For the majority of people, the month of July signified the arrival of unbearable heat, but for those at Withrow Park Farmers’ Market, Plastic Free July was welcomed with open arms. Since 2018, the recently launched reusable dishware project at the farmers’ market has taken large steps towards promoting and building a sustainable environment for both vendors and shoppers. They have a great focus on producing zero waste by encouraging you to borrow their ceramic coffee mugs while you shop, reusable plates, bowls and cutlery to use on-site, and purchase produce without packaging. Having visited the market during the Zero Waste Picnic for the first time, I was taken aback by the lively atmosphere and just how much the market had to offer. Live music was playing as people of all ages were walking around and exploring what each vendor had to sell.

Aside from all the delicious treats (that can be quite tempting), I could not ignore the organizations situated around the market during their Zero Waste Picnic. Here are just a few that I approached: 

A Greener Future is an organization devoted to waste cleanup and prevention. Each year, they set out on approximately one hundred litter cleanups from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Kingston through their Love Your Lake program. More specifically, they tackle areas such as Woodbine Beach, Bluffers, and Trillium Park. This year, they managed to pick up 108, 069 pieces of trash from plastic bottle caps and miscellaneous plastic pieces to even a toilet seat and a vacuum tube. Now isn’t that strange? Other ways in which they have made their mark are with their online Zero Waste Shop (by purchasing steel straws and bamboo utensils) and their Lush Citizen Science program (by providing local residents and schools with the opportunity to learn about data collection methods and analysis). 

“What is a message that you would like to convey to the community in terms of zero waste efforts?”

 “The waste that we’re finding is not actually what people would consider as waste. For example, a lot of shotgun shells are often found. It’s not something that you would expect to find. Most importantly, try to reduce waste overall. We often find that straws weren’t purposely thrown on the ground, but they end up on the ground anyways,” Rochelle Byrne explains. 

Next, I talked to Free Geek Toronto whose main focus is on reusing and refurbishing electronics to prevent as many trips to the landfill as possible. If needed, they will recycle and sell them in their secondhand shop for below the market prices. They strongly encourage the idea of donating that old model phone or that television set that you haven’t touched in years. As for someone who is looking to purchase an electronic device, this non-profit enterprise is definitely an ethical and affordable purchase. It may not always be the newest model, but they are ready to be used! Apart from donating or purchasing electronics, Free Geek Toronto also provides technical education and training for those who are entering the labour market and employment.

What is a message that you would like to convey to the community in terms of zero waste efforts?

Clean your electronics! You wouldn’t believe how much dust can accumulate over the years. Also, be mindful of buying; ask yourself what you need it for and plan strategically. It can definitely be as simple as waiting for a few more years and/or extending the life of your technology,” a member of Free Geek Toronto advised. 

Political leaders often pledge things that they don’t end up doing, which is why it is so important that there are targets and standards that hold them accountable for their words, and that is exactly what this organization does. Toronto Environmental Alliance pushes the city for environmental procedures and policies that are both fair and help us create a larger dent concerning the removal of waste. Take the green bins as an example. Fifteen years ago, they were simply an idea as an alternative to sending organics to a landfill. Today, green bin organics are collected every week depending on where you live in the city. Their current project is to reduce single-use plastic in which they are in phase two, asking questions such as can the city handle banning plastic use?

“What is a message that you would like to convey to the community in terms of zero waste efforts?”

“Take responsibility for your own waste. Your individual voice is important for political change, so don’t have apathy for the political process,” Osaze Blake encourages.

I even had the pleasure of meeting Toronto-Danforth’s MP Julie Dabrusin and her team. When asked about the largest problems that this community faces, they all agreed that improper recycling and compost was one of them. The streets, especially in this area, are lined with local businesses that make them the culprit of plastic cutlery usage. However, individuals and businesses have been doing their part to combat the issue entirely by using alternatives to single-use plastics. On the federal level, she ensured that the government was in the process of some huge changes that will bring upon change towards zero waste efforts. For example, they recently launched and championed the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter, which will ensure that all plastic is designed for reuse and recycling. There is also a plan to ban certain single-use plastics by 2021 and to hold companies that manufacture or sell plastic responsible for recycling that plastic waste. As for the Government of Canada themselves, they have taken steps towards the reduction of unnecessary use of single-use plastics and advocating for the need for sustainable plastic products.

Pick one habit that works for you and make it happen,” she urges. 

Overall, I had a great time seeing so many people on a Saturday morning supporting their local community. It was also incredible to see how each organization, in their own ways, have contributed to the zero-waste efforts. Whether it is through refurbishing old electronics to hosting litter cleanups or even pushing for more environmental policies and procedures, it truly makes a difference. Plastic Free July is a much-needed reminder that the movement towards zero waste and global sustainability starts with you and the drive for a brighter future.  


July may be over, but you can start your reduced-waste lifestyle now! Check out this awesome Zero Waste Guide that The Sharing Depot published recently: 


Written by: Rachel Eng – A new Withrow Park Farmers’ Market volunteer who is passionate about Sustainability. She expresses this through her writing to promote a greener, healthier city, and world.

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