Maybe we’ve finally seen enough photos of dead and dying animals choking on or entangled in plastic trash. Or maybe we’re rattled by reports that our bodies and drinking water (bottled and tap) are also contaminated with plastic bits. Whatever the reason, more people than ever want to do their part to help curb the flow of plastic into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. And that’s a great thing.
The good news is that all over the world folks are trying to go plastic free, or reduce the amount of plastic they use.
But where to start? We all know about saying no to plastic shopping bags and straws, but what next? We’ve put together a list of ways to ditch plastics for good which you might not have thought of.
1. Say “No” to single-use
So let’s start with the obvious. Single-use plastics are the kind of plastics you use for only a few minutes before throwing them in the bin. Items like plastic bottles, shopping bags, coffee cups and drink straws fall into this category, but so do most take-away containers and produce bags. You can make a huge difference by refusing to buy or use these items in the first place.
Plastic bottles and coffee cups can be replaced with stainless steel or glass alternatives. And you don’t need to get fancy. I’ve taken a regular, clean mug to my local coffee shop and they’ve happily filled it. If you’re looking for a more portable option, you can use a canning jar and buy or make a cloth sleeve to protect your hand from the hot drink inside.
And if you’re the kind of person who usually needs a “doggy bag” when you eat out, bring your own reusable containers to date night. Instead of leaving the restaurant with leftover spaghetti in a Styrofoam box wrapped in a plastic bag, you can bring your food home in a container you can wash and reuse over-and-over again.
Unfortunately, many takeout restaurants refuse to fill personal containers, citing concerns over food safety. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider taking action number two…
2. Tell businesses they need to do better
A few fast food chains have recently announced plans to stop using plastic straws. This is a great first step, but there are lots of other problematic plastics businesses should kiss goodbye. For example, in many jurisdictions (including Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa) black plastic simply isn’t recyclable. That means coffee cup lids and takeout trays are destined for the landfill. If black plastic can’t be efficiently recycled, it shouldn’t be used.
“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” – Pete Seeger
And what’s with packaging bell peppers in cellophane and avocados in plastic mesh sacks? This kind of packaging doesn’t do anything to protect or preserve your produce. If anything it encourages shoppers to over-buy, which can lead to unnecessary food waste.
If you have concerns, write, tweet, or call the companies you think are the worst offenders, and ask them to eliminate unnecessary packing. Kicking up a stink works, especially if lots of people do it. And use your wallet as a tool for advocacy by choosing to support companies and products that use less useless plastic.
3. Rethink what you wear
Peppers aren’t the only things wrapped in plastic. There’s a good chance you are too. Many of the common modern fabrics and textiles we wear are actually made from plastic. Performance fleece, stretchy athletic wear, and really anything with polyester, spandex or nylon is made with plastic.
The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) industry has been singing its own praises for transforming used plastic bottles into performance fleece. But huge quantities of textiles end up in landfills every year. And before they even get there, these fabrics shed millions of microfibers into our rivers, lakes and oceans through laundering processes.
To decrease your impact, choose high-quality, durable clothes made from natural fibres like wool and hemp. And buy less, because all of this stuff inevitably ends up in the landfill, incinerator, or environment.
4. Join a beach clean-up event
Wondering where littered single-use plastics end up? Last year, over 80,000kg of litter was collected from shoreline clean-up events across Canada. And most of the commonly collected items were – you guessed it – plastic.
If you want to get involved with a shoreline clean-up, Environmental Defence is hosting one with Surf Ontario at Woodbine Beach in Toronto on July 27. And if the timing or location doesn’t work out for you, you can join an existing clean-up or lead your own through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.
While shoreline clean-ups on their own won’t get us out of this mess, they’re a great way to roll-up your sleeves and help your local environment. They also provide vital data on the amount and types of plastic that are out there. But if we really want to end plastic pollution, we need to change the way we use, collect, and recycle plastic. And the best way to accomplish that is through point number five: government action.
5. Tell government to do more
As individuals we have important choices to make, but the biggest change happens when we change the way a system operates. Over the last several decades, we’ve established a system that ignores massive costs to people and the environment. If it doesn’t have a price tag, it doesn’t seem to matter. Governments need to write new rules that make businesses financially responsible for the polluting plastics they put on the market. And we need a unified approach from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
We need federal, provincial, municipal, and Indigenous governments to work together to establish a national framework that moves Canada to a zero plastic-waste future.