Leloup provides zero-waste advice, talks waste-reduction campaigns

Nu Grocery founder and zero-waster Valerie Leloup gave a talk on Wednesday, March 14 on how students can reduce their waste. The takeaway: it’s not that hard.

Leloup, a University of Ottawa alum, opened Nu Grocery, a zero-waste grocery store, in August 2017, though she only started her zero-waste journey three years ago. As she put it, one can never be fully zero-waste, especially in the beginning. Her own adventure started in the bathroom, when she went from 27 different products to five.

“I thought, how much of this do I really need? That’s the fundamental question, do I really need this,” Leloup said. “And I took a hard look at myself and realized that I don’t need any of this except three or four products.”

Those products are also refillable, so Leloup has a “bathroom that is now completely zero-waste.”

We’re all familiar with “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but zero-wasters add another R, Refuse, which, along with Reduce, is key to the whole movement.

“They are the ones where you can make the quickest impact. Simply not buying something is the easiest way to reduce waste,” said Leloup. “They’re also the most challenging, because it’s really making a decision that goes up against the values of our modern society.”

Millennials, she noted, might have it easier than Gen Xers in this respect, since we have a different view towards consumerism than older generations.

In terms of reduction, Leloup never uses plastic—recycling plastic is more of a myth than anything, she maintains, because plastic can only be downcycled. Instead, she brings her own glass or metal containers to take-out places, an easy change that anyone can make, and uses a reusable bag while shopping.  

“Although it seems overwhelming, you don’t have to do everything at once. Just start with the easy things, and over time just increase the intensity,” said Leloup, “And you don’t even feel like it’s more difficult, because you did it progressively.”

Nu Grocery is more than just a grocery store—they are also engaged in political campaigns. This April they are launching a “Ban the Bag” campaign which they hope will be taken seriously by candidates in this year’s municipal election. Montreal has already banned plastic bags.  

“We are going to show up at every candidate meeting and ask the question: Will you support a ban on plastic bags,” Leloup said.

Although most students shop at big-box grocery stores, there’s still a lot that we can do to reduce our waste. Leloup pointed out that produce and other foods are sold in bulk, and it’s easy to eliminate plastic produce bags by using reusable bags. She also encouraged buying brands that use glass or metal over plastic packaging. Students can also shop at the bakery or meat counter instead of buying pre-wrapped bread and meat.

According to Leloup, “the first step is to be waste-aware.”