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.”

De-plasticizing my life: switching to re-usable menstrual products

Some of you might remember my posts about plastic in the ocean and your closet and my quest to decrease my plastic consumption for my health and the environment, or as I am calling it, de-plasticizing my life.

One of my first steps was starting to buy more natural fiber clothing and reduce the amount of polyester in my wardrobe. So far, its going pretty well. In the time since my post, I’ve got a wool/cashmere blend sweater, a couple of 100% cotton tops, a cotton/linen top and a linen-blend dress. All of these except the dress were from thrift stores. Cheap + used = Awesome! I also got some tin lunchboxes to replace my plastic ones.

So, while I will continue to work on reducing polyester clothing ever so slowly, what else can I do? Looking around at the waste bins in my house, I realized a big amount of waste comes from the bathroom. It kind of explodes every month. Men, look away if talk of menstrual products makes you uncomfortable. That’s right. My next culprit in my de-plasticizing quest is disposable menstrual products.

I have always found disposables, both pads and tampons, incredibly irritating and I hate using them every month. Once I started to feel guilty every time I threw one away and found out about all the chemicals in these products, I decided it was time to change to re-usable menstrual products: cloth pads and menstrual cups. I also got some re-usable cloth face wipes to use instead of disposable cotton balls.

DSC05371
Re-usable cotton cloth facial pads from New Moon Pads. Love all the cute patterns and they are super-soft.

I started out trying two cloth pads from New Moon Pads and I have to tell you – I LOVE them! I will never go back and I quickly bought more. Here’s why:

  • They reduce waste and its good for the environment. Disposable menstrual products are wasteful and 1 woman can contribute 16,800 pads/tampons to a landfill in a lifetime.
  • Its healthier. Disposables are super absorbent which means they also absorb all the good moisture, too. Disposables also contain toxic chemicals, such as dioxin (a carcinogen) and questionable ingredients like “fragrance.”
  • Cloth pads are extremely soft, durable, absorbent and COMFORTABLE. No sticky glue, no chafing and no weird fragrances. They are usually made of soft fabrics like cotton, bamboo or flannel. Plus, they come in lots of cute colours and patterns.
  • They are durable. Cloth pads and menstrual cups can last up to 10 years.
  • Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours. That’s 12 hours of not changing anything or throwing anything away. Yep, that even means they can even be worn overnight, TSS risk-free. Its quite a freeing feeling and really great if you’re lazy.
  • Re-usable products save money in the long-run. It is a high upfront cost (about $12-15 per pad or $40 for a cup), but when compared to buying disposables over a year or a lifetime, re-usables come out ahead. According to Lunapads, over 5 years of use, you could save $200 by switching. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can even make cloth pads yourself.
  • If you care about animals like I do, by buying re-usable products, you will not be supporting cruel animal-testing with your dollar that brands like Always, Stayfree and Carefresh conduct.
DSC04679
New Moon Cloth pads (sizes: 3 ‘Moon Light’ on the left and 2 ‘New Moon’on the right) and top:  the Lunette cup. My favourite? The cats, of course.

For more information regarding the dangers in disposable menstrual products and other feminine care products, please read this excellent and well-researched article: A Question for Women’s Health: Chemicals in Feminine Hygiene Products and Personal Lubricants.

DSC04677
Lunette cup: a little strange at first, but awesome after practice! It comes with a cute little pouch.

Honestly, I wish I’d tried these years ago! I found these cloth pads to be WAY more absorbent than regular disposables and I was overall very impressed. A couple of years ago, I bought a Lunette cup, tried it with little success and never touched it again. I finally got to around using it again. Its really amazing once you get the hang of it. And no, if its in properly, you cannot feel it. I even went on a bike ride my second full trial day using it and it was totally fine.

If you are unsure, I recommend just getting one or two cloth pads and trying it out. See how it goes. I think you, too, will find it much more comfortable and may become a convert like me! Many women find their periods are lighter and less painful when they switch to re-usable products. Yes, I had my doubts about that but I can honestly say I noticed a difference since switching to re-usables: my period was lighter, shorter and less painful. 

This youtube channel has amazing information about basically any and every question you might have about cups and cloth pads. There are videos on how to wash cloth pads, choosing a brand, how to stow them around in your bag, how they compare to disposables as well as lots of information about cups. If you decide to make the change, I highly recommend you check out her channel.

There is tons of information on the internet about these products, just do a google search! Here is an excellent review of New Moon Pads if you are interested in them. Next, I will be trying some from Tree Hugger.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments as well, I’m happy to answer about my own experiences. Do you use re-usable menstrual products? Have you heard of them before? Let me know.


Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with any of the products discussed here and have not been given any discount or free trial items for mentioning them here. This is 100% purely my own satisfaction shining through!

Dressed in plastic head to toe – is plastic hiding in your closet, too?

Following on from my previous post on plastic in clothing, I decided to investigate my closet to find out how much plastic is hiding in plain sight.

I hoped for a majority natural fabrics like cotton. I distinctly dislike the way polyester feels on my skin and how it doesn’t breathe at all.

The results weren’t as bad as I was expecting overall, but there is definitely room for improvement! Here’s what I found in my everyday wardrobe…

fabrics
I’m happy to see a majority of cotton, but I’d like to see my polyester pile shrink.
  • All of my “woolly” sweaters and winter hats are 100% acrylic.
  • My nicer blouses for office jobs were an variety of mostly viscose, rayon and polyester with no cotton.
  • Most of my t-shirts were 100% cotton which is great. There are a couple of odd rayon shirts in the mix, but I’ll take rayon over polyester since its a natural-synthetic blend.
  • My jeans are 68% cotton, which is not too bad I suppose. Another pair of pants are 97% cotton and 3% elastane.
  • My shorts are a win at 98% cotton/2% elastane. Not bad!
  • Most of my dresses were polyester. The worst part of this are the tights that go along with them which are all 100% nylon, of course.

More of my “nice” or office clothes turned out to be mostly polyester while the clothes I’d wear on a more daily basis when given the choice were mostly cotton. Its funny how I subconsciously prefer one over the other, and to be honest, I hate dressing for the office.

The outdoor and hiking clothes are where it got ugly. Most of these are polyester, including:

  • Underarmor tops and bottom base layers – 100% polyester. Yikes!
  • Fleece jacket & vest – 100% polyester. And some of the worst offenders of shedding plastic in the washing machine!
  • And yes, even my beloved backpack is 100% polyester. Funny to think this is the same material as some of my shirts.

My rainjacket, a Pacific Northwest staple, is 100% nylon, but that’s fairly unavoidable in a waterproof item. At least I have two 100% merino wool tops which I love and wear far more often than the polyester ones.

After ravaging my closet and piling up all my clothing, I turned around and looked at my bed. I wish I hadn’t. I checked the labels and I was very disappointed to find both comforter is 100% polyester. At least the sheets are 100% cotton. So I suppose there are a lot more things I could change, but I don’t see myself shelling out the cash for new bedding anytime soon.

How about you? How much plastic is hiding in plain sight in your wardrobe?

Are you wearing plastic right now? Do you know where your clothing comes from?

Following up from my previous post about the earth becoming a plastic planet, I’ve been thinking more about plastic in my life. Over the last couple of years, I have been striving to be healthier and eliminate certain toxins from my life, such as chemical cleaning products and air fresheners, beauty and personal care products and making more food homemade. Maybe the next logical step is striving for less plastic both in my home and on myself!

After learning about the plastic industry taking over our clothing and how it degrades in the washing machine only to wind up polluting our oceans, I decided to learn more about what I put on my body every single day.

And it is not only the plastic fibers polluting the ocean, but also the concern of what happens to all these articles of clothing when we are done with them? Because they are basically plastic, they will not biodegrade and will persist in the environment long after we’re gone. Perhaps one solution is to wear more natural fiber clothing…

So first, I ask the question: where does our clothing come from? Fabrics are made from one of two things: natural or synthetic fibers.

DSC03486

Nylon was the first fully synthetic fiber to be manufactured from polymers. The first pair of women’s nylon stockings were made in 1937 and were quite a hit! Since that time, nylon is used in all kinds of things, from clothing to tents to musical instrument strings  (The Smithsonian, The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining).

Acrylic is made from a synthetic polymer (so, essentially plastic) and has desirable moisture-wicking qualities. It is also warm while being lightweight and is a common fabric for knit/”woolly” sweaters (TextileExchange).

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from polymers requiring a high-energy process to manufacture. It it used in many types of clothing, bedding and upholstery (Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining, TextileExchange). Popular polar fleece is 100% polyester and was found to be a source of micro-plastic fibers in the ocean from washing this fabric in our washing machines (Browne et al., 2011).

Viscose / rayon is made from chemically altered wood pulp or cotton fiber and is therefore technically semi-synthetic. It is more moisture-absorbent than cotton or linen and is used in a wide variety of garments (TextileExchange, Swicofil).

Spandex / elastane / Lycra is another polymer fiber famous for its ability to stretch and there is nothing natural about that (TextileExchange).

IMG_3138

Then, we have the fully natural fibers…

Cotton comes from the cotton plant. No surprises there. It breathes, its soft, its easy to clean and we’ve been using it for hundreds of years. Cotton is used in t-shirts, chinos, corduroy and denim  (Swicofil).

Linen comes from the flax plant and is one of the oldest textiles in history. Its durable, its breathable, and best of all it keeps you cool and makes for great summer-wear (Libeco, DeckTowel).

Wool primarily comes from sheep, but can also come from the angora rabbit, goats (cashmere and mohair), alpaca and llamas. Its breathable, stays warm when wet and keeps you cool when its warm and is resilient (CampaignforWool).

Other natural, but less common fabrics include silk and hemp. For more reading about the benefits of wearing natural fibers, check out this post from EmpoweredSustenance.

While its great that lots of companies are making clothes out of recycled plastic (Dgrade, Patagonia, Rawfortheocean), I wonder: what will happen to those plastic clothes when people are done with them? We live in a throwaway society, where so many people spend their free time on the weekends at shopping malls buying more and more stuff.

How much of my wardrobe is plastic? How much of yours is? In my next post, I will report back on my findings after investigating my own entire wardrobe.

Are we living in the ‘Plasticene’? & all the plastic in your life

Recently, I finally got around to watching the 2009 documentary Plastic Planet by Werner Boote. I’ve been interested in learning more about how plastic is made from oil, the potential health dangers of all the plastic surrounding us not to mention the environmental repercussions. Sure enough, after watching it, I found a new article about how the earth is becoming a plastic planet.

I was both fascinated and horrified about how many plastic products are actually a part of my daily life! Not only the regular things you might think of, like kitchen utensils, ziploc bags and food containers, but also your clothing, nearly every food from the grocery store is packaged in plastic, cables and wiring, the refrigerator and there is probably plastic in the shower and the window frames. Everywhere I look, there is plastic and soon enough, I was driving my significant other crazy as I pointed out everything around us that was plastic!

DSC03140 (2)
All of the plastic water bottles in my house…and one lonely Sigg.

Watching this doco, I learned while the main components of plastic itself are not harmful, the unknown additives from manufacturing have known toxic health effects. Two common additives you may have heard of are Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates; both are endocrine disruptors. Boote had his blood tested as part of the doco and they found measurable amounts of BPA in his blood. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about BPA-free plastic because chances are, it is just being replaced with a different toxic chemical! (Time to get rid of all my BPA-free bottles…)

To be fair, let’s  take a step back and think about how plastic has benefited us, too. It keeps food fresh and prevents illness, it is hugely important in healthcare and its helped along the digital age of technology we are in…okay, that’s all I can come up with. And on the plus side, only 4% of oil production goes toward producing plastic, which is considerably less than I thought.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This water certainly looks clean, but how much plastic is hiding under the surface?

Plastic in the ocean
Besides the health effects, I am more concerned with environmental effects. Of course, now we all know how long it takes plastic to disintegrate and that we ought to recycle it, but there is already so much plastic in the environment its become a huge problem. Sea turtles are facing a huge struggle by ingesting plastic in the ocean.

We all know about the garbage in the ocean, is it any wonder its killing the creatures who call it home? Plastic is a big problem for sea turtles because they get tangled in it and drown or ingest it intentionally (thinking it is jellyfish) or accidentally which makes them very sick, causes intestinal blockages leading to starvation and an inability to properly digest food. (Source)

Aside from the plastic crisis, turtles are facing other threats from ending up as by-catch or on someone’s dinner plate, dealing with pollution and habitat disturbance to dealing with people like these idiots.

DSC02951 (2)
Some turtles accidentally eat plastic instead of jellyfish.

And its not just sea turtles. Staggering numbers of seabirds are also ingesting plastic and dying. Here is a collection of sad and disturbing photos of dead albatross found all with plastic in their stomachs. Even environments far from large human populations we might typically think of as being pristine contain plastic debris. In 2012, a group of researchers discovered the first plastic found in the Southern Ocean.

mollymawk Apr 2012
New Zealand mollymawks, a type of albatross. How much plastic is in their stomachs?

But maybe the majority of people won’t really care until the marine plastic epidemic starts affecting us…but it already is. If you eat fish, its highly likely that fish contains tiny plastic fibers which you are now eating, too. Just another great reason not to eat seafood.

Perhaps someday geologists will look back and call the era we are living in the ‘Plasticene’…

Looking around your home – how many plastic items do you see? Does it surprise you?


If you want to do something to help besides using less plastic in your daily life and ensuring your plastic is recycled responsibly, please look into helping or donating to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.