The plague of plastic and reducing your plastic footprint

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll recall a little over a year ago, I wrote some posts on plastic in our lives, and some ways I was trying to reduce my own contributions to the problem of the plastic plague. Why do I care? Mostly, I care because I don’t want the oceans ending up with more plastic than plankton. I like birds. I don’t like seeing birds (and other animals – especially turtles!) dying, starving and becoming poisoned from eating too much plastic.

Birds and turtles – I wonder if they’re eating plastic?

I am recently reminded of this with the news that Exeter University scientists exploring the Arctic found blocks of polystyrene at 80°N on ice floes in the middle of international Arctic waters. After seeing this, they decided to take samples of the water to look for micro-plastics in the Arctic ocean. I don’t even know how to describe how I feel about it.

Maybe David Attenborough (a hero of mine) puts it best when he describes watching albatross parents literally feeding plastic to their young – “it’s heartbreaking”. I agree, Sir David. It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. Not to mention my disappointment at that balloon ban that Vancouver Parks didn’t manage to get approved because, really, what purpose does a balloon serve?

And it’s not just the effect on animals. Our landfills are filling up and releasing methane. Many people might say, “just recycle it” but plastic is only recycled and used to a certain extent. So, what do we do? Try by reducing the plastic and waste in your life in a few ways. Here are a few ideas and some of the main ways I’ve tried to reduce my own waste:

  1. Don’t use single-use plastic.
    To me, this is the easiest one. Mostly, it’s a choice of laziness and convenience. This includes plastic grocery bags, plastic bulk bin bags, straws, plastic cutlery, disposable coffee cups and lids, beverage bottles, food wrappers and menstrual products.
    Instead, use re-usable grocery bags and bulk bin bags (Kootsacs, Flip & Tumble, LifeWithoutPlastic and heaps more, just google it). Say no to straws and plastic cutlery. You can bring your own, or just opt not to eat fast food. Its better for you, anyway. Bring a re-usable mug and water bottle with you. Bring your own container for leftovers when going out to eat. Use re-usable menstrual products instead of individually-wrapped plastic ones.
  2. Don’t buy goods in plastic containers if you can help it.
    Stuff like laundry detergent, shampoo, cereal, cleaning products, etc. Anything that comes packaged in plastic – especially electronics, single-packaged snacks, makeup and things like razors and toothbrushes.
    Wherever you can, buy bar soap and shampoo instead of products in plastic bottles. Buy laundry detergent and pasta noodles in a cardboard box instead of a bottle or bag. Buy cereal in bulk and place it in your own container to eliminate the inner plastic bag, etc. Look at everything on the shelf at the store that you buy and think about what comes in plastic and how you can reduce it.
  3. Don’t buy clothing made of synthetic fibres.
    Since the advent of plastic circa 1907, our clothing has shifted from well-made natural fibres to cheap, synthetic, plastic fast fashion meant to last a season until the next trend rolls in. What happens to it when we’re done with it?
    Instead, wear natural fibres like cotton, wool (unless you’re allergic to wool, obviously!) and linen. Buy items made to last or buy them second-hand.
  4. Own less. Buy less.
    Just buying less stuff will automatically decrease your waste output. You’ll have less packaging to dispose of. It will also help your bank account and probably free up some time, too. You could take up a new hobby.
    Remember that you are not defined by what you own. Our society and big companies go to a lot of effort to use advertising and psychology to get us to buy more new stuff, making us think we either need or want it in order to be successful or happy. Don’t fall for their brainwashing ways- just buy less stuff!

When you start to adjust to your changes, you’ll start to notice more ways to improve and things might start to make you upset. I made a lot of these changes in the last year, and its amazing how quickly it becomes the norm. I go to the grocery store and I see bananas and oranges wrapped in plastic wrap and it kind of enrages me. I mean, this fruit already grows with its own packaging and for some reason, people still feel the need to wrap it in plastic? I just don’t understand this. I see people who still buy plastic water bottles and I don’t understand it. It frustrates me. I thought that problem was settled with a million different kinds of reusable bottles about a decade ago.

I made big changes to my wardrobe in the last year, trying to eliminate plastic fibres and buy natural fibres and longer-lasting items. Here it is before, full of polyester (March 2016):

fabrics

And here it is now:
wadrrobeafter
Notice how after, there is just a lot less overall, too. I’m really trying to do more with less here. I guess you could call it my “minimalist wardrobe.”

Think about the idea of a Plastic Footprint – kind of like a Carbon Footprint. How much plastic do you use, consume and waste? Calculate your Plastic Footprint with the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Plastic Footprint Calculator. It might make you think about some of the things you own and the choices you make, both the small and the big ones. If we don’t, I start to worry about what the world will look like.

There’s always room for improvement. The CWF said I could do better in the kitchen and I agree. I’ve been looking at our waste bin and noticing most of it is plastic food packaging. I’m hoping to start buying noodles, rice and cereal at a bulk store in reusable containers instead of buying them wrapped in plastic in cardboard boxes. How are you reducing your plastic footprint? Take action today, even if its only one small change.


If you’re interested in learning more about plastic and consumerism, check out these documentaries:
Plastic Planet (2009) – Werner Boote, grandson of a plastic chemist explores how plastic is taking over our earth.
Bag It (2010) – Jeb Berrier investigates plastic pollution, the politics of the plastic bag ban and the toxins in his own bloodstream as a result of plastic.
The Clean Bin Project (2011) – A Vancouver, BC couple aim for a waste-free year.
The Men Who Made Us Spend (2014) – From the lightbulb to the iPhone, Jacques Peretti explores companies efforts in planned obsolescence and the psychology of consumerism.

If that’s not enough to make you pause and think about it, I will leave you with a quote from Jane Goodall, another of my heroes:

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

3 thoughts on “The plague of plastic and reducing your plastic footprint

  1. Fantastic and complete article, Erin. I laud you for your own personal experience in ridding plastics from your life; not accepting one-time use plastics is a great start for everyone wanting to make a difference. They are ubiquitous in daily life (think of drinking straws that a waitstaff automatically pulls from his pocket for your water). A simple ‘no thank you’ goes a long way!

    Awareness is key, but action is a must. Thank you for what you’re doing here! ~ Shannon

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    1. Making little changes over time seems to be the way to go, at least for me. I am trying, but I always think I could do better and wonder if my efforts are futile when I see people double-bagging their groceries and asking for bottled water…its a bit depressing at times!

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