Monday, September 30, 2013

Wasting Less - A Consumer's Guide



True waste reduction starts with, well, reduction, the first R. Avoiding buying something, or buying less of it, uses the fewest resources and saves you from having to seek out end-of-life options. Granted, waste reduction is harder to measure than recycling – you can’t see the things you didn’t buy in the same way as you can see how much you’ve filled up your recycling bin. But it’s real all the same. So how do you reduce?

  • Don’t browse in stores. Identify what you need before you make the trip, or even order it – that way you don’t get caught buying other things you don’t really need. Retailers are skilled at displaying items to encourage impulse buying  – resist! A rule of thumb – if you didn’t go to the store with the intention of buying it, consider the possibility that you don’t really need it.
  • Simplify your life – declutter (give it away!), and remember “he who dies with the most toys still dies – and leaves his kids to deal with all the junk!” As Oprah said, if you don’t need it or love it, get rid of it! Just because you get rid of a memento doesn’t mean you lose the memories!
  • Look for ways to use fewer things, and thus create less waste. You’ll save yourself time and money.
    Buy only what you need. Before you buy any item, ask yourself if you really need it, or could you make do with what you already have?
  • Choose products that do as many jobs as possible – printers that also scan and fax (if you need all three functions), all-purpose cleaners, rather than specialized ones for each surface or type of room. This reduces the number of products you have to deal with, decreases packaging and cuts down on clutter! 


Many items can be recycled in Saskatchewan, such as beverage containers (cans, glass, plastic, milk jugs and juice boxes) through SARCAN, used oil through the Sask. Association for Resource Recovery Corp, Paint at SARCAN, just to name a very few.  See our “Where do I recycle my…?” database to check out options in your community.


The "throw-away" convenience of some products is not worth the environmental price that is paid. Whenever you can, look for non-disposable options. Avoid paper towels, plates and cups, throw-away lighters and razors, and disposable diapers. Purchase the multi-use alternatives instead. Advertisers would have us believe that our busy lives demand items that we use once and throw away. But disposables have time costs too. You have to go and buy more things to replace all the ones you’ve thrown away and you have more garbage to take out. Even if you are someone who recycles, disposable items will have more packaging to deal with because each item is used only once. Most disposable items have a reusable counterpart -- washable floor pads for Swiffer-type mops, reusable coffee filters, cloth towels, razors where you just replace the blade... they’re out there and they reduce a lot of waste.

Also, consider reducing or eliminating your purchase of disposable fast food packaging.

Buy Quality

Buy durable, long-lasting goods. Initially the cost may be higher, but in the long run you can save. Consumer magazines and organizations can help you make an informed choice.  If you don’t need an item for its full life-span, no doubt someone else can make use of it when you’re done with it.


Rent seldom used items, such as tools or party ware.

Replace Hazardous Household Products With Non-Toxic Alternatives

Baking soda can be used as a scouring powder on tubs, sinks and ovens. Warm water and vinegar can be used to clean windows and mirrors, using an 8-to-1 solution. Twice weekly rinses with boiling water will keep drains open. Use a metal snake or plunger to unclog drains. For more suggestions, click here.

Be A Packaging Watchdog

  • Buy for the contents, not the container. Some packaging is necessary — you can't carry flour home in your hand — but these days many products have unnecessary or excessive packaging.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables "loose" rather than on a plastic-covered tray. If only buying one or two, they don’t even need the ubiquitous plastic bags.  Pencils and pens are examples of items that can be purchased "loose" at stationary stores, rather than in a bubble pack at the corner store.
  • Buy larger size packages of regularly used items. Buying two small jars of peanut butter creates more garbage than one large jar. Buy a large container of juice and send single servings in a thermos for school lunches.
  • Buy in bulk to reduce packaging, but only for those items that you use frequently and in quantity. It doesn’t reduce waste if you buy a bigger package then end up tossing it out.
  • Reuse plastic bags or containers from home for produce and bulk items.
  • Avoid packaging made with two or more different materials, such as juice containers made of a paper laminated with plastic or foil.
  • Ask store clerks not to double bag your purchases. Better yet, bring your own shopping bag to the store.

Be A Constructive Nuisance

Manufacturers and retailers are sensitive to consumers' preferences. Write the company to let them know you are rejecting a product because it is environmentally inappropriate. Complain to store owners.

evolution of garbage can

Tips For Reducing Household Garbage...


Intro by Joanne Fedyk

As I write this, I am wearing a shirt that used to belong to my sister-in-law (very comfortable, one of my favourites), and a pair of sandals a friend gave me because they no longer fit. I've got a book borrowed from the library in my bag, a remanufactured toner cartridge in my laser printer, a used (donated) computer as our second work-station, paper with one side used in my laser printer, photocopier and fax machine. My office furniture is second-hand, and my calendar on the wall is the wipe-off kind that we use over and over. You likely can come up with your own reuse examples.
Generally reuse includes any activities that use an item over again without reprocessing.

Reusing benefits us by saving money. It benefits the community by creating businesses. Second hand stores for everything from music to cars, rental outlets, and repair shops all contribute to local economies. Globally, reuse saves resources and prevents pollution. Reuse mostly occurs locally, so transportation costs and effects are reduced. Reuse keeps things in circulation, so it avoids new items being manufactured. It also uses less energy and creates less pollution than recycling.

  • Many things around the house can be saved and reused — string, plastic containers, glass containers, gift wrap, shopping bags. If there are things you can't use, consider giving them to others who can.
  • Magazines can be given to friends, or donated to hospitals, nursing homes, or doctors' offices.
  • Books can be given to hospitals, donated to organizations such as Salvation Army for resale, or resold in used book stores.
  • Yarn and cloth scraps, buttons, wallpaper ends and samples, toilet paper rolls, small boxes, egg cartons, yogurt containers, apple baskets, etc. may be used by nursery or primary schools or day care centres.
  • Eyeglasses can be donated to organizations such as the Lions Clubs International or sent to Operation Eyesight, 759 Warden Avenue, Scarborough, ON, M1L 4B5.
  • Check out, a great avenue for giving away things you no longer want or need.
  • Use it again — buy used items.
  • Refill — refill bottles and other containers. The same container can be used more than once for many things.
  • Dismantle — dismantle objects into individual components for recycling or reuse.

Websites like Kijiji (and other reuse options) have become essential for selling/ giving things away, with all kinds of categories to list in, and it’s free! We recommend Kijiji frequently, particularly for odd items that don’t have obvious options. One caller to SWRC had four electric typewriters to give away. As they aren’t accepted by the SWEEP program, we suggested Kijiji, and he emailed back a few days later to say someone had taken all four of them for parts! Who knew?!

Mattresses are another item we get frequent calls about – they’re often past the reusable state, and with the bed-bug issue, even charitable groups often don’t want them. But they make excellent dog beds or truck bed liners, so once again – Kijiji!


Charitable groups such as the Salvation Army, Crisis Nursery and the Saskatoon Refugee Coalition, and organizations who collect for Value Village, (Saskatoon Institute on Community Living and Canadian Diabetes Association) will take many items off your hands, such as old clothes, toys, furniture and appliances. The Refugee Coalition in particular is happy to accept less-than-perfect items. They readily took an excellent folding chair that had a smudge of paint on it and an ugly couch that was in otherwise great shape from a staffer’s parents. Local churches or women’s shelters often need items. Some daycares/preschools/kindergartens take a variety of strange items for their craft centres – thread spools, small jars, good-one- side paper of any size, old calendars and magazines (for their pictures), and the like.


Instead of throwing it out, fix it up! Repair broken toys, furniture and appliances to extend their useful life.


Share with neighbours and friends those large expensive things that you use only once in a while, such as lawn mowers, other gardening equipment, and tools.

Cut Down on Food Waste

20% of the food we buy ends up in the garbage. Keep track of what you've got on hand so that you use groceries while they're still fresh.


Start a backyard compost with your kitchen and yard waste — vegetable trimmings, banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, leaves, grass clippings, etc. You will reduce your garbage by over one-third and will produce an excellent soil conditioner for your garden. See our composting page for information on how to start composting.


Search our "Where do I recycle my…?" database for information on materials that can be recycled in your community or in a community near you.


Businesses and institutions too can reduce. Study your processes and business practices and ask the question “how can we accomplish our goals using fewer resources?” Can you reduce paper use? Can you switch to non-toxic cleaning products?

One way to identify waste reduction opportunities is to look at what is in your waste stream -- what can be eliminated/used again recycled? Fewer inputs mean saved resources.

Review your equipment and procedures regularly. SaskTel told us a story once of realizing they were still driving large trucks designed to carry big pieces of equipment that were no longer used. They downsized to much smaller vehicles, saving fuel and money.

Mostly, for businesses (and individuals too), it’s about keeping waste reduction in mind, looking for opportunities to accomplish more with less, and then spreading the word to others!

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