Garbage-free: One family’s year-long mission to fill just one bag of trash
Canadian families throw away about 700 kilograms - or 1,500 pounds - of garbage, on average, every year, making the country among the biggest per capita trash-makers in the world.
That why Waterloo-area resident Stacey Vandermeer, her husband and their two sons have begun a mission to cut their trash output to just one 75-litre bag of garbage for the entire year.
The family started their self-imposed one bag, one year challenge on July 1. So far, they’ve fit a week’s worth of garbage into a single deli bag that’s about the size of a 1-litre milk bag. But they’re already wondering if they will be able to keep it up.
“It’s actually going pretty well at this point,” Vandermeer told CTV’s Canada AM from Kitchener Wednesday.
The toughest part, she says, is dealing with the “soft plastic” that’s used as shrink wrap, or for clear plastic bags inside cereal boxes.
“Our region doesn’t recycle a lot of soft plastic, so we’ve have to find some creative ways to get around buying things with soft plastic packaging. And we’re searching for ways to recycle that plastic,” Vandermeer explained.
The idea of challenging themselves to reduce their garbage output came from Stacey’s husband Matt, who was saddened to learn that the Waterloo Region’s local landfill site could be full within 20 years. The couple decided that, while it’s likely impossible to live entirely garbage-free, they wanted to know if they could get close. And they decided they would blog about what they learned on the way.
Vandermeer says while they’re only about three weeks into the experiment, it’s already affected how they shop.
“There are certain things we’ve stopped purchasing,” she says.
“For example, granola bars are packaged in non-recyclable packaging. We haven’t found a way to recycle those. So I’ve started making them, which is really no more difficult than making Rice Krispies squares.”
The family has run into a challenge when it comes to milk: individual milk bags are not recyclable and while 2L milk cartons are, milk is much more expensive that way. So for now, the family is working around the problem by reusing their milk bags as freezer and sandwich bags, while Vandermeer looks into whether the bags might be recycled in nearby regions.
Vandermeer has also sewn up her own mesh bags to use when buying bulk produce. And she’s trying to avoid buying meat packaged on styrofoam, which is not recyclable in Waterloo. Instead, she’s choosing fresh meat wrapped in butcher paper, which is recyclable.
“But at the same time, we’re still purchasing the stuff we always did, just in different ways,” Vandermeer says.
For now, the family’s two boys are on board with the experiment -- although it’s admittedly early days.
“At this point, they’re excited. They’re the ones keeping us honest. They’ll ask, ‘Mom, is that package recyclable?” Vandermeer says with a laugh.
But she wonders what will happen when the school year begins again, and the boys don’t find their usual packaged snacks and cheese strings in their lunch bags.
She’s also heard from a few naysayers, who say they’re wasting their time. But Vandermeer is hopeful they will be able to meet their goal.
“If we can keep going at the rate we’ve been going for the last three weeks, we believe that we’ll make that goal of one bag of garbage in a year. However, if we don’t and we make a bag and a half, or two bags or whatever we make, we still reduced our waste from what we normally would throw out and from what a lot of Canadian families throw out,” she says.
“We’re learning as we go and this is an experiment for us and we hope that it’s going to work. “