Written by Caitlin Bodewitz
Globally, humans produce 2.12 billion tons of waste per year.1 At the exact moment I am writing this, it is estimated that we currently need 1.76130284460 Earth’s to provide resources, cope with our waste, and support life as we know it (yes, that is already more than the 1 and only Earth we have available).2 The positive news is that there any many ways in which small actions from individuals can create big change! Reducing our waste is one of these ways, and that requires us to rethink how we live, how we create, and fundamentally what we value.
My personal passion for reducing waste easily extends from the focus of my artwork, which is deeply rooted in an unequivocal desire to celebrate, protect, and educate others about the natural world. In my household we actively aspire to a zero-waste lifestyle, from plastic-free groceries, walnut-shell dish scrubbers, second-hand wardrobes, composting kitchen scraps. Even our cat Walter contributes by using the package-free kitty litter we buy in bulk. We are mindful to have our reusable cups, cutlery, cloth produce bags, and containers for restaurant takeaway on hand. When waste cannot be avoided we still try to implement methods to reduce our landfill contributions. Reusable or recyclable glass, metal, and paper packaging always trump plastic (even recyclable plastic, which commonly does not enter the recycling stream) and we simply refuse all single-use plastic or paper.
My approach in the studio focuses on being mindful of the total life cycle of my materials: where my materials come from, how they are packaged, how I use them, and how I dispose of them. I primarily silkscreen on birch wood panels. These were initially sourced from local art stores, but unfortunately they came individually wrapped in plastic film. A solution I found was to directly contact the Canadian-based companies manufacturing them and request bulk orders of panels without the packaging, which they happily agreed to! When I’m not printing on wood, I print on salvaged vinyl records or reclaimed wood from flooring and old barns, diverting these beautiful materials from the landfill and giving them a second life.
I use reusable and recyclable containers for ink, and I find the key to making this easy and effective is to take the time to wash out the ink soon after use (dirty recyclables do not get recycled in Edmonton, so making sure our containers are clean is a small but important step). For blocking out my screens and other temporary uses, I was able to replace standard plastic packing tape with biodegradable plant-based cello tape. When I need to dispose of hazardous materials, like aerosols or old inks, I make sure to take them to the Edmonton EcoStation or search for a business that will dispose of them in a responsible way. And as we all know it’s hard to be creative on an empty stomach, so when I bring lunch or snacks to the studio I also bring home my food waste to be composted. There are always areas in my studio practice that I am motivated to find better alternatives to, like acetate stencils, and still processes I would like to make more environmentally friendly.
When it comes to sharing my artwork with the world through art markets, gallery submissions, or print exchanges I consciously choose my packaging and shipping supplies. I use paper bags and cardboard boxes that are made from 100% recycled fibers. I use biodegradable plant-based and water-activated tape to seal up parcels. I save studio scraps, like old newsprint, for protective packing. And lastly I try to use creative alternatives to business cards like encouraging clients to take a picture of a silkscreen with all my information on it. For the more professional networking though there are still options for recycled materials with plant-based inks.
Reducing your waste requires an all-encompassing and mindful approach – being a conscious consumer, a thoughtful user, and a responsible disposer. Plastic takes up to 1000 years to decompose, ancient forests are still being logged for toilet paper, and emissions due to production and transportation of goods are a major contributor to climate change. We all have to be aware that we are not removed from the consequences of our decisions and actions once we casually toss something in the garbage bin. There is always something to learn and ways to improve, and I invite you all to embark on your own waste reduction journey!
To help along this journey, please use this list of various resources and suggestions for all areas of life and your practice.
Plastic free groceries: Farmer’s Markets, Earth’s General Store, Bulk Barn (everything from maple syrup to perogies!)
Refillable cleaning/bath and body/ laundry supplies: Earth’s General Store, Carbon Environmental, Re:Plenish (items including refillable dental floss, bamboo toothbrushes, walnut-shell dish scrubbers, menstrual products, and biodegradable-packaged deodorant can also be found at these stores)
Closet: Thrift second-hand cloths or partake in awesome local clothing swaps/wardrobe exchanges (like the events run by Life Preloved) or invest in Canadian-made clothes made from natural fibers. Buy quality items and take care of them so they last a long time, instead of consuming and disposing often.
Biodegradable cello tape: Online via EcoEnclose: ecoenclose.com
Masking tape made from post-consumer recycled fibers: 3M Scotch found at Paint Spot in Edmonton
Waste-free canvas and wood panels: West Coast Canvas based in Calgary, ordered through Delta Art in Edmonton
Refillable mechanical eraser: “General’s” Brand purchased at Delta Art in Edmonton
100% Recycled Paper Artist Quality Sketchbook: Purchased at Delta Art in Edmonton
Donations & Disposal
Check what your city or town offers for reuse and safe materials disposal
EcoStation in Edmonton: Accepts paint, ink, aerosols, batteries, electronics, scrap metal, and much more… Also accepts donations to the ReUse Center!
ReUse Center in Edmonton: Accepts a huge variety of art and craft supplies including the general paper scraps, paint, and pencil crayons, but you should get familiar with the full list…Here I’ll list some of my random favorites you may not know: corks, bread bag tags, pine cones, paint swatches, Christmas cards, milk jug lids, and egg cartons!
London Drugs in Edmonton: They have a program to recycle Styrofoam packaging that comes with their products…so take it to the customer service desk, tell them it’s from something you purchased, and smile!
Packaging & Shipping
Eddie’s Hang Up Display in Edmonton, Toronto & Vancouver: Paper bags made from 100% recycled materials
EcoEnclose: 100% recycled packaging, plant based inks, biodegradable tapes, zero-waste stickers and labels, and more! P.S. this company is based in the US but is in the works of having a Canada branch and in the meantime have carbon offset options for shipping.
Wash containers so they can be reused or recycled
Wash cleaning rags, and reuse over and over! Also source second hand material to cut up rather then buy new
Take care of tools, both yours and communal tools so new items do not need to be purchased
Use freezer paper to block screens
Coat emulsion on 1 side of your screen
Restretch screens at Stanleys rather then buying new
Choose/request less packaging in art stores, businesses listen to their customers more than you might think!
Use only what you need: tape, newsprint, water… be mindful!
Rethink your waste: turn scrap paper into bookmarks, wood shavings into kindling, inked newsprint into wrapping paper, or donate items to be reused
1 “A World Of Waste.” The World Counts. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/state-of-the-planet/world-waste-facts
2 “We Are Consuming The Future.” The World Counts. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/state-of-the-planet/overuse-of-resources-on-earth