When Guelph resident Tara McKenna visited Bali in 2013, she recalls scuba diving in the Indian Ocean and seeing trash amongst the coral and fish. Unprepared for the sight, the experience was a catalyst for sending her on a journey to personally reduce waste.
"I was like, 'Okay, I want to make a difference, but it feels overwhelming. Where is this trash coming from?" said McKenna. "I didn't make the connection that single-use waste like grabbing takeout, or any of that stuff ... my lifestyle is directly connected to the waste in the ocean,' that didn't immediately cross my mind, but that moment stuck with me."
A few years later, McKenna said different moments in her life converged in 2017 and she started learning about the zero waste lifestyle.
"I realized, 'Oh, I can live a less wasteful lifestyle, I can purposefully try to avoid single use plastics and stuff like that.' It was just a series of events where it finally made sense," she said.
Now, McKenna has published a book about the past 10 years of her zero-waste journey called Don't Be Trashy: A Practical Guide for Living with Less Waste and More Joy. The book helps make the zero waste lifestyle more accessible, as readers can incorporate all 12 chapters into their life within a year, or at their own pace.
"I cover everything from decluttering and minimalism, to conscious consumption, stuff in your pantry, your kitchen and your diet, you know grocery shopping," McKenna said about the book, "And then I talk about things in your bathroom, everything from your cleaning supplies to your toiletries, to fashion, and how to talk to your family and friends, and being part of a community."
Another topic covered in the book is how to manage your money to live sustainably. She said there is an idea on social media that people need to buy certain products to achieve a zero waste lifestyle, which isn't necessarily the case.
"It can be if you want it to be, but it certainly doesn't have to be expensive," said McKenna. "Chances are, from a zero waste perspective, most people already have all of those tools in their house already, it's just a matter of putting them together in a way that they'll be utilized."
A few years after that trip to Bali, McKenna began to document her zero waste journey, and became the founder of an online community called the Zero Waste Collective. Originally posting online as a form of accountability to herself, McKenna said the project has grown to share different people's experiences in reducing waste and learning from others.
"When the zero lifestyle became popular on Instagram, for example that was kind of mainstream, a few years ago when I was really starting, there was this pressure," said McKenna, "so what I loved about sharing ideas on social media and learning from other people and having these conversations, is at the end of the day most of us are like, 'Nobody can meet these standards created on social media, it's just not realistic.'
"I find that the community helps to say, 'Okay, you and I are in the same boat here. We're all feeling a little too overwhelmed by what's been created on social media and that's not realistic.'"
While some adopt an all or nothing approach to zero waste, McKenna said the goal is progress over perfection, especially during the pandemic.
"Most people have reusable shopping bags, but most of the time people are like, 'Oh, I forget them at home!' So how can you develop a habit where you will remember those reusable bags?" she said."It's a matter of changing your habits and your lifestyle to make sure you are using those tools that you have in your life."
After having a baby, McKenna said her book has helped her to relearn how to incorporate zero waste practices while adjusting to this change in her life.
"I'm rereading my book with a totally new lens now, right? Like 'Okay, my body has completely changed, so what does that mean to my closet?'" said McKenna, "and then, what does this new life mean for our little girl who is joining our family and now we've got a whole new person who needs to have clothes and stuff, and I'm like, 'Okay, what does that mean for our consumption?'
"This book is great for people who are completely new, or who are already well into the lifestyle and want to revisit goals and plans and lifestyle changes, and that kind of thing."
As a Guelph resident, McKenna notes there are programs in the city intended to help residents reduce their waste going into landfills. One example is the "Waste Wizard" website which can tell residents what items go into recycling, compost or landfills. If the item is clothing or furniture, the website can also tell you what community organizations you can donate those items too.