Going green: Plastic, the gift that keeps on giving

Plastic Free July led to efforts to reduce waste

A diary of a plastic-free month:

Here’s a handy bit of trivia. Did you know that every piece of plastic ever created still exists today? Picture it: plastic never goes away, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, releasing toxic chemicals as it does.

Here’s another gripping factoid. Globally, we produce more than 280 million tonnes of plastic each year. That is 83 lbs. per person, and plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050. Gross.

So this summer, during Plastic Free July, I decided to stop waiting for the stuff to magically disappear and take a more proactive approach, at least for a month. And keep a diary to keep on track. Here’s what my progress looked like.

Day 1 – I head out for groceries, with reusable cotton totes from Lee Valley and cloth produce bags in hand.

Feeling smug that I won’t need any single-use plastic bags.

I arrive at the store and grab veggies for dinner. Hold it – the beans are wrapped in plastic. Feeling furtive, I untie the plastic baggy and put the beans into one of my mesh bags. At the till, I explain I’m not using plastic because it’s Plastic Free July. I hand the cashier the unwanted plastic. She places it behind the counter – into the garbage? I explain that the store could re-use it. The cashier looks puzzled. I give up.

Insight #1 – Maybe I give up too easily.

Day 4 – With dinner all over but the dishes, it’s time to put the food away. I ladle leftovers into a plastic container.

The bottom of this one is fine but the lid is torn. I instantly see the point of the cloth covers I’ve seen at Roots. I wonder: If I never buy another plastic container, what will I get instead?

Insight #2 – I need to find good alternatives to the plastics I use for storage.

Day 17 – Another shopping day. Could I take my own container to the meat counter instead of bringing my beef home in plastic? It’s worth a shot. At my first stop, I make my request. Can you put the meat in my container? The counter clerk looks puzzled. Another clerk arrives and they confer. They tell me their meat comes already packaged, so no, they can’t help me.

I have better luck at Hopcott’s, where I make the same request. The young lady helping me looks perplexed. She confers with a colleague. Eureka! There is a way! She weighs out my turkey on a small square of paper and places it into my container.

Insight #3 – Maybe if more people did this it wouldn’t seem so weird.

Day 24 – Tonight is the monthly Maple Meadows Green Drinks event. A lively gang convenes to share tips on living without plastic.

There are practical and imaginative substitutes – silk dental floss, bamboo toothbrushes, beeswax wraps, antique Pyrex.

We’re now seeing stores where you can fill your own containers with everything from bulk foods to body wash.

Insight #4 – Some businesses are way out in front already.

Insight #5 – Living without plastic seems easy and fun when you’re not the only one doing it.

That about sums up my Plastic Free July. I learned that other people have great ideas, that it’s painless when you take it a step at a time and that many businesses are eager to take up the challenge.

Let’s prove the pundits wrong about 2050. Let’s tell the plastics manufacturers, “You’re not the boss of me.” In a nice way. We’ll simply stop using their crap.

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