Sidney is in their third year of journalism at Carleton University and was working on the zero waste movement in Ottawa. They reached out to me to ask me a few questions about the lifestyle. Thank you Sidney!
Just a note: while Jodi and I would love to be able to connect and meet with everyone when we are asked, we do have full lives of children and businesses, so we apologize in advance if we can’t meet up or write back to everyone.
How long have you been living zero-waste? What was your inspiration into this lifestyle? Did you have some type of epiphany, friends/family told you about it etc..?
I have been living “zero waste” for over two years, starting February 2015. More seriously in the first year as it was a project I had given myself for one year. I’m not 100% sure what happened, except that I couldn’t get the fact that I was producing a lot of garbage and seeing so much of it everywhere, out of my mind. I literally had to change or I would have gone crazy. I did write a blog post about it here though.
Is Ottawa an easy place to live this lifestyle?
Yes, I would say if you are single it is definitely easy to live this way. It is not easy if you don’t have access to a car, live out of the city, are marginalized/low income, or have a large family with differing views.
Can you tell me a bit about A Dream Lived Greener, what it is/why you started/what you do/talk about a few products you sell/promote etc.!
A Dream Lived Greener started as a blog project documenting my one year journey to live “zero waste.” It was a way for me to be accountable to myself and share how I was feeling. Through that blog I received many questions on the lifestyle and would try my best to answer them.
During the second year of living this lifestyle, my friend and I decided to create an online store for the products that we use. We bought wholesale for our own products that we used daily and decided to put the rest of our stock online at an extremely affordable price. We didn’t want to become Amazon, so our mark up is not much. We’re not big on consumerism, so our online store isn’t a large corporate venture, but we just wanted to offer plastic-free alternatives (toilet paper, soaps, straws etc.) without the extra costs that come with buying through retail or at a grocery store.
Would you say there is a big community for the zero-waste movement in Ottawa?
There is a growing community. A lot of them say hi to me through this blog (thank you for reading!). But honestly, the community had begun before the movement even had a name. Most of the older generation, like our grandparents or parents, have implemented many of the 5 R’s that “zero waste” claims to talk about today. My parents still have clothing and household items that I remember seeing and using when I was a child. Consumerism and convenience have made it easy for us to lose sight of the fact that things used to be very simple. I talk to a lot of older people who share things that they have been doing all their lives. As I’ll mention below, the internet has just made it easier for us to find what we want. We can find what we are looking for with a simple search.
What are the easiest/hardest/most surprising things/steps you have living zero-waste?
The easiest thing about living zero waste was probably the little things, like bringing a water bottle or your own grocery bags. Recycling and composting, as well. The most difficult thing in the early stages of my journey was getting out of my comfort zone and asking for things without plastic. People would look at me odd because no one was accustomed to it. Nowadays you see videos and read articles all over the place so it seems to be more common.
One thing that I found surprising was the amount of backlash in the community towards each other. For example vegans who would talk down on “zero wasters” who ate meat, or “zero wasters” who would scoff at people who drove cars and didn’t ride bikes. Although there are a lot of people who support each other, I found it odd that no matter what, there was always some sort of hate or judgement, as though we forget we’re not perfect and that change doesn’t come quickly.
What are some of the cool, unique methods you have come up with to adapt to this lifestyle?
I think the only cool, unique method I have come up with, is just painting with natural paints, like beet root powder, turmeric and activated charcoal. Everything honestly has been done before. People have been making their own products and fixing their own things for years. This lifestyle has only became more recognized because of social media. Other than that, to adapt to this lifestyle just required a lot of research and practice.
Why is this specific movement something you are extremely passionate about and committed to?
I am passionate about it, but since my year has passed I feel like avoiding plastic and composting isn’t enough. The more I read and the more I see pictures of everyone’s jars, the more I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’d need to lobby the government to make changes, as well as go straight to the head of manufacturing companies to implement real change, which would cost a lot of money.
I try to stay committed to it because I care about the world that my son will be living in – and hopefully that I’m still able to live in too. I want him to feel like I did my best to protect him, our planet, and teach him how to take care of it, like it’s his home, but at the same time, I am realistic – things are changing and who am I to say that what it’s changing to isn’t for the better. We like to think that we are Gods and that our lives are important (which they are), but no one truly can say what the future will look like or if we’ll even be alive tomorrow.
The only thing we can do is try to do our best and live our lives the way that we feel is best and right for ourselves and each other.
Do you have a mason jar with your garbage for the year/6 months (or whatever!) If so, can you tell me what is in it?
I still have my mason jar from my one year journey. It mainly had produce stickers, twist ties, dental floss, plastic from the lids of jars and chocolate wrappers. I don’t continue to put things in that jar today.
Ottawa just announced they will be opening their first zero-waste grocery store! Do you think it will be successful? What does this mean for Ottawa and this movement?
I am very excited for Valerie! It is a lot of work opening up a store. Jodi and I had spent quite a few months last summer developing a business plan for a “Zero Waste” store and we found a location too. But the investment and time required is huge. We are both full-time Moms of little ones on top of having our own businesses. We are able to commit to our e-store without any overhead or stress. We used to frequent one grocery store that opened in Hintonburg with similar goals, called the West End Well. They had to close after one year of being in operation.
Having done our research, as well as being business owners, we know and understand profit margins, expenses and risks that come with having overhead. The market area has higher rent which will mean a higher mark-up on products. Nu Grocery will work for those that live in the market and who work or travel through downtown. For others, like I mentioned above – low income, large families (parking in the market is difficult enough on it’s own, let alone with kids), or who live far away from the market, it won’t make much difference. I think a zero waste store is a great step for Ottawa, but there are so many bulk stores, grocery stores and local businesses all over the city that already offer the experience of shopping without plastic.
That being said, I do hope that it will be successful and that it’s a great thing to have in Ottawa! I definitely think more stores should offer ways to shop more sustainably.
What are some further steps Ottawa could take to make this a more accessible lifestyle for citizens – in terms of shopping and products, as well as waste disposal/recycling etc.?
I think that the zero waste grocery store is a great start, and more stores should offer products that have less packaging. Some other suggestions are for Ottawa to have a plastic bag ban, businesses should not offer plastic cutlery, plates or disposable coffee cups, the city should have green bins out next to conventional garbage cans like San Francisco does, Ottawa can make electric cars (or transportation) more affordable and eventually extend the train to communities that are further out.
But as I sit here and type, the truth is none of this will happen just by talking about it here, avoiding plastic or watching what I’m buying. What I really need to do (and what we need to do) is make it to City Hall for a meeting and give my voice to the people who are really capable of making large scale change – like this article states best:
“On its face, conscious consumerism is a morally righteous, bold movement. But it’s actually taking away our power as citizens. It drains our bank accounts and our political will, diverts our attention away from the true powerbrokers, and focuses our energy instead on petty corporate scandals and fights over the moral superiority of vegans.
So if you really care about the environment, climb on out of your upcycled wooden chair and get yourself to a town hall meeting. If there’s one silver lining to the environmental crisis facing us, it’s that we now understand exactly the kind of work we need to do to save the planet—and it doesn’t involve a credit card.”