The Sustainability Sisters

They’ve rejected plastics, packaging and other landfill fodder in pursuit of a low-impact lifestyle

Who they are: Toni Sappong, 30, a family doctor, and Lin Sappong, 28, a model
Where they live: Danforth
Zero-wasters since: March 2018
Monthly waste: One small grocery bag

Why you decided to try to go zero-waste:
Lin: The documentary A Plastic Ocean. I got an hour in and started bawling my eyes out. I still haven’t finished it! I decided that day: No more plastic. Toni: The plan was to go plastic-free for 30 days, but when that was over, we knew we couldn’t go back.

The easiest part of going green:
Toni: Doing it together. Plus, if you go solo, there’s less accountability. Lin: Sometimes I’ll be grocery shopping and think, “I could just buy the carrots in the plastic,” but I know Toni will ask, “Why didn’t you buy them in bulk?”

Items that are banned in your home:
Lin: Plastic water bottles and those stupid red party cups. We host a lot, and everyone gets a proper glass or mug.

Items that you own a lot of:
Toni: Jars. And oils that we use for conditioner, lip balm, cooking—literally everything.

Items you always carry with you:
Toni: My travel mug, some form of cutlery and my Onyx food container. If I’m feeling really bougie, I’ll carry beeswax wrap. Lin: Carbon filters for tap water, especially when I’m travelling.

Guilty pleasure that you can’t give up:
Lin: Potato chips. I’ll eat a whole bag in one sitting.

Waste-free product or service that you most wish was available in Toronto:
Toni: Delivery and takeout in non-plastic containers. Lin: I regularly order pizza because it comes in a cardboard box instead of plastic.

Your most ingenious zero-waste life hack:
Lin: We stole most of our best ideas from other people, including our recipe for homemade Vim: castile soap, eco-friendly bleach, baking soda and lemon oil. It works on everything.

Omnivore, vegetarian, vegan or other:
Toni: We call ourselves planetarians. It means eating in a way that’s sustainable for the planet. I don’t consume meat or fish, but I don’t freak out if my soup was made with chicken stock.

Where you buy groceries:
Lin: Summer is easy because there are so many farmers’ markets. Toni: In the winter, Karma Co-op and Urban Bulk and Refill and Bare Market.

How about for toiletries:
Lin: We use baking soda to brush our teeth. We use all-metal safety razors. It took me a while to find waste-free mascara, and to this day, I’ve only found one brand in Canada that has recyclable packaging, called Elate. It’s not perfect, but it’s slightly better.

Where you buy clothes:
Lin: As a model, I used to buy so many clothes from fast-fashion brands for auditions and shoots. I don’t anymore, unless I absolutely have to. I recently had a photo shoot where I needed skinny jeans, and I couldn’t find them in a thrift store. I bought a pair from Zara, went to the shoot and then returned them. Toni: I try to buy natural fibres and avoid microplastics in my clothing. Lin: Toni is the linen queen.

Products you make at home:
Toni: We make our own house-cleaning products, like a toilet and bath scrub and all-purpose sprays. I also make a lot of my own hair care products from shea butter, aloe vera, essential oils and honey, and a few other ingredients. There aren’t many waste-free beauty care options for people of colour. Lin: I have a ’fro, so I use a lot of hair products. Each time I use anything in my hair, I have to use half a jar of it. That’s a huge challenge for me. We also make our own oat milk, which takes about 10 minutes, and almond milk, which takes about an hour.

Reusable toilet paper—yea or nay:
Lin: We haven’t tried it. We keep thinking about getting a bidet.

Main mode of transportation:
Toni: We have one car between the two of us, but we try to take transit or walk as much as possible. Lin: We love to hike, and you can’t get to a trailhead without driving.

How often you fly:
Toni: I flew four times last year. Every time I do, I feel so guilty. I swore that I’d have a flight-free 2020, so we’ll see how that goes. Lin: Last year, I probably flew 15 times. I feel guilty too, so I’m aiming to only do work travel this year.

How much waste you produce in a typical month:
Lin: We have a lot of recycling and compost. We take out our garbage maybe once a month—a small bin usually containing non-recyclable wrappers for beauty and hair products, stickers from produce, rubber bands—that sort of thing.

How hard is it to be low-waste at work:
Toni: As a doctor, I don’t even know where to begin. The amount of plastic waste we produce is intense: syringes, gloves, oh my goodness. I probably use 30 pairs of gloves a day. The dream is to one day have a green clinic space that’s low-waste and solar-powered. Lin: At shoots, sometimes an assistant will bring me a plastic water bottle, already opened, with my name on it. So I try to reuse those bottles for a long time.

Top tip for someone who wants to zero-waste:
Lin: Connect with the low-waste community in your neighbourhood and on Facebook. It’s really helpful to know you’re not alone. There are lots of things we never would have figured out if we couldn’t ask people who’d already done it. Toni: Keep everything you already own. There’s no need to go out and buy a zero-waste kit. There’s a lot of really sexy stuff for the zero-waste community, but it’s unnecessary. Just use what you have until it falls apart. It doesn’t need to be glamorous.

How often do you…
Use AC or heating:
We don’t have AC, and we don’t control the heat in our home.
Get delivery: Very infrequently. We sometimes convince restaurants to let us put takeout in our own containers.
Use the dishwasher: Never.
Do laundry: Once a month. We both have a lot of underwear and socks, so we can last a month before we have to do laundry. We use natural fibres a lot and those don’t smell for a while.

On a scale of 1 to Greta Thunberg, give yourself a sustainability score.
Toni: 7. There’s a lot of room for improvement. We’re putting in the effort and we’re broadcasting that effort, because it can’t stop at the individual level. We’re going to take a freighter across the ocean in December to visit our family in the U.K. instead of flying. It’s an eight- to 10-day journey each way, depending on weather.

The Green Guide

Part 1: The sustainability sisters—Toni and Lin Sappong, zero-wasters since March 2018

Part 2: The diaper warriors—Ryan Dyment and Emily Hunter, zero-wasters since January 2015

Part 3: The queen of green—Meera Jain, zero-waster since March 2018

Part 4: A sustainable sanctuary in Leslieville

Part 5: A lakeside eco-retreat

Part 6: A natural oasis in Midtown

Part 7: How one super turned his building into a miraculously low-waste condo

Part 8: Incredible bulk—four packaging-free shops

Part 9: Supernova Ballroom—the low-waste cocktail bar

Part 10: “I went green—maybe a little too green

Part 11: The green shopping guide—guilt-free goodies for climate-conscious consumers


This story originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.