Grandson helping his Grandmother with kitchen waste for composting

Zero waste: How to lighten up on litter and help the planet

Want to combat climate change in your own way? These 8 waste-reduction tips can help you get started.

Grandson helping his Grandmother with kitchen waste for compostingBy weight, 75 to 80 per cent of all household waste is organic matter that can be composted and turned into soil (Getty Images/Alistair Berg)

As climate change continues to wreak havoc around the world, businesses and governments have become more and more aware of the need not only to adapt, but also mitigate the effects through zero-carbon and waste reduction strategies, among other measures. For example, the City of Toronto, for one, is working toward an aspirational goal of zero waste. 

At a personal level, too, a growing number of citizens are also becoming more aware of their impact on the planet and the need to reduce their own trash. In fact, zero-waster Lauren Singer has become somewhat famous for having managed to fit all the waste she produced in four years into a quart jar. In a series of videos, she explains how and why she has embraced a zero-waste lifestyle.

The rationale behind zero waste can be summed up under five principles: refuse, reduce, reuse, compost and recycle. And many of these are at the heart of the circular economy—a regenerative approach aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. 

If you would like to reduce your own waste footprint, here are some tips to help you get started.   


Cruise the aisles of any grocery store and you won’t be able to miss the reams of plastic containers in the cleaning section—and no need to guess where these will end up. That’s why Montreal student and zero-waste fan Samantha Nyinawumuntu recommends making your own cleaning products. “It’s super easy, works well and it’s cheaper than store-bought products,” she says.

Other options also exist. For example, Canadian company Tru Earth has come out with eco-strips—small laundry strips pre-loaded with detergent that are not only hypoallergenic and vegan friendly but come in a cardboard sleeve that doubles as a shipping envelope. 


Want to cut down on plastic bags and packaging? You can easily use beeswax food wrappers instead of saran wrap and reusable silicone bags instead of plastic zip bags. Also, as Nyinawumuntu points out, you can just put fruits and vegetables in your cart and clean them later or get reusable fruit and veggie bags. And, if you’re a coffee drinker in the Montreal area, you can get reusable coffee cups for a $5 deposit in cafés through La Vague

Meanwhile, for bread lovers who don’t like to bake it, Nyinawumuntu has a tip: “Ask for a paper bag at the bakery, then put your bread in a plastic container. It will stay soft.”


By weight, 75 to 80 per cent of all household waste is organic matter that can be composted and turned into soil. So, it makes sense to divert as much from the landfill as you can. For example, some people use composters to produce rich earth for the garden. Some communities also have organic composting programs.

If you are using community recycling and composting programs, remember to follow municipal guidelines –Toronto has a waste wizard, for example--and avoid tossing out-of-place items in the organic waste bin or recycling bin. 


Until recently, one-stop shops for waste-conscious consumers were rare. That is beginning to change: Vancouver has Nada Grocery and Kitchen Staples, among others; the Montreal area boasts Vrac & Bocaux, as well as Épicerie LOCO, Mégavrac and Épicerie Réserves. In Toronto, there is Bare Market, as well as Unboxed Market, which calls itself the first zero-waste, one-stop shop in the city.

The idea behind the stores? Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable mugs, containers and bags, but there are other options available on site. (Make sure to check for pandemic restrictions and changes before you shop.) 

Also, despite the one-stop label, don’t expect to get everything you need in these stores. As Nyinawumuntu explains, she must go elsewhere to find the spices she requires to cook her native Rwandan dishes.


Helping local retailers is always a good idea—especially during the pandemic—but it can also help reduce waste. For example, California blogger Kathryn Kellogg likes to tortillas, but doesn’t enjoy making them. Instead of buying packaged ones, she orders fresh tortillas from her local Mexican restaurant, transporting them in her own container. “Many such solutions to waste are insanely simple,” she says. 


While you’re looking after yourself, why not look after the planet as well? For example, Life Unpacked offers a zero-waste bamboo toothbrush and eco-friendly tooth powder that won’t add to the plastic mountain in our landfills.

For your hair, you could try the all-natural Mountain Evergreen Shampoo Bar, infused with restorative tea tree and eucalyptus scents. “You'll feel one with nature and the earth you’re helping save,” says the Life Unpacked website.

Meanwhile, in the same vein as reusable diapers, it’s now possible to buy reusable toilet paper in the form of washable four-inch by eight-inch cotton flannel strips. “Great material,” says one fan.


Before you toss that little-worn top, consider if it could be given a second life—or “upcycled,” as seamstress Sandra Tedesco, owner of Montreal-based atelier Sandrarefashionista, calls it. Tedesco specializes in reworking old clothes into new items—a skirt can become a shirt, a shirt can become a scarf, etc. She then sells the items via Instagram, Etsy and other outlets. 

In the past two years, Tedesco’s clients have been donating large quantities of jeans, which she transforms into accessories. “The number of donations shows how awareness has grown among my social media followers,” she says. “The textile industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, so anything we can do to reduce its impact is a good idea.”


In Canada, it’s estimated that 58 per cent of our food is thrown away—not necessarily because it’s not good for consumption, but because of stock management issues and our own pickiness. But a growing number of companies are trying to reverse the trend. For example, Quebec’s SecondLife offers baskets filled with inventory surpluses and what they call “uglies”—fruits and vegetables that have small defects of appearance but are just as healthy as their peers. IGA and other supermarkets are now starting to stock uglies as well.

Meanwhile, circular economy project LOOP has made a mission of rescuing the castoffs of the food industry even before they reach store shelves, by transforming them into colourful juices, drinks and soaps. 


While reducing your waste is a journey and one that can never be perfect, it’s one that zero-wasters agree is eminently worth embarking on. As Nyinawumuntu explains, “Trying to reduce my carbon footprint by going zero waste made me feel like I was doing something.”


Climate change is a serious business issue and CPA Canada has a wealth of resources that CPAs can use to help organizations adapt. These include everything from A Primer on Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation to case studies and more. Find out how the environment affects you as an accountant.