Perhaps you’re among the 90% of Canadians polled by CBC’s Marketplace who are “concerned or very concerned” about the impact of plastic on our environment.
I know I am. And plastic doesn’t just have impact on our environment when it’s disposed of improperly. Recycling is no panacea, given that, according to Environmental Defence, only 11 percent of the plastics we use end up recycled. The remainder gets incinerated or winds up in landfill or our lakes, rivers, and oceans.
No matter how convenient we find our plastic products, our planet would be better off with less of them.
But where to start? Plastic has, after all, permeated pretty much our entire lives – from food packaging and clothing to building materials and deck chairs.
Heenal Rajani, co-founder of Reimagine Co. and Naked, a London, Ontario-based business that sells reusable products and offers free workshops to the community, urges us to be patient with ourselves so we don’t get overwhelmed. [Reducing plastic] isn’t going to happen overnight, he says. “It’s a journey. Start with one area at a time.”
Cleaning: Plastic packaging is ubiquitous so refilling containers can go a long way toward reducing your use of plastic. “Search out places where you can refill soaps and shampoos,” says Rajani. Not only will doing so reduce your plastic use, it can reduce your costs. Consider using bar soaps and shampoos, most of which, if they’re wrapped at all, are wrapped in paper.
Carrying: Sarah Aziz, of SimplySarahE, an eco-conscious organizing company, found herself, like a lot of us, with drawers full of old t-shirts. Rather than donate them (where they’re often tossed), she began to repurpose them as bags for the customers who buy her locally-made products. And it’s a cinch to make your own. With a pair of scissors, cut off any neck band and sleeves, and then stitch along the bottom of the shirt. Voila. A strong bag that stretches to hold whatever it contains and folds up to fit in your purse or the glove box of your car or boat.
Wrapping: Food at the cottage attracts plenty of bugs, which is why we frequently reach for the plastic wrap. Instead, both Heenal and Aziz swear by beeswax wraps (Heenal loves the Canadian-made Abeego brand, while Aziz makes (and sells!) her own). Use it to wrap pretty much anything, clean with a sponge/dishcloth or a quick rinse in warm soapy water, then re-use. Over and over and over.
Sipping: Most of us barely blink when we’re handed a straw with our Coke or iced coffee but increased scrutiny of single-use straws has created a market for straws made of stainless steel. It might seem like a small shift but United Nations estimates that plastic straws make up about 2,000 tonnes of the plastic waste found in water and makes the top 10 items picked up in bleach cleanups.
Wearing: A pilot project that non-profit group Georgian Bay Forever has undertaken with the University of Toronto has calculated the presence of microfibre debris in Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes and noted that these teensy bits of plastic are a consequence of our polyester (ie. plastic) clothing choices. Think yoga pants, athletic wear, running shorts, and bathing suits. The group’s plans include testing out filters in Parry Sound on washing machines to see how many of these miniscule microfibres they can remove before they enter our waterways – and often, our drinking water. In the meantime, purchase clothes made of natural fibres that biodegrade – organic cotton and bamboo, linen, silk and wool.