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All about Zero Waste Living: an Interview with McMaster Student Paris Liu

Paris Liu is going into her second year at McMaster studying bioengineering. She’s heavily involved in zero waste living, from her life at home to leading community-wide initiatives. Although Paris has been mindful of using less waste for years, this is only the beginning of her journey of changing her life and influencing many others to do the same.

What’s your story? How did you start out with all of this?

"When I was around 7 years old, I read a book about trees and ever since then I don't know why, I've just always been interested in the environment and our earth. Throughout the years, David Suzuki was a big inspiration for me, I just felt like as humans we have a responsibility to steward the earth and we shouldn't just throw things in it and ruin it for future generations as well as our own. High school was when I started to join environmental clubs, and I felt like what we were doing in the high school community was great but I felt like I wasn't doing enough and that I could do more. I joined the London Youth Advisory council in grade 12 and used that to reach out more into the London community outside of high school. Through that, and partnerships, Young London helped me get connections throughout the community, specifically with reimagine co, it's a zero waste demonstration and they have a store in London. I got connected with them and myself and reimagine co, co-founded Plastic Free London [...] however, when I moved away from university I still wanted to continue with it but it would be difficult since I live in a different city but I didn't want to stop doing that. I joined two environmental clubs, Zero Waste McMaster and the Engineers Without Borders Sustainability Team, I helped with both of the clubs. When I became co-president of Zero Waste McMaster at the end of first year, I brought Plastic Free London and Zero Waste McMaster together and made a campaign called Celebrating Sustainability and that's where I’m at right now".

What does a typical club meeting look like?

"We had weekly meetings when we were on campus and over the summer we had meetings once every 2 weeks but once we go back to campus we’re hiring for 3 or 4 more executive positions and we’ll have weekly meetings again. We start with updates because normally we have 3 or 4 projects going on at the same time, myself and the other co-president will give most of the updates and if someone is working on a particular project they’ll give updates and that usually takes a while and then we’ll go to next steps for each of the projects and then if we have any leftover time they’ll continue working on their project".

Do you have any plans for initiatives this year?

"Right now, Celebrating Sustainability is ongoing and we’re filming a video for it and it’ll wrap up when we have 100 submissions. In terms of the upcoming school year, we have a lot of ideas for the McMaster community, for example, we want to download Ecosia (for every search or every 10 searches they plant a tree and make their revenue through ads) in every computer as the search engine for when people come back on campus, we’re not sure if it's possible but it's an idea. For other ideas within the community, we want to have a community fridge so we would partner with grocery stores and if they have food that is imperfect that people don't want to buy, they can put that in the community fridge and people in the community who maybe can't afford to buy groceries can go to that fridge and take things out for free if they can't afford it. We’re also partnering with Eco Hamilton which is a new collective group in Hamilton to reach the broader Hamilton community".

What are some initiatives your club has done in the past?

"Last year we ran a bunch of cleanups around McMaster and a hiking place nearby and we had a speaker panel series which was called the Sustainable Living Discussion panel so we invited people from the Hamilton community who were promoting sustainability. Shop owners like pale blue dot which is a zero waste store in Hamilton, we invited the shop owner to come in and speak and so were people from Mustard Seed Co-op and also some low waste fashion bloggers, a city councilor was supposed to come in but couldn’t at last minute. The event had a bunch of people who were in the sustainability scene in Hamilton spoke and there was also a professor from McMaster who is in charge of the sustainability office and she spoke too. That was probably our biggest event last year since the club only started and we started with monthly challenges posted on social media to get the community involved. Our executive team last year had 16 people, which is a lot, right now we have 10 but we’re probably going to limit it to 14 so it's not too many. Last year we didn’t do much with our general members but we have a big email list of people who say they want twice a semester meetings just for general members to get involved. Our vision for general members is that they could help out at events like helping sort waste or telling people what goes where at the waste stations. Our general member coordinator is working on that for this year and we’re trying to engage them because a lot of people want to help out in terms of like they want to help the environment but they don’t want to be committed to an executive position".

Your club is zero waste, can you explain to people what it means and the importance of it?

"I think a lot of people hear the term zero waste and they get scared and think that they can’t be zero waste but zero waste is an utopian ideal. In fact the reality is that very few people are zero waste. A better term for it would be low waste but I think zero waste/low waste lifestyle is just trying to reduce your waste as much as you can and trying your best".

“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly” - Anne Marie Bonneau & Zero Waste Chef

"...I think zero waste/low waste lifestyle is just trying to reduce your waste as much as you can and trying your best"

How can people at home work towards having zero waste?

"You need to start with little changes when you’re starting off, like a reusable water bottle, which I think a lot of people have done and even something like wearing a reusable mask instead of a disposable one is such an easy switch you can make during the pandemic. Other little changes that you can try later on are switches in your bathroom, like a bamboo toothbrush or getting your shampoo, conditioner or body washes from zero waste stores and getting them refilled instead of buying new bottles every time which supports local businesses and the environment all at the same time. Yes, some zero waste items are more expensive but with a lot of the refill stuff they’re actually the same price or if not cheaper. Other stuff might be more expensive initially like a metal razor instead of a disposable one but long term you're actually saving money because you don’t have to keep buying a razor. Or for example reusable pads, not all the time because sometimes it's not as convenient to use but in the long run you’re saving money because you don’t have to keep buying disposable ones. Both are more advanced swaps but it's important to start small and making it a habit is key with the swaps because it's unfamiliar and it's important not to make too many swaps at once because it's hard to start up too many habits at once and be able to keep it. So start small and make your way up there and even a little bit is better than nothing".

"...start small and make your way up there and even a little bit is better than nothing"

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