How to reduce single-use plastic at the cottage

plastic-forks Photo by ISOVECTOR/Shutterstock

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to ban single-use plastics, and the change could come as early as 2021.

The full list of items to be banned hasn’t been finalized, but according to a report by CBC News it’s expected to include items like the following:

  • Bags
  • Straws
  • Cutlery
  • Cotton swabs
  • Drink stirrers
  • Plates
  • Balloon sticks
  • Fast-food cups and containers made of expanded polystyrene

The announcement was just a day shy of World Oceans Day, and follows similar legislation passed by the European Union earlier this year as part of a collective effort to protect the world’s oceans, which are now filled with billions of pounds of plastic. Even more concerning: The United Nations estimates as little as half of it was designed to be used more than once.

But it’s not just our oceans that are in trouble—the plastic problem permeates all of our waterways, including the Great Lakes. According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, more than 22 million pounds of plastic pollution ends up in these prized natural resources each year—and that has serious implications for wildlife. Whole items like plastic bottles and bags accumulate on beaches and entangle coastal mammals and birds. Then of course there’s all the plastic pollution we don’t see.

Microplastics may be tiny pieces of plastic that have broken off larger items, like food containers and coffee cups, or the ones that are manufactured to be smaller than five millimetres, like the microbeads found in many soaps and cosmetics. These tiny particles are often swallowed by fish or other water-dwelling creatures and have even made it into our tap water, which exposes us to the harmful chemicals found in plastics.

Some coastal residents have taken matters into their own hands, like Nova Scotia’s Karen Jenner, who hits the beaches along Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy two to three times a week to collect plastic.

She regularly fills five-gallon buckets with fishing garbage and household items, which has amounted to a reported 2 tonnes of plastic in just one year. Efforts like hers are important, but we need to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in oceans in the first place. What Jenner has managed to accumulate along one beach, and in such a short time, is evidence of just how much additional plastic could accumulate in our waterways from now until 2021, when the ban is expected to take place.

It’s easy to opt for what’s convenient and forget about the environment, especially when relaxing and having fun are top priority, as they often are at the cottage. But it’s our clean waterways and the wildlife that relies on them that makes cottage country so special. With that in mind, here are some simple ways you can reduce the amount of plastic you’re using at the cottage (or on trips to-and-from) in the meantime:

Drink from refillable jugs: Getting a glass of water isn’t as easy as heading to the tap when you’re on a well system. But that doesn’t mean you need to buy cases upon cases of plastic water bottles, either for cooking or refreshment. Buy some refillable jugs with spouts, or invest in a water cooler. These can be filled up at most grocery stores or even natural springs if you’re lucky to have one nearby.

And refillable coffee mugs: Most of us have gotten into the habit of carrying around a reusable water bottle by now, but don’t think twice when we pick up our morning coffees, despite their plastic lids. Many cups are also lined with a type of plastic that makes them waterproof, but can’t be recycled, no matter how hard you try. Get some reusable mugs and brew your coffee before the trip—you’ll save on plastic and stops along the way. It’s win win!

Pack snacks for the drive: Pack snacks along the way to avoid throwing out plastic-wrapped treats like granola bars. Homemade snacks also tend to be healthier, which means you’ll be saving the planet and your waistline—just be sure to use glass containers or washable sandwich bags if you do.

Ditch plastic bags: This one’s a no-brainer, but just in case you haven’t made the transition yet, be sure to ditch plastic bags for reusable ones, which are great for carrying everything from groceries to games to an extra set of bedding for the guest room.

Make use of old Mason jars: If you have empty Mason jars lying around anywhere, it’s sure to be the cottage. That is, if you haven’t already used them up for adorable DIY projects. Instead, consider using them to store food. The glass won’t stain, smell or warp in the microwave.

Buy stainless steel straws: We get it—your daiquiris just aren’t the same without a straw, and you take your cottage bartending duties seriously. Time to invest in some stainless steel reusable straws like these ones.

Do the dishes: When you’ve got company, you might be inclined to opt for plastic forks, knives and plates to cut down on dishes. But doing dishes at the cottage, and with friends, is a whole lot more fun than when you’re solo after a long day at work. Not convinced? Cook meals that don’t need utensils, like burgers, wraps, tacos, hand-pies—there are a surprising amount of options when you consider it.

Opt for a cork top: When you head to the liquor store, choose beer cans or bottled wine with a cork rather than the modern screw tops, which are often lined with the same plastic as coffee cups. Plus, what could be more satisfying than popping a cork?


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