Alison Rebello: Journey to a zero-waste lifestyle

By: Erica John

Alison Rebello is impressed by various aspects of Calgary’s recycling initiatives, but through her journey of striving towards a zero-waste lifestyle, realizes that more can still be done in areas such as education and encouraging residents to be invested in the recycling process. 

Originally from Mumbai, India, Rebello has lived around the world. She was moving to Alberta and deciding whether to live in Calgary or Edmonton. In the end, she was drawn to Calgary for what seemed like a more streamlined recycling process than Edmonton. 

“It seemed to be from the outside looking in, more streamlined in the sense that the information was more easily available,” she says. “Like when it comes to looking for where a certain thing goes into the recycling bin.” 

Another reason for moving to Calgary was her discovery of more stores that had zero-waste options, like Bulk Barn, a grocery store which encourages the use of reusable containers to shop for your items.

Her pursuit of a zero-waste lifestyle began in Mumbai as her family was gearing up to be a zero-waste household. Her mother would sort the waste, buy fresh produce instead of something that came in a bag and always used items to their maximum use. 

Rebello shares that repairing something so it can continue to be used is very typical in India.

“As a culture, we’re very pro-repair. Pro kind of reusing, upcycling. We’re big on that,” she says. 

She didn’t care as much for recycling in her teen years, but around the age of 25, something clicked. 

“Climate change is happening. We are contributing to it,” she says firmly.

She found she wasn’t doing enough so she sprang into action and became serious about reducing the amount of plastic in her life. It’s hard, she admits. There is plastic all around us. But it’s about looking for alternatives. That’s what’s important to Rebello. 

Volunteering with Green Calgary was another meaningful step in her journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Green Calgary is an organization striving to “create healthy homes and communities through environmental education, products and services.” 

“Climate change is happening. We are contributing to it.”


When asked about tips for reducing, reusing and recycling, Rebello says most of the stuff is already out there.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s pretty basic stuff,” she says. “It’s just that I think more people need to be doing it. And even if it’s done imperfectly, it still needs to be done. A lot of people just kind of throw their hands up and be like, ‘ugh it’s so hard, I can’t do this anymore.’”

For reducing, she says the most important thing is to be mindful. Ask yourself questions like, do you really need it? How is it being fabricated or manufactured? Where did it come from? Will I be able to repair it if I need to? Reducing the amount of waste that comes into your home in the first place is the first step to a greener community.

In terms of reusing, her biggest tip is to thrift items or to share and borrow items with others that you may not use frequently. She talks of a program called Library of Things. The town of Banff implemented this program in 2021 and says it will “help reduce community-wide waste and consumption, and contribute to social inclusion, accessibility, and affordability for members of the community.” 

Learning which common household items can be recycled and how to clean them is an easy step toward reducing waste. PHOTO: ERICA JOHN Credit: Erica John

Lastly, Rebello says to recycle everything you can and stresses the importance of educating yourself. Finding out how everyday items you use can be recycled properly is a simple but important initiative. She also believes that educating children in school from a young age might be an effective way to help future generations create good recycling habits. 

While she acknowledges the changes the federal government is taking regarding the single-use plastic ban, she calls it a “baby step” and believes they could be doing more.

She ponders possible solutions such as incentivization for business, building a circular economy, community gardens, and increased education, ultimately leading to more people invested in the process of creating a greener future. 

She believes Calgarians care about nature and the environment but now it’s about taking that extra step. 

“Dots need to be connected between doing a certain thing, and how it impacts nature,” she says.

As for Rebello, she will continue doing her part, by making conscious decisions to reduce, reuse and recycle, ultimately working towards a zero-waste lifestyle.

Voices from Mount Royal University

YouTube video
Audio editing: Sydney Klassen-Rosewarn. Director and video editor: Cassie Hearn.

Kayla Wise: Research before you recycle

By: Anne Mayo

Apples don’t fall far from their trees

Growing up, recycling was a way to earn a small amount of money back, but it created a bond and lasting memories between Kayla Wise and her father. In a small town with no recycling pick up, the two of them would often walk to the local recycling depot together.

“It was a fun activity to do together,” Wise says. “We would fill up a shopping cart or toboggan and walk together to the depot and sort everything into the bins.”

Wise now does her best to live sustainably on her own. Green living, or sustainable living, is a lifestyle of daily sustainable habits so that one’s daily life works in harmony with nature instead of depleting its resources. 

“I recycle as much as I possibly can, even if it involves bringing everything I have home from work because I’m not sure it’s going to be recycled,” she says.

Kayla Wise tries to do her part for the environment by volunteering every year for parks cleanup. PHOTO: Supplied by Kayla Wise

To learn more about volunteering and keeping Calgary’s parks and rivers clean, visit the City of Calgary’s website

Everybody needs a little more green in their lives

Her decision to live sustainably was heavily influenced by money in the beginning. 

Eco-friendly products are typically more expensive than their traditional competitors. But their longer lifespans mean there are less repeat purchases, and they become an easy way to save money. 

“A lot of single-use stuff I try to avoid. I use personal cups, I use my own cutlery, I don’t use straws for many businesses if I go out,” Wise says. “Any kind of products I buy, I try to buy something I can reuse.”

Wise now practices the lifestyle as a way to help reduce her impact on the environment as much as possible. Just like in her youth, she believes it is the right thing to do. 

“It’s something that I can do if I’m able and capable of helping in any way I can,” she says. “And it’s a super simple, easy way to do it, then why not?”

Where do they come from, where do they go?

Living in Calgary, Wise is no stranger to the city’s programs for recycling and waste production. She says that the programs are decent as they are now, but there is still room for major improvements.

“Places that actually recycle clothing or batteries, lightbulbs, have all of the facilities to be able to do that,” she says. “It’s just extra work to have to find a specific place to drive around the city to go to because I don’t want to throw it out.”

These locations recycle less traditional materials like light bulbs, batteries, and textiles:

Even after years of using the city’s programs, there are still things that confuse Wise, mainly the color system of the bins. 

She says that while the city has a color system that most residents are familiar with, there are certain businesses that don’t seem to follow it, resulting in less items being properly recycled.

“We always think blue for recycling, at least I think so,” Wise says. “But even at the store near my apartment complex, blue is garbage, green is recycling, and compost has its own.”

The city’s recycling program isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than those in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, according to Wise. She was full of excitement when she moved to the province, but her high expectations of their recycling programs were quickly quashed.

Many waste bins in Calgary have images or diagrams of what items can be put in them. PHOTO: Cassie Hearn

“The city I lived in, the garbage truck picked up garbage and recycling together, then it was sorted there, so there really was no incentive for citizens to do it themselves,” Wise says. “They also never had any extra bins that you could drive to.”

Cracking the code

Wise also thinks that access to information about waste reduction programs should be a much simpler process. Oftentimes when she searches for information on the programs, it gives her random information when she’s usually looking for what can and can’t be recycled.

For anyone that is looking to start following a sustainable lifestyle, Wise has a few suggestions to make the process much easier to understand.

“Research, talk to someone that has an interest in it, but actually pay attention to signs, symbols, labels, anything,” she says. “Because someone could think they’ve been trying for so long, and meanwhile, they’re throwing it in the wrong bin.”

Kal Rivera: Coffee grounds and simplicity

By: Anne Mayo

One man’s trash is another plant’s treasure

Kal Rivera’s exposure to eco-friendly living began early in his life with his elementary and junior high schools promoting the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ slogan. 

Years later, Rivera’s interest in sustainability is still being fueled by his parent’s backyard garden. When they moved into their home, the garden was in rough shape. The family started composting to bring it back to life.

“We started composting more because my mom really loves gardening,” Rivera says. “I take home grounds from work, coffee grounds, so we can use them.”

With great waste comes great recycling responsibility

Even with his experience in composting, Rivera says he is still taking baby steps when it comes to recycling. Rather than physical barriers, his struggles lie with the mentality the city’s promotions have created.

“All these articles are like, ‘Oh, Calgary’s one of the cleanest cities in the world,’ I feel like that puts a block in my head,” Rivera says. “I’m like, ‘We’re already doing great, so I’m not going to go forward.”

Rivera’s efforts to outgrow this inner monologue are fed by his belief that there is always room for improvements, regardless of the situation. The smallest resolutions can equal the biggest changes.

“Thinking simpler has been helpful because I don’t have to do these grand, extravagant things all the time just to make a bit of a difference.”

Kal Rivera

“It’s as easy as separating caps from something to make sure they’re still recyclable, separating as little things as that,” Rivera says. “‘Oh, I accidentally threw this in the wrong bin,’ going that extra mile like, ‘I’ll jump into the bin and get it out and separate it properly.’”

Making the other side greener too

It’s said that simple is better, and Rivera believes that recycling is no different.

“Thinking simpler has been helpful because I don’t have to do these grand, extravagant things all the time just to make a bit of a difference,” Rivera says.

He was able to convince his family to download the city’s recycling app to simplify the process in their home.

“It’s good for scheduling, and just so we know when to put our bins out, at the very least, but it also tells you what to put in each bin, which is very helpful,” Rivera says.

Rivera is still learning his way around the city’s recycling system and wants to continue improving his knowledge in the area. 

Kal Rivera is actively trying to improve his knowledge and use of the city’s recycling program. PHOTO: Supplied by Kal Rivera

His advice for anyone new to the city or its recycling program is not to rely too heavily on others. Taking on the responsibility and owning it is key, according to Rivera.

“I’m sure we all have days where it’s just so hard to go the extra mile sometimes, but making sure that we are 100 per cent of the time and holding others accountable too, I think the accountability aspect is the biggest thing,” Rivera says.