Isabella Margerin

Bloor Collegiate Institute (Toronto, ON)

My Solution to Plastic Pollution: A Zero-Waste Lifestyle

We have all heard of the major culprits accumulating to form plastic pollution: plastic bags and water bottles, but what about the practices we as citizens use to keep these items off the streets and out of our waterways? Are we fulfilling our values and doing enough? As a society we seem to focus on small parts of a larger scheme fighting for bans on plastic bags, reducing our plastic water bottle usage and eliminating micro beads from our skincare routines; but what about finding an all-encompassing route to eliminating plastic pollution. Using many small alternative methods of eradicating plastic, we can create an overall habit adjustment that helps us as citizens and the environment lead healthier lives.

Isabella Margerin

Caption: Lauren Singer, an NYU graduate, has lived a zero-waste lifestyle for almost 4 years.

In Toronto and the Great Lakes area, there has been an alarming increase in a number of plastic products found in the water, transforming our lake into a plastic soup. Animals ingest this plastic and can become “clogged” or choke to death, toxins and pollutants (i.e. PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants, and motor oils) have accumulated in the Great Lakes due to the sponge-like qualities of the plastic, and as smaller creatures eat the polluted micro-plastics, these contaminants become bio-amplified causing humans to receive the most harmful concentrations. Although industries and governments have plans to eliminate various plastics and their products, such as micro beads in hygienic products by 2020, what can we do in the meantime to kickstart the rehabilitation of the Great Lakes?

The plastic pollution present in our waterways starts in the home; from what products we use in the shower to how we keep our food, plastic is everywhere. To reduce the concentration of plastic pollution not only in our waterways,but in our homes, landfills, and city streets, we need to holistically look within at the way we live. A zero-waste lifestyle encapsulates what we as a society need to reduce the plastic concentrations in the Great Lakes.

Lauren Singer an NYU graduate in environmental studies is emulating this paradigm. Inspired by her peers and college professor, Lauren took a second look at her values and how much plastic trash she was producing. Wanting to actually implement her beliefs of living sustainably, Lauren first looked at her fridge. Seeing every item more or less wrapped in plastic, she decided to step away from the processed to live more naturally.

All of Lauren’s trash from the past 4 years that she could not compost or recycle can fit into one mason jar, a shocking result as the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trashper day. Lauren has spoken about her seemingly “overwhelming” lifestyle change in many online articles and videos, creating a following on Facebook of more than 48,000 and inspiring many more.

Although most have deemed Lauren’s habits too tough to attempt, she claims there is a lot less to worry about when implementing a zero-waste lifestyle; giving us tips to try when assessing our own trash behaviour and the modifications we can make.

First, Lauren clearly states that throughout your journey to zero-waste, you should periodically reflect on your lifestyle, as “the path to zero-waste is never-ending.” Continually strive to downsize, find better alternatives, and educate yourself as nothing is ever perfect nor should you place crushing expectations upon yourself. Two main undertakings when considering a zero-waste lifestyle are one, to evaluate; take a look at your daily life and ask yourself various questions: how much garbage am I producing and what does it consist of? Why am I interested in decreasing my impact? Do I want to help the Great Lakes or eat healthier? How much and what do I really need to be happy? You can not learn to reduce your trash if you do not know what you are throwing away.

Step two, is to transition, start to downsize and dispose of the unnecessary items in your life. First, bring a reusable bag and water bottle everywhere you go and get rid of all your plastic. For items that are lightly used, such as Tupperware, you can donate them to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Lauren suggests replacing these products with long-lasting alternatives such as steel, organic cotton, wool, or cast iron. Third, you should brainstorm creative ways in which you can reuse assorted items such as organic cotton napkins being used as a drying rack, storage for leafy greens in the fridge, or a container for a lunch. Likewise, Lauren states that the most necessary part of transitioning is minimizing. She says “for me, this means having only a few items that are important to me.” Contemplate as stated before, what do you really need? Finally, Lauren advises to “think organic, think local, think sustainable, and buy in bulk.

Lauren’s top tips:

1. Buying fruits and vegetables from a farmers market year-round guarantees that it is “organic, usually cheaper, and is produce sticker free.”

2. Make your own beauty products(most of the plastic in Lake Ontario comes in the form of micro-beads from shower scrubs). You do not throw away any plastic after product use, you know what is going in them, can customize products, and reduce your costs.

3. Buy compostable or biodegradable versions of necessities such as toothbrushes.

4. Buy vintage clothes or go second-hand shopping. Try mending clothing in bad condition, or donate it to a consignment shop where it will be passed on to somebody else.

By living a no-waste or plastic lifestyle, you are reducing the amount of plastic you are socially responsible for that will eventually end up in the waterways near you, such as Lake Ontario. You will be making a small difference that could not only inspire others to adopt a no-waste lifestyle as well but would give you the opportunity to educate others in your community on the damage done to the Great Lakes and their inhabitants.