These eco-experts reveal 10 small changes to help you make a big impact
Photo: Lezé apparel's Tanya (left) and Karen (right) use regenerated nylon sourced from discarded fishing gear in the ocean to save marine animals and help reduce crude oil and CO₂ emissions.
When it comes to protecting our planet, we’ve probably all had an “aha” moment. Whether you’ve been inspired from an activist wunderkind or found yourself startled by ocean health stats, there’s no wrong reason to want to pitch in and help the fight against our climate crisis.
But it can be overwhelming to know where to start—we get it. Life gets busy, and incorporating new, eco-friendly or no-waste habits into an already hectic routine can feel like a challenge. Thankfully, though, eco-experts understand that it can be a struggle, even with good intentions. “Zero-waste is not a one-size-fits-all,” says Linh Truong, founder of The Soap Dispensary, a refill shop in Vancouver. “Everyone starts at a different point and is on a different pace.”Linh herself began her zero-waste journey after discovering a shop in Victoria, B.C. that offered soap refills. Something clicked: an avid recycler, she was intrigued by the idea of focusing on reducing and reusing as well. She immediately started refilling regularly, and the habit trickled into the rest of her life (and, eventually, inspired her to offer similar services in Vancouver). “I started taking containers with me to restaurants, refilling everything I could,” says Linh. “When you start to be conscious of what you’re putting into your recycling bin and seeing that reduce, that feels really good.”
Elizabeth McKitrick, owner of eco-minded boutique Second Nature Home, credits a childhood focused on nature with her own interest in protecting our planet. Today, her shop doubles as a community hub, bringing green-minded neighbours together to share ideas and shop sustainably. “I think we can all go beyond those three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—and add a few more: refuse, rethink, refill,” Elizabeth says. (Linh agrees: “As a society, we’re so focused on just the recycling that we sometimes miss the other things we can do.”)
That “reuse” step is particularly meaningful to Karen Lee and Tanya Lee (no relation), co-founders of Lezé the Label, who design their effortlessly chic workwear out of repurposed materials. Each of their “aha” moments were unique. Karen was inspired by her mother, who would repurpose everything that came through the house into something new—including coffee grinds. “She kept them in the bathroom to absorb odour. At first I thought, ‘Asian moms do a lot of weird stuff,’” Karen laughs, “but it turns out she’s a bit of a genius.”
Her co-founder Tanya, meanwhile, grew up with a family textile business, where she saw firsthand how wasteful fabric production can be—dye would just be washed into the ocean.
The duo turned their interest in sustainable fashion into a collection that blended ethical production with comfort. “We both have a passion for wanting to wear pajamas in public,” Karen says, with a smile. “The goal was to do something where people can feel comfortable all day and feel good about what they’re wearing because it’s recycled.”
With Lezé, that reuse mentality is applied to everything they make: stylish pieces are crafted from recycled fishing nets (“Everyone is recycling plastic bottles, but there are so many other types of waste that get overlooked,” says Tanya) and water bottles... to, yes, even coffee grinds (water bottle “fabric” is infused with oil from ground coffee to give the material moisture-wicking and anti-odour properties).
These eco-entrepreneurs may be making a big impact on their businesses and communities, but the little personal choices you make matter just as much. Don’t worry about comparing yourself to the minimalist next door: focus on your own habits and the small, realistic tweaks you can make. Maybe that means bringing a reusable grocery bag, maybe that means shopping in bulk once a month—whatever it is, just take it one step at a time until something becomes a habit. Then, you’re ready for the next challenge.
“You don’t have to give up plastic and meat all at once, because you’re setting yourself up for failure and shame and guilt,” says Linh. “It’s not about being perfect or going all-in. Every little change really matters.” Here, our experts share a few ways to up your sustainability game at home—one baby step at a time.
1. Face your waste head on
It might be dirty work, but a waste audit is a crystal clear way to see what your personal impact is. Linh recommends saving everything (everything!) that your household generates in a week, from trash to paper recycling to compost, and then get a big picture of your habits. “If you’re finding a bunch of paper disposable coffee cups, that’s a good area to tackle with reusable mugs,” says Linh. “Start with the low-hanging fruit and grow from there.”
2. Take it one room at a time
“Try just starting with the kitchen,” suggests Elizabeth. Start refilling your dishwashing soap, use compostable Swedish dishcloths, or replace plastic wrap with beeswax wrap. “It’s small steps that begin the journey.”
3. Bulk out
If you don’t have a specific refilling store in your neighbourhood, talk to your local grocer about how you can you use your own containers for the bulk aisle. “Almost anything can be refillable if the manufacturer will work with us,” says Linh. “Detergent, soap, toothpaste, body wash, I’m even working on getting bulk nail polish remover.”
4. Rethink your laundry routine
Our washers and dryers are big culprits in energy and water waste, but there’s plenty you can do to reduce the impact of laundry day. Try dryer balls to cut your drying time down, and wear clothes a few times before you toss them in the hamper.
5. Shop with intention
Sustainable shopping is about buying things you need—not just things you want. “Take stock of what you have in your wardrobe,” suggests Karen. Everything you put in your closet should be an essential piece: versatile, classic, and something that won’t wind up in the landfill next season. “When you’re shopping, you’re interviewing your purchase. ‘How many times am I gonna wear this? Do I have anything similar? Do I need another pair of black pants?’” says Karen. “Another good question to ask yourself: if it wasn’t on sale, would I still buy it? Most of the time it’s just FOMO if there’s a sale."
6. Seek out sustainable brands
Not every pair of jeans will come with a detailed breakdown of its carbon footprint, but companies that do care about sustainability will make it clear—eco-savvy brands have started to embrace transparency, with production and sourcing info clearly declared on their websites. Otherwise: no news is usually bad news. The price tag can be a clue, too: if it’s super cheap, it’s probably for a reason. “If something’s 50 percent off at $12.99, how much could the person making it possibly make? And where did the goods and fabric come from?” says Karen.
7. Know your materials
“Try to avoid any kind of virgin synthetic fabrics and choose fabrics that have either been repurposed or have a circular economy,” says Tanya. Lezé’s pieces are made from recycled plastic bottles, and there are a tons of other brands out there using clever technology to give single-use-plastics a second life as fabric. Natural materials like tencel and modal
(a durable moisture-wicking material is made from quick-growth Beech trees that don’t require too many chemicals or water to grow) can also be eco-friendly options.
8. …But watch out for greenwashing
Read the label carefully when you’re shopping for eco-friendly clothing: greenwashing is real. “There could be a brand that says we make things out of organic bamboo, but the ratio is one percent, so it’s not actually that sustainable,” warns Karen.
9. Come prepared for anything
Reusable water bottles and coffee mugs have become commonplace to bring on the go, but don’t stop there. “I recommend always having a reusable shopping bag, a straw and cutlery on the go—whatever reusable alternatives to single use items you actually use,” says Linh. Can’t remember to pack that zero-waste bag with you everywhere? Stow reusable products where you’ll use them: containers at your desk at work in case you grab takeout at lunch, old spaghetti sauce jars in the car to fill with rice in the bulk aisle when you make a pit-stop at the grocery store unexpectedly. “Leave things around so, if you forget, they’re in reach,” says Linh. “It doesn’t have to be fancy.”
10. Look at the whole package (literally)
When you’re looking for sustainable products, remember that the package that product comes in is coming into your life, too—so hopefully it’s reusable, recyclable or naked of wrapping altogether. “There was a brand of toothbrush I looked at bringing into the store that had a wooden handle and boar bristles... but it came in a hard plastic case you couldn’t even recycle,” says Linh. “It really missed the mark. Zero-waste is a growing movement, a lot of companies that are jumping on the bandwagon, not everything that’s marketed as green is green.”