Over the past 10 years or so, the concept of an economic democracy has been turning over in my mind. I feel like there is a ballot being cast with every retail transaction we make. There is a vote associated with every dollar spent at a retail outlet. This sends a message to the supply chain which designs, manufactures, markets and offers these products for sale. By purchasing, we are completing a long journey, for everything we bring into our homes.

But, that is not the end of the story. We all know the stuff we bring into our lives is only the beginning. In effect a new journey is at hand. We are buying the item in question, the packaging it is sold with and the disposal of all the materials which are not consumed. This is a big deal when you examine the bulk of material which needs to be dealt with.

For those who manage household garbage and recycling, it is probably easy to estimate the weekly volume. However, what does a year look like? Then consider how much is carted away on your street or from your neighbourhood? From the municipal collection points, all this stuff is starting another journey. Either to the landfill or certain recycling centres who are left to deal with the rapidly increasing inflow.

Let’s pause for a second. What if we could stop time and redesign our relationship with the stuff we buy, own and discard? By casting our vote with every dollar we spend, a new message can be sent forth. By greatly reducing our garbage and recycling, possibly even eliminating it, the earth can truly breathe a little easier. Does this sound crazy or exciting? Depends on your perspective.

First and foremost we must understand that recycling is a different form of garbage. While there is some recovery of material, there are heavy inputs required in breaking down and remanufacturing. Recycling may be out of sight and mind as it rolls down the street in the truck, but we can’t really pat ourselves on the back with a job well done. Particularly when the ‘R’ of recycling is so far down the list of waste management practices.

Remember the 3 ‘R’s? Reduce, reuse and then recycle. Well that has been updated for our modern times. There are 5 now. Let us examine them in more detail and challenge our assumptions. The idea to wrap our minds around is to only bring into our lives that which will not end up in the landfill, in whole or in part. And to use these practices in descending order.

  • REFUSE – this one-act will eliminate loads of garbage. This includes all the single use stuff where a reusable option exists. Glass jars, cloth bags, and stainless steel straws, are the alternatives for plastic packaging, bags and straws.
  • REDUCE – consider every item you own as having value. If you are not making use of it, that item is being deprived from someone else who needs it, so donate! Another act of reduction is the cleaning cupboard – we do not require a separate product to clean every surface of our homes. Either buy one catch all cleaner or better yet make it from scratch like our grandmothers used to.
  • REUSE – instead of disposable items like paper towels, use cloth unpapertowels and napkins. Use stainless steel water and coffee drinking containers, no more plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and then a thermal bag. You get the idea, this list is endless.
  • RECYCLE – there should be very little left. But consider buying produce in season. For example, I was in the habit of putting spinach in my smoothies year round. I had to buy the plastic clamshells for much of the year. Now I am going to use loose spinach in season and green powder alternatives or other cooked root vegetables in the winter. If I spend some time auditing my consumption patterns in the kitchen and either buying in bulk for storage in my own containers or making something from scratch, my recycling load will greatly be reduced.
  • ROT – we have a compost bin system and our municipality takes all other organic waste. Apartment dwellers are creating a worm composting system for kitchen scraps.

The first thing I realized when examining the list above was I rely on recycling way too much. In fact, my bin was only available for pick up every other week and it was often overflowing. My son had to step on it to crush the items down and make more room. On the other hand, our garbage was only going to the curb every month, maybe every six weeks. It was never overflowing. The organics truck collected every week, but was only put out if it was full.

The BIG problem in our house was the non recyclable plastic and styrofoam. That was being collected and moved to a centre every couple of months. Of course we could fit a lot in each of the big bags we collected, but with simple changes in habit, I would like to eliminate that one. Since the municipality was not taking responsibility for that, you cannot be sure what is really happening.

Good news on reducing plastic while grocery shopping. When I reached out to my local store with an email I got a very encouraging response.

Thank you for your e-mail. First off I would love to say, I love this request. I am beyond excited to look into this for you as I am interested in less waste as well. At this time what I would suggest is using paper bags. There are going to be about the same weight as a plastic bag and from there you can transfer the product to your own glass container at home. You can get paper bags in produce where the white mushrooms are. I am going to get in touch with the category manager in regards to this to see what kind of process we have in place for this. I know technically the store is able to weigh your container alone and then the container with the bulk in it, then subtract the two. But there will be room for error as well as depending on the amount of bulk being purchased, this could really hold up the lines. Let me look into this for you. I will get back in touch with you when I talk with our category manager and see how to go about this.

I don’t know if I am the first one to ask about this or if my timing is just good. But, I think something is afoot here. The idea of reducing waste or even the loftier goal of zero waste is a real thing! If you have not heard about this before, check out the video about Bea Johnson who is considered to be the pioneer of the movement.

Our goal is to do the best we can at reducing the volume of stuff we need to get rid of from our home. As we unpack our garage full of items, at the end of our year of travel, it will be a perfect time to assess what else we can live without. I am going to work on sewing up some produce and bulk bin shopping bags with my Mom. I’ve already got loads of glass containers, ready to be filled. Then it will be a slow and purposeful restocking of our house with only what we love! Exciting times ahead!

#creaspatreat – Join me in this creative journey. I am on a mission to start a global movement, focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com

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Christine Westermark

I am a world traveller, lucky enough to have a loving family who support my dreams to learn, create and give back by designing creative content which enables a lifestyle we don't need a vacation from.

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Voting with every dollar spent
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