7 tips to get you started with zero waste

Zeroing in on zero waste and doing your part for the environment are easier than you might think!

By Fonds de solidarité FTQ

Want to do your part for the environment but don’t know where to begin? A good first step is to work out your carbon footprint and see how you can reduce it by gradually going zero waste. Here are 7 tips to help you get there while saving money, energy, and time!

1. Pack an environmental punch: lose the packaging

It all starts with your shopping habits. Choose products with little or no packaging, or with packaging made of a single material. A baguette might look tastier when it’s in a half-paper, half-plastic sleeve, but packaging made from two materials glued together is much more difficult to recycle.

It might seem complicated at first, but soon you’ll realize it just takes a little planning to make zero-waste shopping a part of your daily routine. Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up all over Québec, including Loco in Montreal and Brossard, La Récolte in Québec City, and Le Silo in Sherbrooke. A number of online platforms list zero-waste grocery stores, including Les pages vertes.

If you don’t have a zero-waste grocery store nearby, you can always suggest that your grocery store add a zero-waste section or carry products with little or no packaging. You can even bring your own containers for products you buy at the counter, bakery, deli, or fish store. The more customers suggest these changes, the more grocery stores will be quick to react!

At the same time, other ventures are rethinking consumer models. For example, NousRire is an organic and eco-responsible bulk food purchasing group that operates in a number of parts of the province.

2. Avoid single-use products

To get to zero waste it’s important to avoid buying items that are used only once or just a few times. It makes sense when you think about it, but you still have to make the effort.

Examples include individual water bottles, disposable razors, cleansing or makeup removal wipes, straws, Q-tips, and so on. Instead, choose reusable bottles, washable paper towels, reusable parchminium cooking sheets like the ones made by Québec-based Cookina, and washable makeup remover pads and feminine hygiene products by Höm par Omaïki, etc.

Some easy-to-pick-up lunchtime habits include saying no to plastic utensils, not taking a bag when your meal is already in a package or container, and even asking your favorite restaurant to put your meal in your reusable container.

3. Purchase goods that are durable, repairable, and reusable

Another move in the right direction is buying products that are durable and repairable. Are your shoes worn out? Take them to the cobbler to see if they can be repaired and shined up like new for a few bucks. We’ve gotten out of the habit of using tailors, jewelers, electronics repair shops, and so on. They can provide valuable advice on whether it’s better to repair or replace.

Consumer magazines can also help guide your decisions when shopping for appliances, electronics, or a winter coat. It’s been proven that you save money in the long run by purchasing high-quality products that cost more  front.

But before buying anything, even if it’s durable, reparable, and reusable, ask yourself if you really need it!

4. Start composting

Looking for a simple and effective way to trim down the contents of your garbage bag? Do like 37.3% of Québecers and compost your food waste. Most municipalities provide residents with compost bins and a collection service for table scraps.

If such services aren’t available in your region, you can compost plant materials at home by following a few basic rules (in French) that will guarantee odorless, painless results and enough healthy fertilizer to grow delicious organic vegetables!

5. Make your own household products and cosmetics

The problem with household products and cosmetics is that they produce a new batch of plastic containers every month that have to be shipped off to recycling. To prevent this waste, you can purchase zero-waste, environmentally friendly products at retailers such as Lemieux and Bigarade for laundry detergent. Instead of using dryer sheets, try a ball of wool like the one made by La Maison Lavande.

All-purpose cleaner is easy to make at home.

  • 1 liter water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

You can avoid chemicals by making your own deodorant with this simple, tried-and-true recipe. Use a double boiler or microwave.

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2–3 tablespoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2–3 cm beeswax
  • 5 drops essential oil

Lots of recipes are available on the Web and in Facebook groups. Try some out and share what works for you!

6. Rethink your wardrobe

Did you know that the fashion industry is second only to the oil industry as the world’s top polluter? We buy 60% more clothes than we did 15 years ago. More and more Québec companies are helping us change the way we think about fashion and reduce our environmental impact. For example, Deuxième Édition sells secondhand luxury wear, and Station Service rents designer fashions to help us buy less. Other companies are into trading: Shwap Club doesn’t sell any clothes (their policy is “bring a garment and leave with something that better suits your needs”) and emphasizes the quality of its merchandise.

These new models are cropping up alongside thrift stores, which are already a familiar sight on the business landscape.

7. Reclaim old furniture or customize your own pieces

Vintage is back, so fans of the midcentury look are loving secondhand furniture shops. But why not adopt the vintage mindset no matter how your home is decorated? A bit of sanding and a coat of paint can save a lot of furniture from a trip to the dump. With just a little imagination, a bookshelf can easily be transformed into a home entertainment center.

If do-it-yourself doesn’t do it for you, there are tons of flea markets with beautiful furniture in top shape and at unbeatable prices. Zero waste means putting secondhand first when your home is in need of something new.

Bonus: Recycling the right way

We might think we know it all when it comes to recycling, but here’s a little guide you can share with colleagues and friends.

Paper and cardboard

  • Almost all paper and cardboard is recyclable. Always put it in the bin, unless it’s soaked with fat, in which case it can be composted.
  • It’s best to take boxes apart before they go into the recycling. It makes the collection and sorting process more efficient.


  • Almost all number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 plastics are recyclable.
  • Number 6 plastics like small yogurt containers and coffee cup lids are not recycled in Quebec.
  • Plastic bags and flexible plastic packaging are recyclable if you make a “bag of bags.”


  • Glass containers can be recycled with or without labels. If they are returnable, they must be taken back to the point of sale.


  • Almost all metal is recyclable, including tin cans, lids, caps, stoppers, soft drink cans, etc. If they are returnable, they must be taken back to the point of sale.
  • Aluminum plates, containers, and foil are recyclable even if they are dirty.
  • There are only a few sorting centers in Québec that recycle aerosol cans.

Remember to separate materials. For example, make sure cookie boxes are empty, without any plastic bags or trays inside. For more information, visit the Recyc-Québec checklist or this tool from Tricentris.

Zeroing in on zero waste and doing your part for the environment are easier than you might think! Yes, there are small things you’ll have to do every day, and a few habits may be hard to break, but it’s all worth it! And it’s not just good for the planet—you’ll feel better and so will your wallet!

Sources (French only)

Fonds FTQ is committed to just and fair energy transition

We are committed with you to protecting the planet. We have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change that includes:

  1. Reducing the carbon footprint of our investments

  2. Supporting energy transition for businesses in terms of risks and opportunities

  3. Investing in the low-carbon economy and exploring investment opportunities in high-potential areas such as energy efficiency and new technologies

  4. Taking a leadership role in just and fair energy transition and provoking conversations between key socioeconomic stakeholders, including businesses, governments, and local communities

We also pledge not to finance any hydrocarbon exploration or development projects in Québec.

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