We tried going 2 weeks without single-use plastics, Part II: What can we do about plastics?

A few weeks ago (Oct 15–19) was National Waste Reduction Week in Canada! We hope that our previous blog post about our single-use plastics challenge (https://medium.com/@uwcampuscompost/we-tried-going-2-weeks-without-single-use-plastics-part-i-heres-what-happened-905760f29276) inspired some of you to reconsider your relationship with single-use plastics and other wasteful items.

A National Geographic cover from June, 2018, creatively illustrates the global problem of plastic pollution. Image courtesy of National Geographic,.

Many governments have already taken steps to reduce their plastic usage. Bans on certain single use plastics are cropping up around the world. In her 2018 article for CNN, Jessie Yeung detailed where certain types of plastics have been banned. Common non-recyclable plastic items like microbeads, plastic straws, and coffee cups/pods have been banned around the world from North America, to Europe, to New Zealand, to Asia, to Africa.

Some regions have even taken on nation-wide single-use plastic bans. Taiwan has set to completely ban disposable tableware, beverage cups, drinking straws, and shopping bags by the year 2030. Similarly, Kenya has banned producing, selling and using plastic bags (Cronin, 2018). Kenya is using a penalty of four years in prison or a fine of $39,000 to make sure that the ban works (Yeung, 2018). And the European Union has recently backed a ban on single-use plastics that will come into effect across the EU by 2021.

In Canada, Montreal, P.E.I, St. John’s, and Vancouver have bans on all single-use plastics. Canada’s federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, cites these forward-thinking Canadian cities and provinces as inspiration for Canada’s future national zero-waste strategy, which is currently in the phase of preliminary discussions.

But the question remains, what are some things we as individuals can do right now to reduce our single-use plastics and other waste? A few of us who completed the challenge weighed in with some tips we find particularly useful!

Jane:

Reusable tote bags are ubiquitous nowadays, and can often be found for free or for a couple of cents. Image courtesy of Amazon.com.
  • Carrying your own reusable water bottle, cutlery, and grocery/tote bag. These are things that also save you money. You will start seeing how much plastic you saved and may start considering other choices for other plastic in your life.
  • When you can, at the grocery store or eating out, use food packaging like cardboard, tin foil, your own container, or no container at all (for produce).

Redmond:

  • My best advice would be to start small and persevere. You are buying into a new lifestyle, and it will take time to adjust. Be patient with yourself, take pride in the small victories, and always be willing to learn. There are growing communities centred around going zero waste (*cough* Campus Compost *cough*), meaning there’s tons of people to help you along the way.

Suzanna

  • No one who is perfect, and drastically reducing waste is a process of finding out what works for you and how this may change your routine.
  • Don’t worry about everything right away: make the switches that are the easiest for you first and then see how you can change your routine to avoid plastic going from the simplest to the hardest aspects
  • Try to reuse the plastic you already have:
  • I use a plastic gelato container for my homemade toothpaste.
  • My friend bought me 3 big jars of peanut butter as a gift before I came to Waterloo (since I love peanut butter) and I have washed them out and reused them as bulk containers.
  • Certain grocery stores have bulk foods sections. Some plastics are very durable, so you can just reuse them over and over for a long time if you are careful about how you handle it.
  • Try healthier and non-plastic alternatives:
Soapberries can be used in many ways to replace bottled soaps and detergents. Image courtesy of Erik Dansereau.
  • Soap berries instead of laundry soap: less chemicals for the environment and your skin and super easy to use (you can just pop four in a mesh bag and throw it in with your wash, it releases a compound called saponin which is naturally antibacterial and makes your clothes smell great — sold at Bulk Barn!)
  • Consider the impacts to your health:
  • You will eat less processed food, more vegetables and fruits. You will try out new recipes and end up eating a larger variety of foods.
  • Consider the impact on your wallet
  • Buying in bulk can be cheaper — a half gallon mason jar (about 30 half-cup servings) of oats at Bulk Barn cost me 2 dollars, while the same amount of pre-packaged oats would cost 4 or 5 dollars.
The Kitchener Farmer’s Market is easily accessible by bus, and is open year round. Image courtesy of Explore Waterloo Region.
  • Farmer’s markets have cheaper in-season produce than grocery stores: it costs me about 30–40 dollars for a week’s worth of vegetables (which comprise the majority of my meals) as opposed to 70–80 dollars. You can also shop around the markets for the best prices.

Unfortunately, the truth is that plastics are embedded in our lives. They have only been in mass use since 1950 — and since then they have taken over.

The only realistic way to reduce the impact of single use plastics is institutional reform. People can change their individual habits, but the societal norms that enable mass plastic-production need to be changed. It is profitable to sell water encapsulated in single-use plastic; if you sell something that is “single-use” you can get people to buy your product over and over. It is much less profitable to sell people a reusable water bottle once, that they can fill with water over and over from free public water sources.

While lifestyle changes are good, they are not doing enough, fast enough. Plastic bags contribute to plastic pollution, but the truth is that they comprise a small portion of all the plastics used in food, cosmetics, and other items. Just think of how much plastic packaging you can find in a grocery or other type of store. Plastic cannot be infinitely recycled — it is only downcycled. This means that a plastic container cannot be made into another plastic container — it will be made into a less strong plastic such as a plastic bag (Lallanilla, 2018). Unfortunately, plastic shopping bags are just the tip of the iceberg.

This 2 week challenge goes to show that, even if we aren’t quite able to end our relationship with plastic for good by tomorrow, we can take steps to become aware of our plastic use, and try within our means to reduce our plastic consumption.

References

Cronin, A. M. (2018). Kenya Spearheads New Technique to Remove Plastic Bags from Forestry. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/kenya-spearheads-new-technique-remove-plastic-bags-forestry/

Harnett, C. E. (2018). Victoria pushing for B.C.-wide ban on disposable plastic packaging. https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/victoria-pushing-for-b-c-wide-ban-on-disposable-plastic-packaging

Lallanilla, M. (2018). A Guide to Plastic Recycling. https://www.thespruce.com/plastic-recycling-1708625

Padja, A. (2018). Taiwan to Ban All Single-Use Plastics by 2030! https://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/taiwan-ban-single-use-plastics/

Roberston, J. (2018). Unpacking P.E.I’s Plastic Bag Reduction Act. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-plastic-bags-ban-exemptions-1.4697663

Turnbull, J. (2017). What you need to know about Montreal’s plastic bag ban. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/what-you-need-to-know-about-montreal-s-plastic-bag-ban-1.4451421

Yeung, J. (2018). Australia is banning plastic bags. Here’s what other countries are doing. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/australia/australia-plastic-bag-ban-intl/index.html

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