I started this blog post about a week ago. It’s gone through a couple drafts, all of which felt fake before. I was talking about what I’ve already done and how I’m going to be this perfect plastic-free student. But I don’t think that’s the reality. The more I think about it and talk it over with my parents, the more I realize it’s not going to be as easy and accessible to be waste-free when I go back to school. As a student, not everything is as possible as it is when I’m home with my parents.
I don’t want to give it up. That would never make sense to me. But I know it won’t be perfect.
This post isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I think it’s more realistic that what I want it to be. It’s more than I save unused notebooks from getting thrown away and I plan on using bags. It’s more like I’m not going to be perfect and I expect that this is going to be difficult.
I’m not saying I’m giving up. I don’t ever want to give up. That just doesn’t make sense to me. But, I’m trying to be okay with myself that I’m not going to be perfect. The more I think about it, there’s no such thing as zero-waste. You’re going to create some waste in your life. I recently heard the word low-impact lifestyle, and that is something that makes so much more sense to me and something that seems more achievable. Zero-waste feels very absolute, while low-impact can change from person to person and is much more accessible to everyone.
For starters, Montréal is SO different from the Bay Area. The environmental effort is so prevalent here. We grew up being taught how to recycle and save water and energy. The top recycling cities are San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose. Also, there is such an abundance of fresh produce available basically all year round.
Fruits and veggies will be the hardest to find. I’ll have to scope out different stores and markets, but in the dead of winter, nothing is really fresh. Hopefully, I can find vendors who have anything that’s just not wrapped in plastic! My diet will have to adapt to what I can find. But at the same time, if all the apples have a plastic sticker on them, I would much rather be able to eat them and dispose of the stickers accordingly versus depriving myself of food I need.
Same goes with basic food staples. I’ve been following a bit of Montréal zero-waste Instagrams/bloggers to see where they do most of their bulk shopping. Canada’s biggest bulk store is Bulk Barn, but I’ve found a few smaller stores through these accounts that I definitely want to check out. But, if I can’t find something in bulk, I’ll resort to the next best thing (i.e. sugar in a paper bag). But also, the closest bulk stores are 30 minutes away from me. In the dead of winter, I know I’m going to HATE walking with heavy bags and waiting for a bus that only comes every 30 minutes. I’m hoping I can find a system where this isn’t the case and that I don’t have to sacrifice this because it inconveniences me, but in reality, do I have time to spend 2+ hours on grocery shopping?
I can see meal planning being a big help in this instance. If I know exactly what I need to get and where to get it, it’ll cut down the aimless wandering around the grocery shopping. I HATE grocery shopping in general, so if I go in with a plan, I can see it being less of an anxious chore. I’ve tried meal planning in the past, but I’ve never really stuck to it. If I can’t find a system that works for me, I can definitely see myself falling back into the rut of pasta everyday.
Hopefully, having foods on hand that I can easily add to my go to dishes will be beneficial to me, but I can get lazy. Maybe it’ll be as simple as having those things pre-cut and prepped, so I can get over that laziness :/. As long as I have a list at the store though, I’ll hate shopping way less.
In regards to meat, I don’t buy/cook it very often at school in the first place. But, if I ever feel the need to have some, I will definitely first check a butcher. I have a friend who works at a butcher’s shop, so I will have to shoot them a message and ask if it would be possible to ever bring my own container! (I definitely would much rather ask a friend who might know first!)
Fish (something I ate a lot at school), will be more difficult though. Lately, I’ve become iffy on eating fish (I’ll make a post about it), but I always bought it in plastic wrap. It was a huge go-to for me and I hope I can find a suitable alternative.
I’ll definitely have to get creative with my diet. It’s really easy for me to fall into a rut of eating pasta and rice every day, but I want to try to incorporate other foods. I’ve been following lots of zero-waste food bloggers (my favourite so far is The Zero-Waste Chef !) My mom has also been testing recipes of my little sister’s favourite lunch snacks and I’ll definitely be making those. I hope to document some of my efforts with new recipes and seeing what works for me based on what food I am able to get!
Things are more expensive in MTL. I’ve heard (only from my sister as a source to be honest) that Bulk Barn is not the cheapest store. Bulk in general is not that cheap. It CAN be cheaper, but I think I’m really gonna have to go to every store I can find and make note of what’s cheapest where.
My sister usually shops at a grocery chain called PA which is really cheap. But, plastic is everywhere in that store. If it’s just fruits and veggies, I have a grocery store literally 20 feet away from where I live. I plan on buying most of my produce there (unless I find it to be too expensive).
Also, sometimes zero-waste options are SO MUCH MORE expensive than the regular options. I was reading Plastic Free Chef’s latest blog post where she talks about how she isn’t perfect. She buys yogurt in plastic containers because reusable yogurt and other dairy services are expensive. She reuses them as much as she can, but it still ends up in the trash. It’s not always going to be the cheapest option to be zero-waste. There are so many things that will end up saving me money, but not always.
I suck at using a budget. But now that I have more expenses that I need to worry about, I think it’s the only way. My sister had a really good system where she would budget out her money, then she would put cash into envelopes. That way, there’s no excuse for going over budget. If I would need to go over budget on one thing, I’d have to decide another aspect where I would need to take that money out of, rather than it all being this arbitrary digital mess.
I think my biggest fear going into this is what my roommates would think. I put off telling them because I was afraid they’d reject it (which I don’t know why I did that they’re amazing people of course they wouldn’t).
My main worries were cleaning products and toilet paper. Those are going to be the main things I assume we’re going to be sharing. I had worked it up in my head that they would hate this and wouldn’t want to change anything.
But, all it took was a simple text, telling them that I am trying to be way more conscious and they agreed! They were super down to use rags instead of paper towels for cleaning up. And they already are used to composition, so there we no problems there.
I don’t really know why I was so scared to talk to them about it. I think I’m more afraid of how I’m going to act. I don’t want them to change their lives because of me. I would love if it rubbed off on them and they picked up more conscious habits, but that is not my decision. Everyone is different.
I’m getting better at accepting that I am not here to force anyone to do anything. I can try to influence them, but I think it should be a second-hand influence. Rather than say, “Oh you should use a reusable cup,” I can just use a reusable cup. If they question it, I can explain to them on why I have chosen to use it. But it is ultimately a choice for them to make. And same goes with simple things with my roommates. I can offer to make dish soap and buy bar soap to wash our hands with. But if they don’t want to use it, I’m not going to hate them for it.
I hope that I can still be low-impact when I’m at school. It won’t be perfect, but as long as I’m trying, I know I’ll be making a difference. And I don’t think this is about being perfect and being zero-waste. It’s about being conscious of what waste I contribute to the earth.