Lauren’s Waste Reduction Challenge

Last week was Waste Reduction Week sponsored by the Recycling Council of Ontario. After reading the two part series by my co-worker, Bryna, I emailed her saying that it’d be fun to do an experiment to reduce my waste.

To start, I looked at my lifestyle and chose three different waste generating areas. I then sought to find a way to reduce my waste in each. Here they are:

Groceries, Lunches and Snacks

What I used to do:

  • Used new sandwich baggies for my sandwich as well as sides
  • Bought pre-prepackaged snacks
  • Threw my apple cores and peels in the garbage

What I tried:

  • Packaged everything in reusable containers
  • Purchased snacks in less packaging, and created small servings on my own
  • Bought at bulk food stores where I could fill my own reusable containers

What worked, and what didn’t work?:

I found it very easy to use reusable containers for everything. I was unable to do anything
about my organic material with my time constraint. I would like to look into this further. I think the biggest barrier was the original packaging for my food. At the grocery store, most tofu and soy products come in a lot of packaging and in small portions. It’s impossible to reduce this packaging. I minimized using plastic produce bags at the grocery store too. Another way to reduce packaging is to purchase from a farmer’s market.

Dining Out

What I used to do:

  • Ate out or purchased take out once a week
  • Got a styrofoam or cardboard takeout container for my leftovers

What I tried:

  • Did not go out for a meal if I had food at  home
  • Took a reusable container with me for  leftovers (many restaurants have you package your own leftovers now, so this is easy!)

What worked, what didn’t work?:

At many fast food places, it is difficult to stop them from using a lot of packaging. It also takes a lot of effort to have them use your reusable containers, and causes confusion. However, it is possible (I tried at a Subway). At a restaurant, it is much easier to use your own containers. When I was finished, I simply packaged up my leftovers myself and took them home. If you try hard enough, you can use your own reusable containers anywhere. I also reuse plastic containers that I get from some restaurants.

Print Outs 

What I used to do:

  • Overprinted agendas and meeting minutes for meetings
  • Printed out documents to review them by hand
  • Printed out many emails

What I tried:

  • Accounted for a couple less people than those that had accepted the meeting (many people print out the meeting items for themselves)
  • Edited and reworked documents digitally on the screen rather than printing
  • Only printed those emails that were required to go in to hard files

What worked, what didn’t work?

It is often much easier to edit on paper than on screen. It also makes it easier to pass to different colleagues for their approval. I did, however, print less. I thought more carefully about what I actually needed to print and encouraged my boss to do the same. However, because of the need for hard files, I am unable to reduce my paper consumption 100 percent.

Overall, I had fun reducing my waste, but struggled most with food products since a lot of foods are wrapped in packaging that cannot be recycled (i.e. granola bars). I think I’ll keep up with the new lifestyle that I’ve created.

And my total waste for the whole week? Less than half a grocery bag!

Lauren Wingham-Smith is a Municipal Peer Review Team Project Assistant with Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, acting on behalf of the Municipality of Port Hope. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering, specializing in Materials Science and Engineering with a minor in Economics. This multidisciplinary background allows Lauren to view both the environmental and human effects of engineering projects. She is also passionate about green innovation and design.


About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit
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