CAFES Coffee Houses on Sustainability: Zero Waste Living

Kieran Wilkins


A photo of Ottawa

If you are not familiar with the ongoing series of coffee houses hosted by Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES), you are missing out on some great environmental resources. Once a month, CAFES hosts an event in the Glebe Community Center. While enjoying free coffee and cookies, the coffeehouse-style encourages conversations between community members, “knowledgeable neighbours”, and impactful environmental businesses and organizations. 

The theme of last week’s session was zero waste living. Valerie Leloup, co-founder and CEO of Nu Grocery started the morning off discussing how to start shopping with less waste. Nu Grocery has been a corner stone of zero waste living in Ottawa since 2017. Valerie was inspired to start this local grocer after realizing that the lack of a “One-stop-shop” was a big barrier to her low-waste lifestyle.

If you cannot visit Nu grocery at 143 Main street, Valerie gave some useful tips for living a low-waste lifestyle at home, including ditching the "three Rs" for five instead: 

  • Refuse the item in the first place is the best way to reduce waste.
  • You can reduce the waste you make by shopping with your own containers, using vegetable scraps for stock, and choosing items in less packaging.
  • Reusing can take many forms. If you need something, like a tool, your first instinct might be to buy it. Valerie encourages instead asking a friend or neighbour if they have the item you need. IF they do not, you can borrow it from somewhere like the Ottawa Tool Library or the public library.
  • Everything that made it past the first three Rs can be recycled. Make sure to put it in the right bin!
  • Finally, let it rot. Use your green bin, compost pile, or worm bin and give the food scraps a second life as compost.

Finally, Valerie left off with this: Low waste living is a spectrum, you have to find where you can comfortably exist. It is not about being perfect, but with doing what you can.

Next up Caroline Wilcox from Foodsharing Ottawa showcased the work that this initiative does to decrease food waste in Ottawa. Did you know that up to 60% of food produced is wasted each year in Canada, despite being perfectly edible. 

Foodsharing Ottawa wants to stop this. Their fleet of 80 volunteers collects food that has gone past is best before date and redistributes it to foodbanks and community members. They are also spearheading the great potato rescue. They received 40, 000lbs of potatoes from local farms that would otherwise be thrown out and are distributing it to people who can use it.

Other than directly saving food waste, Caroline emphasized that education can have a significant impact on saving food waste. If people know how to properly store food, it can prevent a lot of waste. Like keeping mushrooms in a paper bag, of lettuce in a humid environment.

If you are looking to volunteer, you can check out their website of visit share it don’t toss it Facebook page, where you can post if you have any food to share that you will not be able to use.

After the presentation, attendees were invited to chat with the knowledgeable neighbours and local environmental organizations. There were some great initiatives in attendance, to name a few:

  • The Ottawa Public Library had their mobile library service and were lending out sustainable-theme books.
  • R4rm design and fabrication is a recycling design studio specialized in making displays, signage, and furniture from reclaimed materials.
  • City of Ottawa solid waste services was there to help educate attendees on what happens to their waste, and to discuss the solid waste master plan. 
  • The Green Needle offers sustainable sewing classes to help people upcycle old clothing and prevent fabric waste from entering landfills.
  • The Box of Life builds beautiful worm composting bins that are perfect for composting indoors all year round.
  • Waste Watch Ottawa keeps the Ottawa solid waste master plan in check by making sure that citizens voices and opinions can be heard and providing research into waste management solutions.
  • Habitat for Humanity Re-store is a retail store supporting Habitat for Humanity’s mission and allowing old items get a new life.
  • All Eco Zero Waste Shop stocks organic and sustainable Canadian products.
  • The Ottawa Tool Library lets you build and create without buying all the tools. They have an expansive tool library where you can borrow what you need for your projects, including drills, 3d printers, and much more. If you need some more assistance, they offer workshops and a full woodworking studio.
  • The Good Choice Initiative makes it easier for you to live your sustainable life! Check out their directory of sustainable businesses you can shop at right here in Ottawa.

If you are looking for more environmental volunteer opportunities in Ottawa, be sure to check out our directory of environmental organizations. You can also take our volunteer matching quiz to easily find where your passions meet your purpose.

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