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Zero Waste Living – What works for you?

Ref   Rs of Recycling graphic

Growing up, I am sure many of us heard “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” on repeat. These days, it seems there are 5 or more “R’s” to put in to practice when it comes to living zero waste.

Zero Waste Home author Bea Johnson has been sharing her ideas regarding waste reduction for over a decade. She carries around her famous “trash jar” to conferences and events, and she has inspired countless others with her theories and methods.

We had the opportunity to hear Johnson speak at an event at McMaster Innovation Park on October 20th – to a standing room only crowd of attentive listeners. Johnson kindly asked at the start of the event that we put away our phones and cameras and simply enjoy the talk for what it was.

She and her family follow a “5R” principle: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. The principle is to be applied in that order exclusively. Bea claims that the adjustment to zero waste can be easy, by finding trial and error methods that work for you. She lives a plastic-free, package-free life that creates very little waste…

But what if that doesn’t work for you? What if your job or lifestyle has byproducts that can’t always be repurposed, recycled, or composted?

In all honesty, Johnson did not have a straightforward answer, short of telling one to change professions. I am more inclined to think that a larger group of people doing the best they can to reduce their waste is far better than a handful of people reducing almost all of their personal waste.

Artists, tradespeople, and other types of creators shouldn’t have to give up what fuels them because it isn’t strictly “zero waste”. If you are in one of these types of fields, audit yourself to see where you can reduce waste, and repurpose and reuse the things you can. Avoid purchasing products that come in hard to reuse containers, such as plastic.

Whether you elect to build your canvas stretchers out of pallet wood, swap for supplies on a trading zone, or share your tools through a tool library, you’ll make a positive impact while continuing to do something meaningful to you. When supplies or materials can’t be diverted through reuse and repair, try using an alternative recycling program like TerraCycle.


Remember that when it comes to creating lasting habits, they must work for you! If you force yourself in to an unrealistic lifestyle, you might not stick with it. Methods like the “7 Rs” = offer a few more ideas when it comes to what to do with all that “stuff”

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