It's more than possible for students to overcome the challenges of living a sustainable lifestyle while on a budget

A common misconception of waste-free living is that it means producing zero garbage whatsoever. It is impossible to live completely waste-free. If you search far enough down the supply chain, all products (even sustainable ones) produce some form of waste. Waste-free living is less about being the perfect environmentalist and more about reducing consumption, saying no to plastic, and forming sustainable habits.

However, making small changes to your daily routine can be expensive, especially for students whose financial priorities lie elsewhere. With rising costs in tuition, housing, food, and gas, being environmentally friendly may not take precedence. In addition, students must balance course loads, jobs, friends, family, and more - all before taking the time to make waste-free lifestyle transitions.

Making the switch can be daunting when you have a busy schedule, live on a budget, or don't have a lot of money in savings. But don't give up hope. For those who are looking to become more environmentally conscious, there are many ways to navigate the financial challenges.

Step one is to abolish any perception you have of minimalist living. Social media inaccurately depicts the waste-free lifestyle by turning it into an aesthetic rather than a philosophy of life. Reducing your consumption won't be glamourous. Our society is structured for convenience, meaning that plastic is everywhere. Finding alternatives for single-use items might be messy and that's okay.

Step two is to come to terms with the fact that this transition cannot be done overnight. Replacing everything you own with something sustainable in one go will deplete your wallet. Those who claim being eco-friendly is too expensive, are likely trying to do too much too fast. The trick is to make the lifestyle switch slowly by using what you already have first. I've been making this transition for three years and still have much work to do.

Contrary to popular belief, waste-free living actually saves you money. Yes, alternatives are more expensive short term, but unlike single-use products, sustainable goods aren't purposely designed for the dump to keep consumers consuming. Instead, they are crafted to last a long time. For example, a menstrual cup, which has a lifespan of up to ten years, can save someone roughly $600 dollars on tampons in that same period of time.

Step three is to set realistic goals. My top tip for this step is to think about accomplishing zero-waste living based on the different rooms in your house. Tackle your bathroom first, then your kitchen, then your bedroom, and so on. Think about the various items in these rooms that can be replaced with ones that have longer lifespans.

My waste-free journey started in my bathroom. I switched to bars of shampoo and conditioner. While they do cost slightly more, they last about three times longer than the bottled kind. I also switched from single-use razors to a reusable one. Again, in the short term, it was more expensive, but I've been using the same one for two years and it will probably last me two more.

As for my kitchen, I started freezing my food scraps to make broth I could later cook with. I do this because, although composting is excellent for the environment, food waste produces a harmful greenhouse gas called methane. The average Canadian household loses $1,100 dollars in food waste each year, so just by making homemade broth, I am saving both the planet and money.

In the long-run living waste-free is not as expensive as it seems. All you have to do is remember that there is no perfect environmentalist, to make the transition slowly, and to set attainable goals. If, as a student, this lifestyle is not accessible because of finances the easiest change that still makes a difference is to say no and refuse unnecessary single-use plastics.

Hammerhewn owners Avery and Jake Goulet shape wood into unique jewelry, furniture and decorations

When Jake and Avery Goulet started making cutting boards, coffee tables and wooden artworks as gifts for family and friends, the couple didn’t intend to turn their woodworking hobby into a business. That changed while quarantining after a trip to Europe earlier this year. The Goulets were motivated by the encouragement of their friends to start their online shop Hammerhewn in April 2020.

Hammerhewn sells a variety of wooden products such as keychains, jewellery, coasters, custom furniture and home decorations. The name comes from the term, hewing, which is the process of turning a freshly chopped log into lumber. Their products feature unique patterns and colours characteristic of exotic woods such as purpleheart, zebrawood, wenge and lacewood. No elaborate machines or equipment are involved in the process and everything is made at home.

“Everything is hand done, so everything might be a little bit wonky, but it’s what adds to the character of it. It’s like people. It’s unique and we think that that’s a selling feature,” said Avery.

“Everything is hand done, so everything might be a little bit wonky, but it’s what adds to the character of it. It’s like people. It’s unique and we think that that’s a selling feature,” said Avery.

Jake and Avery have always loved working on creative projects together. Their woodworking passion stems from Jake’s 15-year background in construction and Avery’s interest in craft projects. For Avery, these projects are a way to unleash her artistic side after working her customer service job all day.

It is important to Jake and Avery to run a zero-waste business. Zero-waste practices include reusing, reducing and recycling raw materials as well as employing responsible production and consumption methods. Jake and Avery do this by using every scrap piece of wood leftover from previous projects. Mixing and matching wood scraps contributes to the uniqueness of Hammerhewn’s designs. They also reduce waste by not hewing until they’ve picked out their favourite part of the wood and grain pattern and know exactly where they want to cut.

[/media-credit] Caption: A few orders ready to be shipped! Like our boxes all stamped and ready to go?

“As we're using every piece of it, we want to make sure it's utilized the best and it'll look the best too,” said Jake.

The wood recycling industry in North America is far less advanced than some other countries such as those in Europe due to the cheaply available virgin timber and the fact that landfills accept wood. However, there has been increasing momentum towards sustainable practices in the Canadian construction industry which produces 1.75 million metric tons of wood waste annually. There are also more zero-waste and environmental protection programs that are being implemented to protect over 6,400 trees listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list.

As Jake and Avery use exotic woods, some of which are endangered species, they prioritize being transparent with their customers about the production process and their effort to achieve an eco-friendly and sustainable business model. 

This transparency has also helped them connect to the greater community. On their Instagram, they run a series called #LocalLundi where they highlight the community’s favourite local businesses. The businesses are nominated by their followers and the duo selects them based on whether they are small and if the duo can provide real help. In return, the businesses usually promote Hammerhewn on their own social media.

[/media-credit] Caption: For beautiful products for your home, check them out! Hamilton-based and handmade!
"All handmade products of Limitless Decor are created with a rustic, chic look and are unique to themselves. We employ high-quality materials because we want our products to last throughout the years and we know they will because we use the same ones in our Homes. We would never sell something we would not use ourselves." Be sure to nominate your favourite local businesses for our free feature!

Through Hammerhewn, Jake and Avery have built relationships with fellow small business owners who are working from home. They have found this community to be supportive in helping them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I find Hamilton is very warm and the people in it are very warm,” said Avery. “Everybody is happy with supporting the local business, so it's nice to be a part of that ourselves too.”

“I find Hamilton is very warm and the people in it are very warm,” said Avery. “Everybody is happy with supporting the local business, so it's nice to be a part of that ourselves too.”

The community also takes a major role in Hammerhewn’s design and production process. Jake and Avery receive a lot of feedback from the community and ask questions to their audience on social media about what they would like to see next. As a result, they craft many custom orders, which are their favourite part of the business. 

Currently, the couple is working on pet collars and more custom orders. They also look forward to introducing new products such as wood lighting in the future.

Photos C/O Razan Samara, Jennifer Yee

Jennifer Yee is the self-proclaimed love child of Stevie Nicks and Indiana Jones, an identity I realized she’s adopted wholeheartedly as we went on a little adventure around her Riverdale neighbourhood looking for community gardens and a worker-owned natural food market.

In recent years she’s delved deep into researching ways she can adopt a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle. From making her day to day tasks more green to acting as a natural ambassador and advocate, how she impacts the environment and the world around her is always on her mind.

Yee recognizes the challenges of going zero-waste, avoiding fast fashion and its negative impact on the environment and workers and changing habits and mindsets around more ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable practices.

Despite how easy it may be to partake in practices that save us time and money, ultimately there’s no convenience in neglecting the environment.  Yee had an abundance of tips and tricks that can be implemented into daily routines for those that are up for the challenge.   

Sustainable suggestions

Single-use plastics can easily be replaced by investing in a reusable counterpart. Grab your coffee in the morning in a travel mug and keep a reusable bottle on you. There’s a diverse selection of budget-friendly and washable produce bags for your groceries made from mesh, cotton or recycled plastic.

Sustainable food storage can be tricky to navigate, especially when packing food is made so much easier with Ziploc bags. Wrap foods in reusable beeswax wrap and consider an eco-friendly lunch bag. FUNCH is a collapsible, washable, water and tear-resistant option made from recycled material. Toss in some bamboo or metal utensils and you’re set for lunch.

Billions of tiny bits of plastics escape into our waterways from hygiene and beauty products. Avoid bath products, cleansers and toothpastes with microbeads as they do not enhance the effectiveness of the product but rather add to the plastic pollution crisis.

Washing clothing also sheds plastics in the form of microfibers. Polyester fleece garments tend to be the biggest offenders and Friends of the Earth report that one wash load could shed up to 17 million microfibers. Yee recommends placing clothing in a special bag, such as Guppy Bag, that is designed to catch microfibers as the clothing gets washed. Washing at low temperatures and a full load can also reduce shedding.  

Think about the packing products come in and consider investing in companies that have recycling practices. For menstrual products, menstrual cups can be an easy-to-use and less wasteful alternative to pads and tampons. Yee recommends the Ruby Cup which also has a social mission model wherein they donate a cup with every purchase.   

[spacer height="20px"]It’s also important to develop an understanding of recycling practices in your own community and on campus as they may differ. For example, coffee cups and pizza boxes with grease are not recyclable at McMaster. The university has a composting initiative, recycling program and nine electronics collection drop-off locations. Acceptable items for recycling are outlined on the university’s website.

Wasteful practices on campus also include the plethora of take-out containers thrown out on a daily basis. Avoiding take-out may be difficult with the limited space for sit-down meals but being conscious of how much food to order, the kind of container offered and bringing your own storage containers to avoid waste can go a long way.

There are plenty of local options in Hamilton that offer eco-friendly dining. The Nook was renovated with minimal waste and tries to operate as close to zero-waste as possible. Dundurn Market as well as the Mustard Seed Co-op have a focus on supporting local eating, which ultimately reduces impact on the environment.

[spacer height="20px"]While Hamilton’s food scene is increasingly paying attention to more sustainable practices, the slow fashion scene is thriving too. Hamilton’s Out of the Past and McMaster’s very own Threadwork events promote reusing clothing and reducing waste.

Yee recalls experiencing a huge learning curve while changing habits and picking up environmentally-friendly practices. A simple reminder of why she pursues her lifestyle as an environmentalist, advocate and wild keeper keeps her going.

It may be difficult, but the environment is worth taking a moment and thinking about the place we each have in the world and how we are impacting it with every move we make.

[thesil_related_posts_sc]Related Posts[/thesil_related_posts_sc]

Subscribe to our Mailing List

© 2024 The Silhouette. All Rights Reserved. McMaster University's Student Newspaper.