Why Refilling that Container is the Best Thing You Can Do for the Planet 0
"It's ok, I'll just recycle it!" is what a lot of us think when we are choosing products and considering their packaging at the store.
Sorry to set this straight, but that's not always possible. There are so many things that need to happen for that dish detergent container to actually get reused into something. From you actually cleaning it out and putting it in the recycling bin, your facility accepting it ( for example Hamilton, that thin plastic that dish soap comes in actually doesn't get processed here), them treating it and then selling it to a company that will take it on. We have all heard that China isn't taking our recyclables anymore, so where does it all go?
There's a long, political answer and then there's the short one:
It gets thrown in the landfill, incinerated, or whatever the local policies and facilities have determined.
While we can certainly do more to pressure our local waste treatment and recycling facilities to become better at dealing with the waste, the more successful and less complicated thing is to minimize how much you recycle.
Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean that you should stop trying to recycle items that are recyclable, but we should get out of the mindset that as long as your recycling bin has more in it than the garbage bin, you're an eco saint.
The goal is to put out as little as possible in EVERY BIN: green, blue, and black
How do we attain this?
One solution is refilling. Reusing containers, bags, bottles, etc., to collect product that you need for everyday, from food, through household cleaners, hair & body products and more.
Not only are you REFUSING a new container, you are REUSING one that you already have, and no one is saying that at the end of its usable life, you can't RECYCLE it. But when you do, it will have been used multiple times, avoiding the use of dozens of other containers. Shopping at a local refillery also means you're more likely to buy as much as you need, REDUCING the amount that you are likely to throw out or go bad before you have a chance to use it. And just like that, you have hit 4 of the 5 pillars of zero waste living : refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.
Here are some products that you can easily refill on rather than buy in new packaging:
Even food giants like Bulk Barn are starting to let consumers fill up their own containers instead of using plastic baggies. Tare your containers and go to town buying dry goods like rice, beans, nuts, flour, sugar, candy, quinoa and more. You'll even be able to get products like peanut butter, tahini, honey, and syrups. Some smaller zero waste grocers might even have specialty products like olive oil, vinegars and more.
Household Cleaners & LaundryOur refilleries in Hamilton and Grimsby have many options for those looking for waste-free and all natural alternatives to the household products they are using now, including all-purpose cleaners, laundry soap, toilet cleaners, and more.
Bath & BodyShampoo, conditioner, soap, and hairspray can all be purchased package-free at your local refillery. Lotions, creams, bath salts, deodorants, are also available as refills so that you don't have to compromise on your routines just to go low-waste. Some zero waste shops will even carry specialty items like nail polish remover. Contact your closest refillery and ask about products you are interested in. If they don't already carry it, they could be open to bringing it in and making it available to you and anyone else who is interested.
While you might be interested in getting nice glass or aluminum containers like jars, spray bottles, or pumps, you don't have to. There's nothing wrong will filling up a plastic water bottle with your dish soap or using an old plastic shampoo bottle for your refill. Zero waste living looks different depending on the person and their own priorities, convictions, and aesthetic.
The Pains of Living Plastic Free and How to Fix It 0
Who likes the idea of living plastic free?
If you're here, it's likely that you do.
Plastic has an obvious detrimental effect on the environment, but also has been researched to have a negative influence on our health. It was seen as a "wonder product" when it was first discovered, and only now we are fully understanding the consequences of using it to the degree that we do.
However, getting rid of plastic in your life, or at least single-use plastic, is a much taller order than you would initially think. So many foods are packaged in plastic film, the entire frozen food aisle is covered in it, and even normal household products are most readily available in plastic from cleaners, to garden soil, even kids' toys.
While just making a conscious effort to choose plastic-free can make a big change in your lifestyle, there are lots of "sticking points" that are thorns in our sides. Here are some common problems we find that people struggle with and how we can get past that.
Plastic Packaging at Grocery Stores
This is one that we know is a killer for many, especially in seasons when farmers' markets and stalls are not an option. While in the harvest months, shopping package-free from farmers or producers can greatly decrease your plastic wrapping, there aren't as many options in conventional grocery stores. There's often one kind of cucumber and it comes in plastic, or the peppers on sale are the quad-pack that come in a plastic bag.
The most we can do in the winter is choose plastic-free when possible, or shop at smaller stores that make un-packaged goods available to their customers. In the warmer months, we can shop from producers, pick our own produce (berries, beans, fruit, etc.), or grow your own. Items like bread can be picked up from bakeries and many other pantry staples can be bought in bulk. Bring your clean jars and bulk bags to your local bulk or refill shop, or else Bulk Barn.
Of course, remember to bring your own produce and shopping bags to avoid the single-use plastic bags!
Meat and Deli
These usually come packaged in plastic for freshness, but you can ask for them to be put in your container if there is a designated counter at your store. Bring your own rezip bags or reusable containers, ask for them to be tared and then filled with the fresh meat or deli meat of your choice. The same goes for seafood and cheeses. Many farmers' market vendors will also allow you to do this, though they won't advertise it.
Take Out Meals
This takes some research- some restaurants won't put their meals in your containers for fear of "contamination" or some other legality. A lot of the time it's about the inconvenience on their end. If you don't want to be disappointed when you arrive, call before hand and ask this restaurant if they will use your containers as you are trying to minimize waste.
When they do allow it, make sure that you communicate your appreciation and support them on social media, within your friend circle, etc., so that more restaurants feel motivated to do the same. If you are feeling especially frustrated and know that this fast food restaurant serves their "for here" customers on reusable plates, order it that way and transfer it to your container yourself. Sure the plate is dirty, but it will get washed, not thrown into the landfill.
Though this is changing, even a lot of "natural" household cleaners and detergents come in plastic jugs, bottles, or containers. From dishwasher tabs, laundry detergent, to scouring powder, many of these are now available package free or as refills at specialized eco or "refillable" shops. Now you can reuse those containers hundreds of times or refill a dedicated glass one. Otherwise, make them yourself from bulk ingredients! Baking soda and vinegar can get you very far, are cheap, and readily available.
Body and Skin Care
You'll be surprised what you can refill on nowadays, from shampoo, body lotion, nail polish remover, witch hazel, oils, and more! Companies are starting to let their stockists offer refill options, and there is more interest in making your own clean options from simple ingredients. Others run their own container recycling programs where your product containers are sterilized and reused down the line. It takes some research and some time, but many find this switch very satisfying. If a refill center is not accessible to you or you are lacking in time, always choose glass or reusable containers over ones that cannot be repurposed in any way or properly recycled.
If we really want to see a shift in the way that plastic is used in our society we need to ask for it. Voice your displeasure, write letters to the store managers, support small businesses that are making the changes, and make those "strange requests" when ordering food, products online, and more. It will be uncomfortable, but it's what will make employees, owners, and policy makers stop and think.
At Mrs. Greenway we are increasing our refill options because we see that you are using them! For businesses, it's often a risk to make these changes, but seeing that people are voting with their dollars and voicing their appreciation, makes them more comfortable investing in a shift towards more sustainable living! Stay tuned on more news on our refillery, and in the meantime, if you have any specific requests, feel free to email email@example.com.
What do you struggle with or what "hack" has helped you? Comment and let us know!