Campus Life

I went zero-waste for a week —
here’s how I did it

by Alena Blanes

From plastic straws to kombucha bottles – here’s what it’s like to cut out waste completely for a week.

In Canada, only 11% of all plastics are recycled–that’s a lot of waste. For years, I’ve been learning about the issue of pollution and waste. In elementary school, I was the first student to set up a recycling program in my classes. To me, it just seemed natural.

I’ve wanted to go zero-waste for a while. But I always thought going trash-free was too expensive, too difficult, and definitely not possible for a busy student. But for one week, I was challenged to create as little waste as possible.

So, for seven days here’s how it went – the good, the bad, and the composted.

I decided to tackle three areas of my life I was creating the most waste in:

  • Food and beverage
  • Hair and beauty
  • Hygiene

I already take the bus and walk to school, so transportation wasn’t going to be an issue. I also use my laptop religiously and have very little waste when it comes to paper.

The game plan was to prep my own meals, carry my reusable cutlery and bottle, and refuse single-use plastics as much as possible.

By preparing my own food not only was I saving money (hello $14 caf stir-fry) but I was creating less plastic waste overall. The challenge? Creating filling, satisfying meals that didn’t have me reaching for anything wrapped in plastic, paper, or (*shudders*) Styrofoam.

 

Day One:

Day one was my food purchase and prep day – aka the longest day of my life.

First stop was LUSH, where I picked up a couple zero-waste swaps. I did my research beforehand and came to the store prepared with a list of everything I wanted–Aromaco deodorant, Miles of Smiles toothy tabs, Soak and Float shampoo bar, and the Jungle conditioner bar.

zero waste beauty products

Reusable bags and mason jars in hand, I was off to Bulk Barn. If you’re looking to lower your plastic packaging waste, I highly suggest taking a peek at their selection. From protein powder, bulk tea, and even candy, Bulk Barn had me covered for all my regular packaged essentials. As a bonus, they even offer 10% off for students every Wednesday.

I loaded up on staples like oats, pasta, beans, nuts, chia seeds, and chocolate. I also picked up a couple extra produce bags for $3.

The final stop was Fortinos where I picked up the usual fruit and veg assortment: bananas, kale, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and peppers.

I was tempted to reach for frozen burgers, Clif bars, and vegan yogurt, but of course, there was no room for those plastic-coated delights in this challenge. Grapefruit in hand, I headed to the till and hopped on the bus home. Now the real challenge began.

I figured whatever food items I already owned (frozen berries, spices, peanut butter, etc.) I wasn’t going to count as waste. Repurchasing them in bulk would be wasteful and would undermine the whole challenge.

bulk products and fruits and vegetables

 

The Meal Prep

Before my big shop, I confided in a couple go-to recipes that were waste-free, satisfying, and healthy.

For the week I ended up prepping black beans, quinoa/lentil/brown rice bowls, bell pepper pasta sauce, granola, and protein-packed veggie burgers. I also tried making almond milk in my dorm, which was easier than you think!

The hardest part for me was not having my daily Clif bar. Anyone who knows me knows I take my love for Clif bars very seriously. Going without them for one week just felt wrong.

 

The Products

I’ll admit, I was sceptical about trying the naked products from LUSH. But in the end, I was blown away.

Aromaco was my favourite. It was everything you want in a deodorant–a neutral scent, smooth application, and no white residue. I will be purchasing it again.

Soak and Float was impressive. I had low expectations for a shampoo that looked like a bar of soap. After getting used to the extra bubbles, my hair felt clean and cleansed.

Jungle was a different story. If you’re someone who lives for that smooth feeling after washing out your conditioner, I suggest skipping this one. Although it left my hair less silky than my usual conditioner, it defined my curls like crazy!

The toothy tabs were also a unique experience. I was a little disappointed that LUSH doesn’t accept the container once you use them all up, but I plan on reusing the bottle in some way.

Finally, I went makeup free this week, as most of my makeup is packaged in plastic. Aside from saving me time in the morning, my skin cleared up. It felt great.

flat lay of zero waste products

The Experience

By day 3, I was starting to get really hungry. On top of classes and work, I go to the gym 3-4 times per week. This means I’m hungry, like, all the time. Without the ease of grabbing a protein bar from the caf between classes, I had to resort to other things.

One day I was so hungry I literally ran home after work to make a peanut butter sandwich, with 2 minutes to spare for my next class.

I also decided to make the almond milk I’ve been dreaming of with my roommate. We tossed some soaked almonds in the blender with some water and off we went. It wasn’t the same experience as pouring a glass of Silk, but it was fun.

After 4 days, I finally decided it was time to take out the trash, er, compost, that had been sitting on my kitchen floor all week.

In less than a week, I had created 2 full paper bags of vegetable scraps and a Tupperware of banana peels.

I also had an unexpected monthly visit that day, meaning I had to resort to an emergency tampon instead of my usual Diva Cup. Another piece of trash for the jar. Sigh.

On day 5, I approached Booster Juice and kindly asked them to put my juice in my mason jar. After some negotiations, it worked.

Sunday marked the last day of the challenge. By the end of the week, I still had almost half of my groceries left over and was feeling surprisingly sane.

My trash jar was filled, but I did better than expected.

It felt good to do good.

jar of trash

Final Thoughts

After 7 days of not reaching for a single straw, napkin, or Subway sandwich, these were my takeaways from the experience:

  • Be prepared wherever you go
  • Learn to say no to cashiers, servers, and bartenders
  • You will get hungry, faster – so plan ahead
  • You might get weird looks, but it’s worth it

As a student, there’s a lot we don’t have control over, like finances, family life, and personal issues, but we can control the little decisions we make each day. This is as simple as bringing your own coffee mug from home. Every bit counts!

Going entirely waste-free is difficult, but I’m going to keep incorporating the new products and habits I picked up along the way!

I encourage you to do the same.


For more on plastic pollution and ways to get involved, visit Humber’s Office of Sustainability.

Looking to be more sustainable? Check out 6 ways to be more eco-friendly.

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