Zero Waste is a movement for people who align themselves with the belief that we all have a commitment to take care of the space in which we live, and encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused and no trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. This is more than recycling – it is intentionally thinking about life cycle and life span of all the purchases you make. Similar to Sustainability, to adhere to Zero Waste ideals, there is a requirement to think in a futuristic way. You must believe in and value those who will come after you and the space that is left for them. This requires intentional action and a shift in your traditional thought processes around purchases and waste.

A woman named Bea Johnson starting blogging in 2008 about her family’s Zero Waste lifestyle, and the transition from how they previously lived as consumption-driven, everyday Americans. The Johnson’s live by the “5 Rs”: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Bea encourages anyone looking to live Zero Waste to Refuse what you don’t need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you do purchase and Recycle or Rot (compost) the rest.

Removing all forms of waste from your lifestyle may seem like a daunting task, but in the age of the Zero Waste movement sites like Youtube, Instagram and WordPress, as well as veteran Zero Wasters like Bea Johnson, make it quite easy to start integrating Zero Waste habits in your daily life. To simplify things further, we have composed a guide for anyone interested in Zero Waste.

Top #5 List for Beginners

#1. Refuse Ziploc, the Straw and Disposable Cups

Start by refusing what you do not need. Ziploc bags, plastic straws and disposable cups are the first to go. Did you know straws are over 7000 years old? Originally designed by ancient civilizations, each with various uses (prevention of slurping up bugs when drinking at night, filtering beer, preventing contagious diseases when sharing glasses, etc.), it wasn’t until the 1960s that straws started being made out of plastic, shifting away from paper straws to an oil-based, single-use product. Not only is this practice incredibly wasteful, but as long as straws are made from plastic, their production is oil-intensive and really bad for the environment, too.

And if circumstance requires you to use a straw, many reusable options are available to keep in your bag/purse/desk, etc.

Disposable Cups also make the list of items you can refuse because they are an environmental nightmare. Most are made from cardboard but contain a thin layer of plastic tightly attached to the cup. The plastic keeps the drink warm and prevents the cardboard from becoming soggy, but it also makes the cup non-recyclable. It takes about 20 years for such a cup to decompose. And it’s not just the cup itself – it’s the plastic lid popped on top and the cardboard sleeve that accompanies the cup. People will tend to throw out their cup sleeve with the cup (which is a paper recyclable), throw out their cup lid with the cup (which is a plastic recyclable), and the cup itself, all destined for years in a landfill, despite only being used for 3-10 minutes per use. You can refuse this wasteful practice and simply keep a reusable mug or cup in your workplace, car – wherever! Sustainable Tip: Use a reusable mug on campus and it can save you money at coffee shops on every beverage you purchase.

Ziploc, Straws and Disposable Cups are great examples of the small, but mighty shift to living with greater zero-waste intention. These are not life changing habits, but are important habits to kick if you are interested in a less wasteful lifestyle. This is where prioritizing comes in: Do you value convenience or creating less waste? Neither option is right or wrong, but simply a choice. Zero Waste involves intentionally thinking about many of these small, but significant choices in our everyday habits.

#2. Food Waste
What nearly 1/3 of all food produced becomes… waste. Which isn’t too surprising considering our refrigerators have gotten bigger, our dinner plates have increased in surface area – we are a society being encouraged to buy and eat more. But did you know that Canadians throw out approximately 7 billion kilograms of food a year? Much of this waste could be diverted by:

  • being attentive to the food we purchase and not letting it go bad
  • composting all organic waste
  • only buying what we need for the time period in which we are buying for, instead of purchasing to fill all the empty space in our fridge
  • not filling an entire plate and incorporating smaller portions into meals

#3. Shop The Farmer’s Market

Not only is the Farmer’s Market going to connect you to local foods, with a smaller carbon footprint than the foods you would find at the grocery store, but the set up of Farmer’s Markets cater to Zero Waste. Vendors will take back and refill your egg cartons, or Kombucha bottles, or even accept berries baskets back for reuse. Your veggies will most likely be free of plastic and stickers, too.

Luckily for us in Ottawa, we have plenty of Farmer’s Markets to choose from! Here is a complete list of 2017 markets in Ottawa and the surrounding areas.

Urban markets

  • Byward Market
    The entire area immediately east of Sussex and north of Rideau. You’ll still find fresh fruits, vegetables, crafts and other vendors in one of Ottawa’s most historic neighbourhoods. Vendors typically operate May to October.
  • Ottawa Farmers’ Market (Lansdowne Park)
    Back at Lansdowne Park in Aberdeen Square every Sunday from 9am-4pm, the Ottawa Farmers’ Market showcases local farmers, small-batch artisan producers and artists who grow, raise and make their own food, arts and crafts. This market is open all year long, with a Winter Market indoors when it’s cold and a Summer Market starting in May.
  • Ottawa Organic Farmers Market
    At the Canada Care Building (Bank Street at Heron Road, behind Canadian Tire). Open Saturdays 10am-2pm, all year long.
  • Parkdale Market
    At the corner of Parkdale and Wellington in Hintonburg. This market was established in 1924 and is run by the City of Ottawa. Features fresh fruit and vegetables and flowers. Open 6am-6pm, 7 days a week. Opens for the season on April 28, 2017.
  • Beechwood Farmers’ Market (Vanier / New Edinburgh)
    Operates at Marche St Charles (131 Barrette Street). Open Saturdays starting June 10.
  • Main Farmers’ Market
    After having to relocate the last two years due to construction, they’re back next to the Green Door Restaurant on Main Street on Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Westboro Farmers Market
    Located in the Byron Linear Park bordered by Golden, Bryon, Richmond and Broadview Avenues, the site can host up to 76 vendors. Open Saturdays starting May 13.

Suburban & rural markets

  • Almonte Farmers’ Market
    In the parking lot of the Almonte Public Library. Open Saturdays starting May 21.
  • Carleton Place Farmers’ Market
    At Market Square (Beckwith @ Lake Avenue), open Saturdays starting in mid-May.
  • Carp Farmers’ Market
    At the Carp Fairgrounds, about 10km from the Carp Road exit on the 417. Open Saturdays from May to October. (Opening day is May 13, 2017)
  • Cumberland Farmers’ Market
    Located at the R.J. Kennedy Community Centre, 1115 Dunning Road (Cumberland Arena), between Orleans and Rockland. Open Saturday mornings starting in mid-June.
  • Kanata Farmers’ Market
    420 Hazeldean Road, in the parking lot in front of Shoppers Drug Mart. Open Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Kemptville Farmers’ Market
    200 Sanders Street at the B & H parking lot in Kemptville, south of Ottawa. Sunday afternoons from May to October.
  • Log Farm  (NEW)
    670 Cedarview Road (between Hunt Club & Fallowfield). Open Saturdays from 9am – 2pm Starting May 13,2017 and running until the end of October.
  • Manotick Farmers’ Market
    Every Saturday morning from 9am-2pm, starting June 17 at Watson’s Mill.
  • Metcalfe Farmers Market
    At the Metcalfe Fairgrounds, southeast of the city. Open Saturdays 9am-1pm, starting May 13.
  • North Gower Farmers’ Market
    At 2397 Roger Stevens Drive, just west of North Gower. Look for the big red barn. Open Saturdays starting May 20.
  • Orléans Market – Ray Friel Center
    Open Thursdays 12pm-7pm starting May 25.
  • Riverside South – Riverview Park and Ride (NEW)
    New for 2017, the market is planned to operate June through October on Sundays, 9am-2pm.
  • Stittsville Farmers’ Market (NEW)
    New in 2017, this market will be open Friday afternoons and early evening at Village Square Park at the corner of Stittsville Main and Abbott.  Opening dates to be announced.

Please visit to stay up to date on any changes to the above list.

#4. Solid Soaps, Shampoos and Conditioners

Most of us have used a bar of soap before, but have you ever tried a bar of shampoo or conditioner? Bar (a.k.a. solid) shampoos and conditioners provide an easy alternative to packaged and plastic-intense hygiene products. Bar soaps, shampoos and conditioners often can be purchased with zero packaging. An alternative you can try with ease AND that save money in the process. Unpackaged bar shampoos, soaps and conditioners are typically more gentle on your skin and hair, too, as they are free of sulphates and silicones.

Close by retailers of these products: Herb & Spice (Bank St.), Bulk Barn (various locations around Ottawa), Whole Foods (Bank St.) and LUSH (Rideau Centre and online).

#5. Textile Waste and Unnecessary Surplus

Textile Waste is one the fastest growing forms of waste in North America. In Canada 85% of all textiles end up in a landfill despite 95% being fully recyclable. Fast fashion and the age of disposable clothing is partially to blame, as styles change not seasonally but on a weekly basis for many retailers. How can we fight unnecessary textile waste and incorporate Zero Waste philosophies into our wardrobes? Bea Johnson inspired some guidelines for us:

  • Only shop a couple times a year to avoid compulsive buys, and when you do shop, buy second-hand clothing.
  • If you must buy new, buy quality with minimal tags (leave the shoe box at the store) and bring a reusable bag to carry your purchases home.
  • Be ruthless on fit. If it fits well, you’re most likely to wear it.
  • Donate unworn pieces to local organizations.
  • Learn of few sewing tricks, such as how to adjust hem length, and let in/out waistlines.

For more tips on Zero Waste strategies please check out some of the resources below. 

Bea Johnson’s blog Zero Waste Home:

Sustainable Food Suppliers in Ottawa from Just Food:

A guide to Backyard Composting:

Bulk Barn’s Reusable Container Program: