saying “no thanks” to packaging

I heard recently that Germans put out just a small bag of garbage because there has been a big push in Germany to reduce packaging. If you go to a toy store, you might find toys like smurfs and fantasy creatures made in Germany, with far less packaging than comparable toys encased in layers of plastic, twist ties and endless cellophane tape. Smurf figures have no packaging, and I’ve seen other toys from Germany with minimal and mostly recyclable cardboard packaging.

It’s a window on the possible.

Over the past several months, I looked for ways to avoid unnecessary packaging to reduce garbage volume. I focused on food packaging.

I usually buy whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than frozen or pre-cut ones–I think that’s healthier anyway. The fruit and vegetable’s skin is often the only packaging that’s required, and it’s compostable.

I use re-usable mesh bags for fresh produce. I often forgo bags altogether: if I’m just buying three tomatoes, I don’t bother putting them in any bag.

Sometimes stores package vegetables, such as corn on the cob, in styrofoam wrapped in cellophane. I don’t buy vegetables like that.  Mushrooms are often presented like that, but some stores such as Farm Boy and Loblaws provide paper bags (recyclable!) to package mushrooms yourself. I find that they keep better that way anyway.

Styrofoam packaging is pretty standard for fresh meat. But there are exceptions. Farm Boy sells a line of organic meat that is shrink-wrapped in sturdy plastic without any styrofoam. So at least the garbage volume is decreased. At some stores, if you order meat directly from the meat counter, they don’t use styrofoam there either.

How do you avoid packaging with the things you buy?


Sharing a Green Bin

I hit on a big eureka moment at the end of July.  And it’s still working!

A few people (like one of my neighbours) that I’ve talked with about the green bin think it’s a nice idea and all, but they live alone and don’t think they produce enough green bin-type waste to make it worthwhile to have one.  Sound familiar?  So they just throw it in the garbage.

I’ve heard of people who live in stacked townhouses who are in a similar situation, so they share a green bin among a few households. 

I have a standard full-size green bin (as opposed to the half-size models that are also available), and now that the City collects green bin materials every week, it’s usually only about half-full.

Back in late July, I talked to one of my neighbours about this–as we were already outside chatting about something else already–and welcomed her to put her compostable waste into my green bin.  I listed the things that can go into the green bin.

I want to avoid having to clean out a potentially gross green bin with someone else’s compostables, so the I told her about wrapping compostables in paper or putting them in a cardboard box (especially for messier food waste).  This summer, I put everything in a paper leaf and yard waste bag (tip:  they cost less than the ones designed for the green bin) inside the green bin.  So even if she doesn’t wrap stuff properly, the big brown bag will help limit mess.

She basically politely nodded and said yes…just to humour me? 

I store my green bin in the back yard;  that week, I started storing it in a corner of my yard where my neighbour can easily access it.

The big eureka moment was when I noticed that she had put some stuff in the green bin.  Great! 

That was a few months ago.  My neighbour continues to share my green bin, and so far, it’s worked out well–she has even brought it back from the road for me.  I think the key things that make it work is that I store it in the same place (the bin is predictably available), and she makes sure that stuff she puts in the green bin isn’t a dripping mess or it’s wrapped properly.

With the upcoming switch to bi-weekly residual garbage pickup, there’s been a lot of information floating around about what can go into the green bin, so that has helped too.  And it’s an extra incentive to start using the green bin.

What do you do if don’t generate very much compostable waste?