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Q&A with Tara McKenna

tara mckenna cover photo
tara mckenna cover photo
tara mckenna

Tara McKenna

Founder, The Zero Waste Collective

We spoke with Tara McKenna, founder of The Zero Waste Collective, on how to live a life with less waste and more joy.

What are some tips you have that can help Canadian consumers at home improve their personal waste reduction habits?

Many people might feel overwhelmed by the zero-waste movement because it seems that to participate people must minimize their trash to fit into a mason jar. Not so!

That’s not realistic for most households given how our current system of consumption and waste management is set up, which is very much a linear model of:

extract > produce > consume > throw away

Instead, here are a few tips that can help Canadian consumers at home improve their personal waste reduction habits:

  • Get to know your local waste management system and sort properly
  • Be sure to compost (either through the municipal compost system if available or at home)
  • Have broken items repaired when possible
  • Shop secondhand (these products are already made, and you’ll mostly avoid packaging unless the item is being shipped)
  • Buy less but better; choose products that you know you won’t have to replace for a very long time
  • Participate in the sharing economy: borrow, lend, rent, swap, share, trade, etc.!

What are some everyday tasks and activities that you have found that generate a substantial amount of waste that some people might not think twice about?

What’s a surprising way we’re creating waste in our everyday routines? Getting dressed each morning! Okay, so putting your clothes on in the morning in and of itself is not creating waste, but constantly shopping for new clothing is!

The world consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year, which is 400% more than we did just 2 decades ago! This information is from the documentary, The True Cost, which I highly recommend watching.

In Canada, the average person throws out 81 pounds of textiles annually (source: Recycling Council of Ontario). Yikes! Who knew our wardrobes could be so wasteful?

What can we do to change the tide on our textile waste?

  • Shop your wardrobe and enjoy the clothes you already own
  • Develop your own personal style and avoid chasing trends that change quickly
  • Hold a clothing swap with friends and family to freshen up your style
  • When shopping: buy secondhand when possible, and shop for less but better-quality pieces that will live in your closet for years to come!

What sort of adjustments can people make to adopt a low-waste lifestyle that has a bigger impact than we may think?

While many people automatically think about reusable straws and shopping in the bulk section with your jars is what the zero-waste lifestyle is all about, and certainly those are great options. Another great way to reduce your waste is to reduce your consumption overall – this can have a huge impact!  

That can be hard to do, so one adjustment Canadians can make would be to save for our wants (like extra clothes, décor, furniture, eating out) instead of throwing these purchases on our credit cards.

Average Canadian non-mortgage debt sits around $23k (source: CBC News). What better way to reduce our debts than to shop less and skip the waste that comes with shopping (manufacturing process, transportation, packaging, and disposal). When you save up for what you want to purchase, your credit cards will thank you and so will the planet!

What would you say to the people who do not believe their personal actions truly matter in the grand scheme of things when it comes to consumption and personal waste?

“It’s only one straw” – said 7 billion people. Sure, it might seem like the choices of a single person won’t impact the rest of the planet in any meaningful way. However, that individualistic thinking leaves us forgetting that we’re part of a bigger collective.

We live in communities and we’re part of a bigger population that lives on this planet! The world’s population consumes 1 million plastic bottles every minute (source), and Canadians alone consume more than 2 billion plastic bottles per year (source).

If we as people, as communities, as part of a greater collective, chose to skip these single-use bottles, imagine the impact that would have? Especially when much of this plastic waste ends up in our natural environment (consider that 22 million pounds of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year – source).

Our collective consumption matters. While one single bottle or one single straw in the moment doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is once you start to add them all up.

A strong reminder of our plastics problem is littered all around us, literally. One way to remind ourselves that we’re part of this planet is to do trash clean-ups! This year I’m participating in and partnering with GLAD’s litter clean up campaign, GLAD for Change. I’ll be tracking my impact using the One Piece a Day App!

Everyone can make a difference by consuming fewer single-use plastics and helping keep our natural environment litterless.

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