8 Small, Daily Changes You Can Make to Reduce Your Ecological Footprint
We can all do a little more to treat our planet a bit better. Canadian low-waste consultant Sophi Robertson shares how.
by : Patricia Karounos- Aug 31st, 2021
For Canadian environmental and low-waste speaker and consultant Sophi Roberston, known as @yourecofriend on IG, it was your run-of-the-mill eco-anxiety plus one very startling statistic she read back in 2016 that got her to commit to a low-waste lifestyle. That stat? It was that 1 million coffee cups go to landfill each day in Toronto alone. That’s just one city.
“I don’t really drink much coffee or tea, but that number still hit home and made me realize how much I was wasting in other areas,” Robertson says. “So I did some research and came across people who were living a zero-waste lifestyle and became intrigued.”
Robertson knows that the term “zero-waste” can be intimidating – how can one completely eliminate waste from their lives, after all? But the beauty of it, Robertson says, is that perfection isn’t the goal of sustainability. It’s just up to you to cut back as much as you can in your own life, wherever and whenever you can.
To help us get started, we asked Robertson to share some of her tips about the small, everyday changes we can all make to reduce our ecological footprint.
1. Become immersed in your community
This is something Robertson had to recently re-do after moving from Toronto to a much smaller town in Northern Ontario. While getting to know the local businesses and groups in your community doesn’t seem like it could make a ton of difference, it’s actually a huge step, she says. “The more you get to know your community, the more rooted you are and feel the need to help,” she says, adding you can even join a neighbourhood green group to put in extra effort. Basically, you feel more accountable when you have a deeper connection to something. Plus, when you have a better sense of what kind of goods you can shop locally, it’s easier to make more of an effort to do so, which is much better for the environment.
2. Shop your home
Too often, when people start (or restart) their low-waste journeys, they rush out to buy all this extra stuff–maybe it’s bamboo food containers, or another pack of stainless steel straws. But buying and consuming more is counterintuitive to being low-waste, even if your intentions are good. “The majority of what you need will be in your home already,” Robertson says. Figure out how to use what you have, and only buy something new if you really need it.
3. Get creative when redecorating
It’s okay to feel the need to freshen up your living space from time to time. But the next time the mood strikes to redecorate, apply the “shop your home” concept here as well. Instead of buying new decor, start simple and just switch around your layout or trade items between rooms. Then, take stock of how you feel. Does this new look do the trick? It’s okay to buy that new couch if you need it, but remember that growing bored of something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to consume even more.
4. Take advantage of online tools and communities
You’ll be surprised by what you can find second-hand online. Poshmark, of course, is a big one to shop for clothes. There are also apps dedicated to reducing food waste, like Too Good To Go–which launched in Toronto earlier this year and has plans to expand to other Canadian cities–that connects businesses with surplus food with people looking to buy it at lower-than-retail prices. But Robertson is also a fan of joining local Facebook groups, where people often share resources with their neighbours. “If you’re in a big city, you can limit your group to, like, a couple of blocks so you can walk or bike to where [the seller] is,” she says, adding that the weirdest–but still useful–thing she’s seen sold in one of these groups was an extra pregnancy test. And if there isn’t a group for your area? Make one yourself.
5. Yes, keep all those mason jars
We know what you’re thinking: there’s a limit to how many mason jars or food containers you can reuse in the kitchen. But we forget that these items don’t have to be confined to the kitchen or used for food. Use pickle jars for storage, like to keep your pens organized on your desk, turn an excess amount of black takeout containers into an arts-and-crafts session with your kids, or take one of your cotton tote bags to the local bakery and use it to carry your bread instead of having it wrapped in a single-use alternative.
6. Understand your city’s waste management
There’s no denying that studying up on the waste management protocol in your given area will be boring, but it’s vital. Too many of us practice ”wish-cycling”–the practice of placing something in the recycling bin because it seems like (or we hope) that it belongs there. But the reality is that every region has unique, specific and, often, limited recycling capabilities, and when we “wish-cycle” we waste time, money and potentially send even more to landfills. Robertson recommends checking with your local government, or using an app like Recycle Coach to familiarize yourself with local guidelines to ensure your waste gets processed properly.
7. Learn to compost
It sounds daunting, but it’s easier than you think. There are plenty of small-space composters–options that use worms, and ones that don’t, if you’re on the squeamish side–that are easy to use and ideal for city dwellers. And if you’re really not a composter? No big deal. Robertson is also a big fan of ShareWaste.com, which is a global resource that connects people looking to pass on their food scraps to someone nearby who can make use of them.
8. Reinvent your recipes
Another way to reduce your food waste is just by…actually using the scraps. “You have to use the things you think you can’t,” says Robertson, pointing to things like the leafy greens that grow from the tops of carrots or beets. Search for recipes online, or just get creative–you’re more likely to find use for something traditionally considered a “scrap” than you think. One of Robertson’s go-tos is using carrot greens in place of basil for pesto–blanch them to take away the bitterness, and use it exactly as you would the herb.
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