Is Plastic Really THAT Bad? (Part 3): How to Make the “Best” Decision?

Helping you Navigate the Tension.

As you probably gathered from part 2 of this 3-part blog series, reducing waste and becoming plastic-free is COMPLICATED! Reducing our plastic consumption is desperately needed, but simply replacing it with some other material while continuing to consume the same is also not sustainable, as the alternatives to plastic (like glass and silicone) have their own eco-footprint.

I’ve discovered that a part of pursuing a zero waste life involves living with tension, and not always knowing what the “best” decision is.

For example:

  • Do I buy the locally grown cucumbers/carrots wrapped in plastic, or the unpackaged, but imported from Mexico/China? (See photos below – Canadian winters present a challenge in the produce department).
  • I need a large freezer to be able to freeze my DIY unpackaged food and store up local produce for the winter months, but another large appliance will increase my household emissions.
  • Which plastic alternative do I buy as they all have their own ecological footprint?
  • I have a refillable cows milk glass bottle program in my community, but alternative milks that come in tetra packs (like Oat milk) have an overall lower ecological footprint.
  • I don’t want to drive my car as much, but it is hard to know how to address this when living rural creates dependency on your vehicle.
  • My disability limits my ability to live zero waste.
  • My toddler is a picky eater and some packaged foods are all he/she will eat.
  • I want to advocate for the decrease of plastic food packaging, but understand the natural consequence this will have on global food waste.

It can get easier.
There is hope.
Even though it can be complicated, let’s strive to make the better choice when there is one, or the best choice we can at that moment in time.

So here is a list of things you can do to help navigate the tension along your the journey…

1) CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

-Thank you for this Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef!

Such great advice! Changes and habits take time to form, and we need to cut ourselves plenty of slack when our journey to zero waste isn’t perfect. I will forget my own take-out containers when going out for dinner. I will sometimes be tempted to buy packaged crackers when they are on sale. And all of that is okay! Say it with me: “it’s okay!”

Something to remember also is that it is not solely your responsibility! Businesses need to be responsible to create and make available more sustainable products. Living in Niagara just 2-3 years ago, the only bulk store available to me did not at that time have a reusable container program, which was devastating. Having access to options will help you to succeed.

2) FOCUS ON ONE CHANGE AT A TIME

I’ve said this before, and I will continue to say it until you are annoyed. Do not jump right in and change all of your actions at once. Think about it like loosing weight. A lot of diets don’t work for a reason. Those most successful at loosing weight know that it is daily lifestyle changes over time. Read through my #WasteLessGoals post to get started. Perhaps you want to tackle one room in your home at a time (kitchen, bathroom, laundry). Perhaps it is one category at a time (food, chemicals, cleaning), or just take a look at your trash bin and tackle getting rid of one item at a time that ends up there. Whatever it is, pick something and with slow steady intensity, GO!

3) DO IT ALONGSIDE OTHER PEOPLE

Community matters. I am way more motivated to follow through on something when I am doing it with others. They inspire me and encourage me! Plus, others may have great suggestions you may not have considered before, or be able to equip you with skills you need to live a greener life.

For example:

  • Ask someone to teach you to mend or fix.
  • Join an online zero waste community that offers encouragement and ideas, like Zero Waste Niagara.
  • Plan a clothing swap with friends.
  • Join up with a friend or group of friends to complete a challenge together, like Plastic Free July

4) PLAN AHEAD

This is so important, I cannot stress this enough! When I meal prep ahead of time and make a shopping list, I buy less and I waste less food. It ensures no last minute packaged convenience meals. This shopping list allows me to think ahead and plan what containers I need to bring to the bulk store (always bringing a few extra just in case) and what reusable bags I need bring.

Every time I leave the house I think to myself, “how long am I gone? Do I need anything?” More often than not I bring my reusable water bottle, sometimes I bring my reusable coffee mug, and often when I’m out for a long time or over a typical meal time I pack a snack to prevent having to stop for packaged food. I am currently working on putting together a “Zero Waste Kit” to keep in my car so that even if I forget it’ll still be there.

This is a habit that takes time! I still forget containers for leftovers at restaurants when I go out, but that’s where I can cut myself some slack (wink, wink)!

5) USE WHAT YOU HAVE

A big part of wasting less is to examine how consumerism is embedded in our culture and in our lives, and to start to buy less. There is a huge influx of zero waste products on the market, but rather than going on a shopping spree and calling that “zero waste,” take a look at what is inside your home already and see what could be used.

The answer is not to villianize plastic to the point of ditching items that are still able to be used. When that happens we are contributing to the plastic problem by ditching good quality products to sit in a landfill never to decompose when it could be used. All products have a negative environmental impact whether it is made of plastic or glass or bamboo (see my post, Is Plastic Really THAT Bad?: Part 2 for more info!).

7) DO YOUR RESEARCH

This is very important, and will keep you on track with the truth and not just the trends (yes, there are trends in the eco-friendly world!).

Doing your research means just that, get on the internet and find out about the changes you are wanting to make. There is a lot of false information out there on the internet (shocking!), so ensure that the information you read has adequate sources. Have you just read a strong opinion about whether something is sustainable and eco-friendly? How do they know? What are their sources? Have they listed their sources? If not, run away, and find adequately sourced information.

If you haven’t heard of the term, “Greenwashing,” you should (read my Greenwashing post for more information). It’s when companies market a product to be “green” but in reality is not. Companies ultimately want you to buy their product, so they will charmingly seduce you into thinking whatever they need you to think. Especially with the large influx of zero waste products, make sure you are educated before buying – shop with intentionality!

A great example of this would be bamboo fabrics. These will be marketed as the environmentally superior option, and why not, it’s bamboo! Unfortunately most bamboo fabrics are made by soaking bamboo in harsh toxic chemicals to soften it enough to be made into fabric (read more about this here).

As I mentioned above, nothing is simple anymore, especially in our globalized world. All products leave an environmental footprint, but that is not a reason to ignore the facts, rather it should stress the need to make an informed choice.

6) BULK SHOPPING

If you have access to a bulk store, this is a great way to reduce your waste by ditching food packaging. Bring your own containers to the store, get them weighed, and fill up! Otherwise, unless you are buying only produce, it is nearly impossible to go shopping without loads of plastic packaging.

Our local Canadian bulk store, “Bulk Barn,” only started a reusable container program a few years ago, and prior to that I would get very frustrated because it seemed impossible to do my part without addressing food packaging. If you are in this situation, head over here to read a post that may help you to reduce your waste without a bulk store nearby.

8) GO LOCAL

No matter what you are consuming, the closer it is to home the more you will reduce your carbon footprint.

This includes:

Home grown Tiger Tomatoes!
  • Eating locally grown & produced food.
  • Growing your own food.
  • Buy locally made products instead of ordering from far away (see my Where to Shop page for information about where to go in Niagara).
  • Drinking water from the tap instead of bottled.
  • Make your own items from scratch or repurpose old materials into something new.

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