Going zero-waste or making huge lifestyle changes to reduce plastic in your life can feel like a daunting task. We can preach the benefits of a plastic-free life all day long but we thought you might prefer to hear from a range of amazing people walking the walk. In our first iteration of ‘My Plastic-Free Life’ we’re introducing you to the inspiring Lily Watts.
Hey Lily, tell us a little bit about yourself.
-Hi! Well, I’ll start with the fact that I’m an Urban Planning & Sustainability student at Concordia University in Montreal. I work part-time at a big bakery as a barista and I love it. I grew up in Halifax and Toronto and still spend my summers in rural Nova Scotia working at an Arts Centre.
When did you decide to adopt a zero-waste routine and why? Was it gradual or did you go cold turkey?
I moved to Montreal 2 years ago, straight from high school, and I had to figure out how to be in charge of maintaining a household for the first time. I relied on buying ‘quick and easy’ groceries and home goods at the lowest price possible. At the time, this led me to items that were wrapped in plastic. For example, I’ve noticed that it’s common for grocers in Montreal to sell their discounted produce in homemade packages for some reason. They put a couple of pieces of fruit or veg on a polystyrene plate and then cover it with plastic wrap. As a student, I would reach for those guys well before I considered paying a dollar more for the loose produce.
I started noticing that we were producing at least 1, if not 2 to 3 large black garbage bags every week between the three of us that lived in the apartment. The worst part of it was that our street wasn’t on the city’s list for compost collection, so these enormous, stinky bags became the bane of my existence.
I’ve always been an environmentally minded person, but that’s really when I started to think about my direct impact, and how anything we threw away would end up in a landfill, forever producing methane gas and destroying the surrounding ecosystem. I started to do some research into the zero waste movement and it immediately captured my interest. I felt like I couldn’t not participate in this seemingly groundbreaking yet simple idea. It started with me bringing my own bags to grocery stores and markets and refusing extra plastic wherever and whenever I could. I started to learn that it was about more than refusing plastic when you’re out, it’s about completely changing the way you engage in consumerism and daily life. It really didn’t happen overnight for me. I can’t say I’m absolutely “zero” waste, because from time to time I do slip up and forget my container or travel mug, and sometimes I buy tofu and other essential groceries that always seem to come in plastic. I am proud to say though, that I waste very little compared to how I used to be and have made some major lifestyle changes that allow me to skip on the plastic.
Do you find your zero waste lifestyle costs you more or less money? Where do you save and what extra costs you do encounter?
Here’s where it really varies from person to person! I believe that it depends on where you live and what stores and products you have access to. Living zero-waste can be done in so many different ways. For me, I feel that I have actually saved money on groceries since I decided to start visiting bulk stores, bakeries and shopping for produce at markets. I don’t eat a very comprehensive diet, so for me, sourcing my groceries from places like these turns out to be very cheap. When I used to visit big chain grocery stores I ended up always spending over $100 for just me and my partner. This is probably because most things are pre-packaged, pre-cut etc which always marks up the price. I am also more tempted to buy things like a mega-pack of Clif bars, a jumbo cereal box or 3 blocks of cheese which can get really expensive! Instead, I started to make my own granola from bulk oats, seeds, and dried fruits. From the granola, I can also make energy balls, granola bars, and even cookies! The habit of going to bulk stores instead of giant grocery stores has made me save a ton of money, you’ve just gotta use your imagination and plan a little.
Do you try to encourage your friends to adopt the zero-waste lifestyle? Have you been successful?
Since I am so passionate about reducing waste in everyday life, I love to talk about it with my family and friends. The concept of living waste-free is actually quite a new thing to the people around me, so I have gotten the chance to educate people like my grandmother, my sister, mom, cousins, step mum, dad, aunt, and cousins! I have given some of my beeswax wraps to my family which they have adopted using seamlessly. Leading by example, I have also had an impact on my friends’ habits. Some have told me that by looking at my Instagram they have become more mindful of their plastic waste and have actually purchased zero-waste swap items like beeswax wraps, glass straws, reusable mugs, and silicone zippy bags.
It is really gratifying to hear when people realize they can make even a small difference in their everyday life that allows them to be a part of this global change.
What do you say to people who argue that one person’s actions can’t make a global impact?
I always think back to the quote by Anne-Marie Bonneau, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” This really captures my philosophy on the zero waste lifestyle; you don’t have to turn your routine upside down to become more sustainable. Even the smallest actions like turning lights off when you’re not in the room, bringing reusable bags to the store, and not letting the tap run when you’re doing dishes or brushing your teeth can make a difference. If everybody started to pick up these little habits, there could be so much less waste and energy used.
Have you ever wanted to stop living zero-waste? What’s been the hardest part?
Since I’m not a perfect zero-waster, I really have never wanted to stop or have felt that keeping up these actions was too hard. For me, it’s about doing my absolute best to refuse, reduce & reuse plastic. If I look around my house there are so many things I already own that can help me reduce my waste, so it’s about getting the courage to organize myself and actually create & implement strategies for myself that are sustainable. That is what’s challenging for me and a lot of people, but you have to remember to push yourself a little bit, step out of your comfort zone and maybe you’ll find your creative side while you’re at it!
Other than etee wraps (wink, wink), are there any other products you recommend to anyone interested in reducing the waste in their life?
Oh my goodness, there are more zero-waste swaps out there than I ever could have imagined. Every time I think I’ve learned about them all, there is a whole other category of swap items that I end up finding. I would suggest going to Bare Market’s website and looking at their products list because they’re really creative people and offer swap items that you didn’t even think could exist! The most obvious or common swaps to start with that I have found helpful and very easy to sustain usage are:
-Refillable liquid soaps, cleaners, shampoos, deodorant, toothpaste, detergents, body oils, lotions, creams
-Shopping for dried goods, snacks, pantry items, oils, etc at bulk stores with your own containers
-Reusable silicone zippy bags
-A silicone baking sheet instead of parchment or foil
-Cotton mesh produce bags
-Reusable pads, pantyliners, menstrual cup, or absorbent underwear instead of pads & tampons.
-Tote bags instead of plastic bags
-Wooden (biodegradable) hairbrush, dish scrubbies, body brush, toothbrush
-Reusable cloth napkins
-Stainless steel water bottle
-Stainless steel tiffin (food container)
As long as you are down for an interesting, creative, and challenging journey to reduce your waste and impact of the environment, you are in for a gratifying lifestyle. It may seem daunting, but just remember there is no perfect way to do “zero-waste”. The goal is to use the resources you already have access to and put them to use if you can! This movement shouldn’t be about comparing one person to another because everybody has different limitations.