Small Steps to Kicking the Plastic Habit

Being plastic-free seems to be a step program progression.

The reusable coffee mug - don’t leave home without it.

The reusable coffee mug - don’t leave home without it.

First, we become aware of how bad plastic is for us and the environment (how many times have we written the phrase “some scientists say there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050” on this blog?!). We then start using reusable canvas bags at grocery stores, cloth diapers for our babies, and investing in a recycling container system at home.

Then we hear that as much as 90 per cent of plastics that we faithfully put into our blue bins end up in incinerators, landfills, or in the ocean. A note on that – even a few spoonfuls of peanut butter left in a jar can contaminate a tonne of paper. Same for a bit of yogurt left in the container. To the dump it all goes. That being said, Vancouver and St. John’s have the cleanest recycling blue bins (Vancouver’s at a 4.6% contamination rate while St. John’s is the best at 3%). Edmonton (26%) and Toronto (26%) have the highest contamination rates in the country, according to the CBC.

The next step, one which is really catching on with people we know, is encouraging less plastic coming into our homes. We have heard of people who now make their own toothpaste, deodorant, and cleaning products (the latter can be done by using vinegar and baking soda and save yourself quite a few dollars!) just to eliminate some of that hard-to-recycle plastic packaging.

Taking your own mug for coffee-to-go – a no-brainer.

In the article titled “Is it possible to live truly plastic-free?” in a recent edition of the Globe and Mail, Toronto-based elementary school teacher Meera Jain upped her eco-friendly game by always having something what she calls a “zero-waste kit” whenever she leaves the house.

Her kit includes a travel coffee mug, a stainless container, and cloth napkin, “because you never know when you want to buy a snack,” she told the Globe.

She calls ahead to local restaurants to see if she can arrange to have her take-out in her own container. (These ones look pretty cool.)

“I’ll call a restaurant and ask if I can have take-out in my own container. It can be intimidating because people are naturally scared of the word ‘no.’ We’re scared of rejection. But sometimes the opposite happens. People say: Wow, that’s a great idea.”

Interestingly, we heard of another smart cookie who recognizes asking restaurant staff to put her food in her own container might make their jobs harder. So, what she does is ask for the food to stay, so it arrives on a plate, and then transfers it to a reusable container so she can take it to go. An extra step, but she doesn’t mind.

We all know Styrofoam is SO bad and it’s still used by many restaurants for take-out. It’s bad for the environment and bad for us. It’s only actually recyclable when it’s cleaned, un-dyed, and uncontaminated. Even if it’s washed well before going into the blue bins, it can still get stained by other containers en route to the recycling plant, rendering it contaminated. Those black food trays used to package meat – not recyclable. Those go in the garbage (get your meat from the butcher. They wrap it in paper.).

Styrene is the building block of Styrofoam and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists styrene as a “probable carcinogen to humans.” It is also contaminated with flame-retardant chemicals that can leach into the environment and harm human health.

Alternatives are compostable containers (but make sure your depot can really recycle them as they need a high heat source) or taking your own containers to restaurants as mentioned (so smart!). Even for packaging, there are alternative “foam” products made from mushrooms and corn. Fully compostable and not nearly as problematic when they end up in the environment.

Let’s do this!