How to Minimize Food and Other Waste in Vancouver, BC?

The city of Vancouver has a Zero Waste strategy. Here’s what that means for you and how to put less in your trash.

When we talk about combating climate change, we need to tackle waste. Years before recycling became commonplace, my family had one trash can under the sink that went in: food scraps, packaging (tin, glass, cardboard, Styrofoam, plastic), batteries, light bulbs, coffee grounds, egg cartons… all crammed almost breaking into a white bag. Except one garbage can for everything.

Today I’m juggling a bag of trash with three recycling bins, one for compost and a bag of reusable bottles. Despite the introduction of recycling and composting into our daily lives, we throw so much away. Landfills generate 23% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, North America could produce 396 million tons of waste.

No wonder the city of Vancouver is tackling waste with its Zero Waste 2040 strategy.

Zero waste is a holistic philosophy that emphasizes reuse, repair and recycling over the one-bag-for-all-garbage approach. (Zero Waste 2040 goes way beyond extra bins and reusable straws. Other elements include reducing pollution, conserving resources and converting waste into renewable fuel). Zero waste is a revolution of equality, giving all people equal access to fresh food, repair tools, clothing, furniture, etc. In these dystopian times, a vision for a future community that is zero-waste, sustainable and abundant food is refreshingly idealistic.

The city’s plan requires a major behavioral change for all of us. How we consume needs to change as much as what we consume, maybe even more. It may be hard to get anything done for a society that, for all its progress and innovation, remains mired in consumerism and disposables, but the benefits are huge. And it’s much easier than you might think.

Here are just two ways to reduce waste in your life today. Add these to your recycling and composting habits and you’ll be well on your way to a zero-waste lifestyle.

Repair and reuse

A torn seam, a sock with holes or a lost button. Think about how many times in your life you’ve thrown away a piece of clothing because of one of these ‘defects’. And what about appliances, electronics and furniture? A broken chair leg, a cracked speaker or a faulty wiring is no reason to throw something away in 2022. Repair and reuse is the new standard. Not only does this mean less waste is generated, but think about the savings for you! Sew a button and save yourself the purchase of a new shirt. Don’t have the sewing skills your grandmother had? Take a purse or handbag (among other salvageable items) to a community repair event and reclaim its usefulness. Take your unwanted electronics to a drop-off event or nonprofit like Free Geek Recycling. Give your goods a second life.

Food rescue and redistribution

Food waste is more destructive than scraping uneaten rice and beans into the trash: it is a waste of the precious resources used to produce the food. The most important of these is water. Food Rescue is not a TV show on CBC Gem, but rather something a restaurant can do by donating fine food to food banks, charities or shelters instead of throwing it away. There is also a “Pay What You Like” rescued food market in Vancouver where any excess food or food that doesn’t meet “strict consumer standards” (bruised fruit, strange-looking vegetables, items that are too small or too large, etc.) gives a chance to be eaten. Redistribution ensures that not only needy people are fed, but essential resources have not been misused.

As guardians of the earth, we must change our wasteful habits. And that starts with changing the way we define what is and isn’t suitable for waste.

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