Is Zero-Waste Possible?


Years ago, I was shocked to learn from a friend who owned a private recycling company that plastics recycling is notoriously unreliable. Thankfully, awareness of plastic packaging waste has increased dramatically, and more and more people are striving for a “zero-waste” lifestyle.

But is a zero-waste lifestyle really possible? Not yet.

When you consider the current system of production and transportation, it becomes very difficult to find food that doesn’t involve some sort of packaging. Items in our bulk bins (and in “zero-waste” stores) come packaged in bags, boxes, tubs, and cartons. Produce arrives in boxes or crates that are not necessarily designed for re-use, and soft items like bananas and tomatoes are protected with padding that is difficult to re-use or recycle.

That’s one of the reasons that the Kootenay Co-op doesn’t offer a “zero-waste” aisle: if we’re being honest, it would be nearly empty.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should stop striving for reduced waste. During Earth Week and beyond, you can continue to avoid unnecessary packaging. When you find yourself reaching for a packaged food, ask yourself if you have the time and knowledge to make it from scratch. If not, decide whether you want to do without or choose something else. If you really can’t reduce that waste, think about reusing and recycling. Can you re-purpose that container to store leftovers or bulk foods, or use it in your compost? As a last straw, consider whether the packaging might be recyclable. The BC Recyclepedia is online and available as a smart phone app.

from “Zero Waste and the Circular Economy” by the Government of British Columbia

As food citizens, our purchases can reflect our vision for a sustainable food system. With growing awareness and support for reduced waste, we’ll continue to realize important changes. True zero-waste may be nearly impossible right now, but as long as we keep thinking outside the box, we will make progress toward a more sustainable future. The Kootenay Co-op has launched a store-wide waste audit to identify areas where we can do better ourselves and where we can ask our suppliers, distributors, and shippers to improve. We’ll publish our results and our progress online and in the store when it’s completed.

One piece of good news is that our plastic recycling for product packaging in Nelson is about to get much better.  Under changes made to the Environmental Management Act in 2017, producers pay into a province-wide system which allows recycling to take place right here in BC. Recycling no longer depends on market conditions or overseas shipping. Plastic film and packaging won’t be recyclable in curbside pickup, but it will soon be available at the Grohman Narrows Transfer Station. Learn more at