I first met Joëlle Carle in October 2016 at an airport, while we waited for a taxi to take us to a little northeastern town in Mexico to participate in a web development project. By the time our private taxi turned up, five hours late and in the form of a refurbished ambulance, we had already sized each other up. I was an over-caffeinated, snack stock-piling night owl and she was an organic-loving, zero-waste living, meat-substituting vegan with no filter. In other words, I was afraid. But when, one month later, all of Joëlle’s trash fit into a jar, I was no longer afraid – I was impressed.
Many years before I met her, eight years ago to be exact, Joëlle promised herself that she would never buy another water bottle. Now, as she leans towards a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle, it appears that the self-imposed water bottle ban seemed to light a spark. “It was a bunch of factors and I didn’t wake up making that decision,” she says. “I just started meeting people who cared about these things and then doing my own research and now here I am.” Attempting to live a zero-waste or low-impact lifestyle is not simple and involves a lot of research and determination. “I started to change my habits and something in me started to change and it became easier. It was gradual,” she adds.
It’s a life that involves constant decision-making and conscious shopping. It’s about buying things without wasteful packaging. It’s about buying local fresh produce and supporting local farms. Joëlle said, “It’s about everything – it’s about eating, it’s about transportation, and what I do for fun. It’s an ecological and economical way to live. I do not own a car – I walk and take my bike. I don’t generally eat meat, eggs, or dairy – I dehydrate food and make preserves. I get my clothes from clothing exchanges and I reuse and compost nearly everything I use.” When Joëlle gets takeout, she brings her own container. “I have been teased, I admit,” she says, “And that’s kind of sad. Why should I feel ashamed about trying to reduce my impact? And it’s actually cheaper for business owners.”
Before you think she never indulges, Joëlle will sometimes order poutine – replacing cheese with veggies and green olives. “Honestly,” she says, “People think that all vegans hate junk food, but I actually like junk food! I wish there were more options. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t really exist for us.”
Aside from some extra time and effort to make supplies and meat replacements, Joëlle says it isn’t that difficult. “It actually makes life easier in terms of hygiene,” she says. “I wash my hair with apple cider vinegar and baking soda, which was an adjustment. But now I can say I’ve been product free for a year. I use a cup and I don’t wear makeup – I assume I can be a woman without it… and I try to accept myself the way I am, which has also been a journey.” While it was an adjustment, Joëlle has no regrets with the amount of money she has saved on products and fashion trends that she now finds useless. “I don’t pay for clothes anymore. I do buy shoes or under-garments if I need to replace them but most of the time I participate in clothing exchanges with friends. We started with 4 or 5 people and now we are a group of 30. When we bring our clothes together we end up with a huge pile. And since it’s now cool to wear used clothes and care about the impact we have on the planet, the movement is growing.”
While it was an adjustment, Joëlle has no regrets with the amount of money she has saved on products and fashion trends that she now finds useless. “I don’t pay for clothes anymore. I do buy shoes or under-garments if I need to replace them, but most of the time I participate in clothing exchanges with friends. We started with 4 or 5 people and now we are a group of 30. When we bring our clothes together, we end up with a huge pile. And since it’s now cool to wear used clothes and care about the impact we have on the planet, the movement is growing.”
One of Joëlle’s tasks in Mexico was to speak with hotel managers and restaurant owners about compost and food waste. What she found was that many people cared about the environment but had difficulty implementing projects. Now, back in Canada, Joëlle comes across the same theme – people think that they don’t have the time or resources to make it work. “You don’t have to be completely zero waste; do what’s comfortable and easiest first and one day, when it feels right, add another element,” she says. Like with any major lifestyle change, Joëlle suggests to “start slowly – it’s much better to gradually incorporate different kinds of practices into your daily life and then build upon them. I know it’s not always easy for people to start and sometimes they need help. Composting is so important because so much of food wasted is preventable. We can all have a compost bin in our homes, whether we live in an apartment or a house.”
Joëlle made a seemingly small decision eight years ago and that decision has now altered her life in irreversible ways. You can start with making a small promise to yourself – like abandoning water bottles and bringing containers with you when you are on the go. You can bring your own bag when shopping – even when not shopping for groceries. With some research. you can find places that allow you to bring your own container to fill up with household supplies, like detergent. You can make a promise to eat less meat or do a clothes swap with your friends at work or at school. Whatever you decide to do –the part that matters– is that you start.
Joëlle Carle works on a shared farm in Québec and takes part in local volunteer initiatives in her community of Trois-Rivières. When she has a moment, Joëlle participates in organic food distribution, provides tips on online and advises local communities about composting and limiting food waste.
By Izabela Wlodarczyk
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.