved her an estimated $800 in the last four years. 

Pepler encourages people who are interested in reducing their waste to think outside the box.

"Get creative," she said. "Yes, there's don't ask for straws when you're at restaurants, bring your own travel mug, but start thinking about other ways that you can cut down your waste."

Rovers says she doesn't preach plastic-free at the dinner table, but she's seeing the message sink in with her kids. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Trying to eliminate plastic and garbage for a family of five certainly isn't easy, admits Rovers. The family has good days and bad days. 

"You can't do it overnight because you'll go mad," said Rovers. "You'll feel like a failure if you try to do it overnight. Start small."

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

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