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Zeroing in on waste reduction with AWARE’s Zero Waste Heroes

Did you swing by the AWARE Zero Waste Station at GO Fest this year? If so, perhaps you were struck by the thought: “Zero waste? With thousands of people?!”

AWARE recycling booth

Recycling with AWARE

But nothing makes a person check exactly which recycling bin their organic salad container goes in quite like a cheerful Zero Waste Hero’s supervision (see above). And a little education never goes awry: did you know Whistler introduced flexible plastic package recycling this summer? To date, AWARE has diverted more than 90 per cent of waste at 135 events. These events include GO Fest, Canada Day, Whistler Farmers Market, the Whistler Village Beer Festival and RBC GranFondo Whistler.

Zero Waste Hero Program Successes

Zero Waste Hero Program Successes

So how does an event achieve zero waste? Does it mean nobody’s salad container goes in landfill? Yep. Does it mean banning needlessly wasteful contraptions like single-use coffee cups? Not exactly, but they’re designed out of the event.

“Whistler has had a goal of becoming a zero waste community for over a decade. The Zero Waste International Alliance defines Zero Waste as 90 per cent diversion from landfills and incinerators. While diverting 90 per cent of waste is a significant accomplishment, the Zero Waste Heroes Program aims to get as close to 100 per cent as possible,” said Stephanie Redmond, the projects coordinator at AWARE. Then she forwards the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s definition:

“Zero Waste is a ‘whole systems’ approach that considers the flow of products and materials from the first stages of product and process design, through resource extraction, manufacturing, consumption and disposal. Waste is seen as more than just garbage—it is seen as a valuable resource. Given this broader perspective, the Zero Waste approach aims to minimize the consumption of materials at the beginning of the product ‘lifecycle,’ in order to reduce the environmental impact of the product at the later stages.”

We asked AWARE what inspired the goal of zero waste at events?

“There is a growing recognition of the impact our stuff has: the images of plastic in the oceans, the impacts on wildlife and the growing number of communities developing zero waste strategies highlights the understanding that when we throw something away there is actually no such place as ‘away’. Also people recognize that just because an item can be recycled it doesn’t mean that a) it is successfully and b) it is the highest and best use of that material. For us, the focus is on how to build on this growing AWAREness and connect people with the solutions and actions we can all take in our homes, workplaces and lifestyles,” said Claire Ruddy, executive director of AWARE.

Finally, what steps can everyone take that warm your Zero Waste Hero hearts?

Reduce, reduce, reduce, reduce and take pride in it.

• Reduce energy: turn up the chunky sweaters and turn down the heat.
• Reduce waste: avoid single-use items. Drink your coffee out of a reusable or an old-fashioned mug—we swear it tastes better. Carry your own water bottle. If you like straws, get nice reusable ones (FYI: most come with a little scrubbing brush so the insides stay impeccably clean). Own great glass lunch containers—bonus, did you know most are oven safe? Support the incredible local produce in this area at the summer farmers markets, and bring reusable cloth bags to put your produce in at the grocery store.
• Reduce water waste: set a two-minute timer when you shower or compete with the folks you live with to find who can shower fastest—while still covering all bases on hygiene.
• Reduce fuel use: download some podcasts and take transit. In spring, summer and fall, when possible, travel by bike on Whistler’s stunning Valley Trail.
• Reduce consumption: reduce what you buy new by choosing quality items you only need to purchase once, then repair what you have. Also, avoid plastic since every piece of plastic created still exists today.

Visit AWAREwhistler.org for details of upcoming AWARE events.