It’s time to kick those eco-efforts up a notch. We’ve got a cheat sheet of smart shortcuts, clever swaps and easy ways to green your home— and your days.
So you shop with a cloth bag, buy the occasional item in bulk, turn off the lights when you’re out and triumphantly organize your trash on garbage day. Still, it can be tough to know if you’re really doing enough.
Unfortunately, if you consider being a Recycling Queen the crowning achievement of your eco-efforts, you might need to rethink your sustainability strategy. “The problem—and this is a bit of a wake- up call—is that recycling really doesn’t work in a consistent and systemic way,” says Vito Buonsante, plastics program manager at Environmental Defence
Canada. In fact, only about nine percent of all plastic waste actually gets recycled. The reason why so little gets repurposed is complicated, but it comes down to the high cost of recycling coupled with the types of plastics being produced.
Ultimately, it’s time to think beyond the blue bin when it comes to shrinking our environmental footprint at home. After all, there’s also the reduce and reuse mantras—as well as reclaim, renew, rethink and refurbish—to consider.
Here are some smart ways to make life in every area of your home a little more sustainable.
In Your Closet
If you’re planning to add a few new items to your spring wardrobe, you’ll be happy to hear that sustainable styles are more readily available than ever. Nike recently announced a capsule collection of sustainable apparel, with pieces that meet a 90 percent or better marker of efficiency. (Basically, they’re made entirely from recycled materials.) Last fall, Canadian company Call It Spring launched a new line of shoes and accessories made with post-consumer recycled water bottles, diverting a load (295,629 bottles, to be exact) from landfills and waterways. Gap is using 33 recycled plastic bottles in each of its new Upcycled Raincoats. The brand is also launching its most sustainable denim yet, with 100-percent organic cotton and production techniques that use at least 20 percent less water.
On top of using sustainable materials, outdoor brand Patagonia goes a step further, helping you repair garments and gear to make them last longer. Just take a worn item into a participating 1 retailer and they’ll fix it up or help you recycle it if necessary. After all, it’s estimated that on average, each Canadian throws away more than 80 pounds of clothing a year. Thankfully, there’s a rental revolution underway and it’s designed to
whittle away wardrobe waste while saving you money and adding variety to your closet. For example, online service Rent Frock Repeat promises to refresh your everyday wardrobe with a steady rotation of four items, selected by you or a stylist, for just $129 a month (including return shipping and dry cleaning, too).
Upcycled RAINCOAT, $128, gapcanada.ca.
NIKE Space Hippie SNEAKERS, $170, nike.com.
In The Washroom
Since some plastic tubes, lids, bottles and caps can’t go in the blue bin, alternative recycling is essential. A few of the brands you already know and love, like Burt’s Bees, Eos and Weleda's Skin Food, can be returned through TerraCycle, an international recycling program. Even still, the waste from personal-care products can really add up. More than two billion plastic razors and cartridges are tossed in the trash annually in the United States alone. Vancouver-based Well Kept has a solution for that, selling stylish solid brass razors that are made to last a lifetime.
You can also eliminate a large amount of packaging simply by swapping bottled hand soaps, shampoos and body washes for cleansing bars, says Buonsante, who has banned most bottles from his own bathroom. “That’s an incredibly easy way to avoid creating a lot of waste,” he says. Try buying refillable glass bottles and purchasing your family’s basic hair- and body-care products at the zero-waste markets popping up across the country.
Well Kept Safety RAZOR in Dusty Rose, $68, keepwellkept.com.
BURT’S BEES Matte Stick, $11, shoppersdrugmart.ca.
In The Kitchen
“When we think about the circular economy, which is keeping materials in use for as long as possible at their highest form of value, it comes down to using better materials, designing items to be repairable and upgradable so you get that maximum life,” says Frances Edmonds, head of Sustainable Impact at HP Canada. In the not-so-distant future, 3D printing could give us the capability to have inventories of spare parts more readily available, extending the life of all sorts of technology in our homes, from printers to refrigerators. For now, our best bet is to shop thoughtfully, and that goes for big appliance purchases as well as small food-prep and storage options, like swapping disposable plastic wrap for reusable beeswax wraps.
When you’re grocery shopping, skip big-box stores in favour of bulk shops where you can bring your own reusable containers to fill up on everything from flour to dry cereals. Using your own glass jars eliminates excess packaging, plus it helps you buy only what you need, and curb food waste, which is good for the earth and your wallet. According to a 2019 report by Second Harvest, a Canadian food rescue organization that distributes food to shelters and breakfast programs, the annual cost of avoidable food waste is as much as $1,766 per household.
Sometimes our sustainability efforts, whether it’s remembering those cloth grocery bags or toting your aluminum travel cup, feel thankless and difficult and, frankly, like a pain. But some conveniences don’t actually come at a steep cost. Take time-saving Nespresso coffee pods, which are actually made from 100 percent aluminum, a material that is 100 percent and infinitely recyclable. Here’s some more good news: When it comes to cleaning up after dinner, the more efficient way to wash dishes is also the lazy way. Thanks to stricter-than-ever efficiency certification standards (like Energy Star), newer dishwashers use less water and energy than handwashing a sink full of pots and pans. Use an environmentally safe detergent (“loose powder formulas work very well, tend to come in a recyclable cardboard box, as opposed to a landfill-bound plastic pouch, and are often the cheaper option,” says Buonsante). Then, for best results, run a full load and skip the pre-rinse. This just messes with the machine’s soil sensors, wasting water and making more work for you. Because, let’s face it, you’ve got enough to do.
Ever Eco Organic Cotton Muslin PRODUCE BAGS, $22/set of 4, indigo.ca.
Corkcicle Classic TUMBLER, $34, thedetoxmarket.ca.
In the Office
Opting for responsibly-sourced office supplies is the easiest way to green your home workspace. Refillable pens (some even made from renewable bamboo) are a great option. When you’re shopping for notebooks and printer paper, look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification logo, so you know the product isn’t contributing to deforestation.
There are a number of ways we can be more eco-smart with our tech, from phones to laptops. HP recently released the world’s first digital notebook containing ocean-bound plastics and the company has committed to a goal of using 30 percent post-consumer recycled plastic across its portfolio of printers and personal computers by 2025. What our devices are made of is about to become an even bigger selling point for the eco-minded consumer. And so is a product’s potential staying power. "Extend- ing the product life as long as you can is an important consideration,” says Edmonds. “It’s very tempting to buy a cheaper product, but if it doesn’t last you as long, then you’re really defeating your sustainability goals,” she says.
Common Craft Vegan Leather PHONE CASE, $25, indigo.ca.
HP Elite Dragonfly NOTEBOOK, from $2,749, store.hp.com.