Ormandy and Giving are busy professionals who both often work more than 60 hours a week, but they have all the time in the world for their low-waste mission.
“It’s about having as small of an impact on the planet as we can so it’s still here for us to enjoy,” said Ormandy, executive director of the Animals in Science Policy Institute, a Vancouver charity that provides education on alternatives to animal testing in Canada. Giving owns the wellness studio Tone Pilates in False Creek.
Compelled by dire news reports on the climate crisis and its effect on wildlife and marine life, they decided one way they could help save the planet was to produce less garbage.
“We’ve got an environmental problem here, which most people would agree with, and rapid consumerism is a part of that problem,” said Giving. “It just makes sense.”
Both were actively reducing waste before they met in 2014, but Ormandy admitted that Giving’s commitment to a low-waste lifestyle motivated her to be more “diligent.”
“Before I met Oliver … sometimes I’d give myself a free pass (when travelling). I would be like, ‘the infrastructure isn’t here, what am I going to do, take it back to Canada with me?’ And Oliver is like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to grab a little bag and we’re going to collect it.’”
After they moved in together, the couple noticed how little waste they were generating and, in 2016, started sharing photos with friends of their garbage. In three years, they generated just four shopping bags of unrecyclable and non-compostable waste.
It wasn’t what they eliminated that was fascinating, Ormandy said, but what ended up in the garbage bag, which is actually a plastic pouch that once held 50 grams of tea leaves.
In it, they collect plastic tags from bread bags, stickers from fruit, toothpaste tubes, dryer lint and dental floss — before they switched to compostable floss. Giving empties the pouch every two to four weeks into a larger plastic bag.
To reduce their environmental footprint, the couple make a lot of their own food like nut butters, chocolates, crackers, ghee, kombucha and salad dressing, which significantly reduces the food packaging they have to throw out or recycle. Ormandy also uses refillable containers to buy soap and herbs from zero-waste grocery stores and cloth bags to buy produce.
For years, the couple has kept a list of garbage-reduction strategies they share with friends who asked them for tips. They include avoiding impulse buys, using rags in place of paper towel, making household cleaners with vinegar, using “old-school” safety razors with thin disposable blades, and making their own deodorant, facial oil and body lotion.
“We’ve got systems in place in our house, and once you get those set up, it’s not really that much less convenient,” said Ormandy, who eats a vegan diet because of her concern for animal welfare.
“When it comes to plastics in the ocean, it’s devastating for the animals that die, because they eat microplastics because they think it’s food. It’s just heartbreaking that people don’t make that connection and then don’t alter their practices.”
Giving said he preaches the low-waste lifestyle when he sees fit, starting with his mom. He’s convinced her to compost more and give up plastic wrap.
“I’m not evangelistic about it at all. I don’t think pressuring people or guilt-tripping people into doing something that you think is right is a good strategy. So we just go with, ‘here’s what we’re doing, here’s some tips,’ and leave it at that.”
For the first time ever, Metro Vancouver studied the amount of single-use disposables generated by residents in 2018.
Using samples taken at waste-processing facilities, Karen Storry, the senior project engineer with the zero-waste team, concluded that 1.1 billion single-use items like cups, containers, plastic bags, straws and utensils were thrown out last year, the equivalent of 440 single-use items per person.
“When it comes to waste, we all need to do our part,” said Storry.
The zero-waste team devises programs and policies to reduce waste and increase recycling in Metro Vancouver, which encompasses 21 municipalities in the Lower Mainland.
Although businesses generate nearly half of single-use, disposable items, individual efforts can still make a dent in the 900,000-metric-tonne mountain of garbage produced in Metro Vancouver last year.
“Every time you recycle, every time you choose reusable over disposable, you’re making a difference,” said Storry. “And it’s hard to see because it’s just one action you’re doing, but if you do that every day, and if your friends do that, your family does that, then it starts to add up.”
In 2010, Vancouver established a goal of diverting 70 per cent of garbage from the landfill by 2015. Storry said there’s more work to be done, given that the municipalities currently have a 63 per cent diversion rate.
This month, when Ormandy and Giving snapped a photo of the four small bags of garbage they collected over three years, Ormandy still felt dissatisfied.
The next step is to minimize recycling and reduce their environmental footprint even more, possibly by moving into 200-square-foot tiny home, downsizing from their current 500-square-foot laneway house.
Ormandy insisted that if they can cut their waste so drastically, other people can make it work, too.
“We’re two regular people … and we still manage to do all of this, and so it’s not time consuming. It just requires maybe a mental shift for some people.”
Jenny Peng is a Vancouver-based reporter covering culture and business. Follow her on Twitter: @JennyPengNow