Interested in finding out about zero waste? Head to the North Coast Co-op in Arcata

Reusable and sustainable products sit on the shelves of the Eureka North Coast Co-op, which will be hosting Zero Waste Day at its Arcata location on Friday. Maggie Gainer, founder of Zero Waste Humboldt, said reducing packaging and using reusable containers are good first steps for consumers to move toward zero waste. (Sonia Waraich — The Times-Standard)
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When Zero Waste Humboldt started up in 2011, the nonprofit’s co-founder Maggie Gainer said every call the organization made was a cold call.

“People weren’t very familiar with zero waste methods or basic practices,” Gainer said. “It took a few years and now there’s a really strong positive and cooperative spirit of adopting zero waste habits and business systems.”

The nonprofit launched Zero Waste Day, which is Friday, in 2015, and Gainer said “one by one, local cities and the county, schools and other nonprofits, have joined in.”

Those nonprofits, including the Northcoast Environmental Center and Humboldt State University’s Waste Reduction and Resources Awareness Program, will converge at the North Coast Co-op in Arcata at 811 I St. today between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to educate the public on tips and tricks they can use to reduce their waste.

WRRAP has also been hosting its fourth annual Zero Waste Conference all week to get people to rethink waste through workshops, presentations, clothing swaps and more. Today, the program will be having a workshop on making jewelry from bike parts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bicycle Learning Center, followed by a bike ride from 3 to 4:30 p.m. starting at the Harry Griffith Hall Zagster bike station, according to the program’s Facebook event page. The bike ride will highlight zero waste activities and businesses.

The top 10 tips Zero Waste Humboldt has for people to reduce their waste on individual level are to:

  1. Use refillable water bottles and water coolers, adapted drinking fountains and hydration stations instead of single-use plastic water bottles;
  2. Carry reusable shopping bags rather than single-use bags;
  3. Carry your own coffee mug instead of a getting single-use coffee cup, which aren’t recyclable or compostable;
  4. Avoid food with excess packaging when grocery shopping and opt to purchase bulk items in your own containers;
  5. Refuse plastic straws and other cutlery when eating out;
  6. Avoid single-use, disposable diapers and opt for a reusable options;
  7. Stop junk mail from coming to your home by visiting dmachoice.com;
  8. Composting is a good practice after food has already gone bad, but it’s best to buy less food and shop more often;
  9. If you’re the person responsible for making purchases at your workplace, try to negotiate getting supplies in as little packaging as possible; and
  10. Bring your own reusable cups and utensils when attending local events.

“These are daily life habits that are doable,” Gainer said, “basic changes that can be made.”

Recycling is great after waste has already been created, but Gainer said consumers will get the biggest bang for their buck will come from “the decisions that they make at the point of purchase.”

Through fundraising, the nonprofit has been able to award 10 water bottle refill stations to municipalities and schools across Humboldt County, Gainer said.

“We consider water bottle refill stations are the infrastructure that is necessary to help people change their habits,” she said. “We need more and more of those kinds of things that make it easier to be less wasteful.”

Though plastics are a large concern, Gainer said a number of the nonprofit’s board members “have a keen interest in helping local jurisdictions do more to reduce food waste and provide for better composting services” because that’s a significant portion of the waste generated in the county.

A regional waste characterization study conducted in 2011 by Humboldt Waste Management Authority and the Blue Lake and Trinidad rancherias found that the most prevalent waste was food (22.7%).

Roughly 31% of the food in the food supply was lost to waste in 2010, based on estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, resulting in approximately 133 billion pounds, or $161 billion dollars, of loss.

While there’s still much more to do on that front, Gainer said bringing your own containers is a great first step.

“Once people do that, it’s amazing how much you reduce your household waste,” Gainer said. “It’s all that extra packaging you don’t need to buy your groceries.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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