five things I have learned about my plastic consumption

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Our family was asked a few months ago if we would participate in an experiment.  Collect all of our plastic for a year.  A YEAR.  For the purpose of a documentary on plastic consumption, and the detrimental effects it has on our planet, and particularly, our oceans.

Plastic, plastic everywhere

Here’s a few things I’ve learned about plastic packaging in the last few months:

  • If it is designed for convenience, it is wrapped in plastic.  Fast foods, candy, chips, individual serving sized drinks and meals, take away food, it’s all wrapped in plastic.  There’s really no getting away from it, unless of course you bring your own take away containers, cook at home and vow never to drink pop or juice again.
  • If it’s processed food, it’s wrapped in plastic.  And by processed I am referring to anything that is not a fruit or vegetable.  Even things that are minimally processed (like fresh bread) are packaged with some plastic.
  • If it comes from Asia, it is wrapped in plastic.  Sometimes it’s even plastic wrapped in plastic.  To me that’s a bit redundant.
  • If it is marketable to children, it is plastic and, again, it is probably wrapped in plastic too.
  • If it is sold at Costco, it is wrapped in plastic.

If you think you don’t consume much plastic, think again.  If you had told me that our family of four was responsible for producing four large bags of plastic in the past four months, I would have scoffed at you.  How could it be possible?  I thought that because we use our own bags when we shop for food (or anything else) and we buy lots of fresh produce that there was no way we could possibly be producing that much plastic.  We even refuse to use plastic bags in the produce department and bring our own reusable produce bags (which I LOVE).

However, the sad news is that nearly everything that is not found in the produce or bulk sections of all of our favourite grocery stores is packaged with at least a small amount of plastic.  And all of the plastic we consume will be around FOREVER.  Even plastic that is recycled is not TRULY recycled, it is downcycled into other products.  So the best practice when it comes to plastic is really to REFUSE it altogether when at all possible.

A few things I’ve done recently to reduce our plastic consumption:

  • Stop using the Tassimo coffee machine that our friends loaned us – the plastic generated from using any of the single use coffee machines is abhorrent, and I just could not continue to look the other way while I made my daily morning coffee
  • Continue to eat most meals at home (no plastic take-out cutlery to deal with!) and use fresh, whole food ingredients rather than relying on more packaged and processed food items.
  • Make coffee at home or take my coffee mug with me when I know I will be getting my morning jolt at the coffee shop.
  • Drink only tap water, both at home and on the go – my kids and I all have Klean Kanteens which are great for taking your tap water with you, and an extra bonus is no one has to drink out of any suspect (yucky) public water fountains!
  • Make my own cooking sauces and salad dressings so as to avoid not only undesirable ingredients but also additional unnecessary packaging.
  • Explain to the children after caving and buying some cheap-o plastic toys that broke two days later why those purchases were a poor choice, and come to a family agreement that we will never make those type of purchases again.
  • Continue using reusable shopping bags and reusable produce / bulk food bags for our grocery shopping.  My favourite are Carebags – I even bought some for my dad for Father’s Day!

Seeing our plastic staring back at us from the confines of our bathtub (yes, our plastic lived in the bathtub of our second bathroom for four months) really opened my eyes.  There were many purchases that I would forego ever buying again – the nasty cake frosting that came encased in a plastic container, the individual-sized yogourt drinks that my kids have a taste for but that I find disgusting, and even the many plastic lids from our weekly habit for Whole Foods take-away pizza (I’ve since managed to convince my husband that his pizza habit should be a monthly one rather than a weekly occurrence).

The good news is that change is possible, and often big change starts with small change.  Buying from the bulk bins instead of choosing highly packaged alternative of the same product.  Foregoing most convenience foods – it’s healthier for both us AND our planet!  Every little bit we can do to reduce our plastic consumption helps.

What have you been doing lately to challenge your plastic consumption habits?

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