Is Plastic Really THAT Bad? (Part 1)

The Nitty Gritty Truth about Plastic.

You may have been asking yourself this question, and it is a good one to ask, especially if this is your first time hearing about anything to do with zero waste or about the plastic-free movement. This post is 1 of 3 about plastic – what it is, why there is a movement away from it, what to do with it, and the complexities of attempting to live a plastic-free life.

WHAT IS PLASTIC?

Plastic was invented in the late 19th century, but wasn’t really produced as it is now until the 1950’s. Plastic is a material made from fossil fuels, so all the issues that come along with fossil fuel industry is connected to the production and use of plastic.

Since the 1950’s 9.2 billion tons of plastic has been produced and of that, more than 6.9 billion tons became waste. Half of all plastic ever produced was made in the last 13 years. 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin. In America 30 million tons of plastic is produced per year, with only 8% getting recycled. 33% of all plastic produced is for one-time use (for example: plastic bags, water bottles, and utensils), which are used once and then thrown away.

There are also toxic chemicals in plastic that end up seeping into our bodies and into the ground when brought to the landfill. The production of plastic requires large chemical processing plants that releases many different pollutants into the air. This material lasts for a long time, and when it breaks down it does so in to smaller and smaller pieces. Estimation for plastic to biodegrade is anywhere from 450 years to never.

There is a large amount of plastic that is making its way into our oceans, with a prediction that at the current rate of plastic production there will be more plastic than fish by 2050. The sun breaks this plastic down into tiny micro-sized pieces that are ingested by those that call the ocean its home. Experts are now talking about the risk to humans ingesting micro-plastics when eating fish. Plastic negatively impacts wildlife globally in many different ways, like eating it because they mistake it for food. Just google this and you’ll be met with disturbing and sad images of dead wales and fish with stomachs filled with plastic, or animals with plastic around their body threatening their lives.

If you are looking for more details about plastic and its global impact, read through this National Geographic‘s article.

WHY NOT JUST RECYCLE MORE?

Somewhere in recent history we started pushing RECYCLING, and ignoring the REFUSE & REUSE that typically accompanied it. Recycling is not bad, but it is a tool to delay the inevitable crisis of a lack of landfill space. It is also simply a way to get more uses out of our materials, but ALL materials (except aluminum) has a limited amount of times it can be recycled, and then will inevitably end up in the landfill anyway. For example, when milk jugs are remade into a children’s toy, unless there’s a child perpetually using this toy given it stays in decent shape, it will end up in the landfill.

For more information about recycling (and recycling specific in Niagara), check out my post “Tour of the Niagara Recycling Centre.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Our world is growing FAST! So fast that there are concerns about whether the earth’s resources can sustain it. Check out the chart below…

Annual world population since 10 thousand bce for owid
source of this chart can be found here

So, it doesn’t make sense to continue to create products that service such a large population that are made of a material that cannot break down. Also, with global warming it doesn’t make sense to continue to produce a product that contributes so much to it instead working to break free from fossil fuels.

But does it make sense to completely eliminate plastic? What do we do with our existing plastic? What if it’s our only option? Is it as bad as other materials such as glass and stainless steel?

All good questions, and all I hope to answer in parts 2 & 3, so stay tuned!

Sources used: National Geographic, Plastic Pollution Coalition & The Story of Stuff.

Buy Nothing Challenge Update #1

Are you wondering how our Buy Nothing Challenge went during the month of January? If you’re confused about what I’m talking about, my family has decided that for all of 2020 we would not buy any “stuff” unless they are essentials (examples: soap, food, etc.). Read more about it here.

So the first month of any challenge isn’t necessarily a good amount of time to really feel it. I came to this conclusion after my household participated in Plastic Free July in 2018. It isn’t enough time to feel the urgency and push you need to make the necessary changes that a challenge is supposed to create. So if you’re thinking of doing your own challenge, consider doing at least 2-3 months long.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: TOO MUCH GREY

Our biggest challenge my husband and I came across was the importance of detailed conversation with each other to establish our essentials list to determine what we buy and what we do not buy. When we decided to take this challenge on we did make a list of essentials that we could buy, we talked through it, were on the same page, but what about this? and what about that? There were a lot of grey areas that arose this month.

For example: eating out. Our budget allows for eating out once per month, and although food is an essential, eating out at a restaurant is not, so what do we do? I was viewing this challenge as a way to cut out the consumption of physical items (like toys & clothes) that are not essential to life and hygiene, but my husband was viewing it with a wider vision of any superfluous spending outside of the essentials of life. This we did not talk about in detail, but should have. So what did we decide? Jury is still out, so I’ll have to write about it at my check-in next month.

I think no matter how we structure it there will be grey areas in this kind of challenge, so we’ll have to address them as they come.

** UPDATE: Since writing this post we have cleared the grey areas and have a clearer idea of the “rules.” Check out my “Buy Nothing 2020” post for the update!

MORE CHALLENGES

My favourite travel mug broke. It was a sad day because I couldn’t buy a new one. You see, I am a high maintenance coffee addict, and my favourite mug was the perfect size, easy to clean and such a perfect lid. Do I need to buy a new one? Nope. I have two other mugs I can use, and a bunch of mason jars (the most versatile item in any home I am coming to find), but I just don’t like them as much. It was/is a good practice in being content with what I have, rather than buying something simply because I wanted to. Although if I “loose” or “break” my other mugs, would that warrant buying a new one (wink, wink)?

I did buy something. Yes, it’s confession time. I bought a guided journal without thinking about our challenge, kind of like a reflex. I figured this may happen once or twice this year, I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly! So I’m thinking that cutting myself some slack is going to be needed.

My husband attended a board game weekend event where you have the opportunity to buy/sell your used games to the other attendees. This was his challenge for January as there were games being sold there that there he had researched about and wanted to buy, but he opted out. He opted out even though I had said I would be okay if he bought something because this was an event he was looking forward to for months (prior to our decision to do this challenge). He is a very disciplined saver overall, so really this whole challenge may be more for me, not him (haha).

There was a lot of clothing rips this month, including my favourite pair of pants and my son’s winter jacket. This has put the urgency on learning to mend, which is one of my #wastelessgoals. I have a sewing machine, I just need to learn how to use it!

UNEXPECTED JOYS

Monthly my husband and I allocate $25 each for clothing, and $40 each for personal spending (i.e. spend at our discretion). I had more money in my wallet this month, which seems like an obvious thing, but it’s something I hadn’t really given thought. The $25 clothing money was definitely still sitting there instead of being spend at the thrift store. Now I am trying to think of items I can save up for this year, like good quality ethical clothing essentials (it is a bit more expensive – check out the store Encircled in Toronto as an example; I would love to shop here!). Although I am not opposed to thrift clothes (I LOVE thrifting…hence it eating up my money each month), but I end up replacing a lot of items quickly because they are not good quality.

One thing I am focusing on this year is making our bathroom more zero waste. This causes some stress for me because buying plastic-free & unpackaged bathroom items will cost us more. But with our Buy Nothing challenge I am now seeing that this will free up money in our budget to go towards this.

BUY NOTHING FINANCES

We are not doing this challenge due to anything financial, instead trying to reduce our waste through the accumulation of consumer goods. Our society’s consumption habits are an environmental issue, and one that I feel challenged to address at this homestead. Because of this I won’t be posting too much information about what we’ve saved each month or spent, but I am happy to answer any questions you may have regarding the financial side of it. Just write a comment below or submit a question through my Contact page.

DIY Lip Balm

Anyone else in love with the smell of beeswax?? I can’t get enough of it, even though technically it is bee poop (google it, I’m not lying!).

I want to preface this post by saying I am not a DIY master. You will most likely not see a lot of these type of posts. Most of the time I actually dislike having to make anything if I can buy it instead. But with my family participating in a Buy Nothing 2020, where we are abstaining from purchasing items besides that which are essential to daily living, I will just need to push past this.

What I do love is lip balm. Making my own made sense and seemed like an easy way to stop buying those single-use lip balm tubes that end up in the landfill. I also do not see lip balm as an essential as I could probably live without it, so instead of buying it, I will make it instead.

Ingredients:

  • 3 TB Coconut Oil
  • 2 TB Beeswax
  • Empty containers
    (I used empty repurposed David’s Tea sampler containers)
  • You can add honey or essential oils for added taste/smell

    THAT’S IT!

Before buying your own containers, take some time to search around your house for items that could be used to hold your lip balm instead. Here is a picture of various items I found around the house that could be used.

Directions:

  • Prepare empty containers to be filled.
  • Melt coconut oil, beeswax & honey together (make sure the beeswax is melted on LOW heat slowly as there is risk of scorching and/or fire).
  • Remove from heat when completely melted.
  • Pour into containers and let cool & harden.

THAT’S IT!

I told you it was easy. Clean up is actually the most difficult (particularly the beeswax), so I would suggest using items that are not in the usual rotation of cooking.

I have a lot of beeswax leftover and stumbled across a recipe for beeswax deodorant, so we shall see if my DIY attitude changes this year!

How to Save Money Living Zero Waste

Money, money, money, MONEY!

You may have seen it, an influx of zero waste products from bamboo toothbrushes, reusable period panties, to a metal ice cube tray. From the get go I want to establish that this is a GOOD thing! Why use a plastic pot scrubber when you can use one that is made out of walnut shells that decomposes when you are finished with it (yes, that is a real product!)? Let’s get plastic out of the landfill, and instead use items that have low-impact on our earth through the entirety of the manufacturing process.

What worries me is the assumption that to become zero waste you need to ditch all the plastic in your home right away and invest in all of these products. The answer is not to villainize plastic to the point of ditching items that are usable and could still be useful. 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.

Also, if you read my blog post, “Buy Nothing 2020,” you saw a video link I shared by the Story of Stuff. If you haven’t yet watched it, please do! It talks about our obsession as a culture to consume, and how the creation of more or different stuff is not the answer. Of course there are those items in our lives that we must consume, and it makes sense to create them more sustainably. A great example of this is the toothbrush. There are also a lot of necessary reusable items that cost a lot up front comparatively, for example: cloth diapers, period panties or a menstrual cup. But the long-term value of these items makes up for the cost, and you’ll end up spending less over time.

So…how much do I spend to become zero waste? How much is this going to cost me? Okay, okay, I’ll get to the point of this post. It is true that eventually replacing plastic items or disposables with reusable items will cost money, and a lot of these items can cost more than their disposable/plastic equivalent.

BUT! There are ways to live a zero waste lifestyle AND save money! Say whaaa???? Although this is not an exhaustive list, here are 5 tips to help save money while living zero waste:

1. USE WHAT YOU HAVE
Become an end-user with the items in your home. This can save you a lot of money, and is the more waste less option. If you have a cupboard full of plastic Tupperware – keep it, use it, and only replace it if it someday becomes unusable. There’s no need to throw out useable items simply to own a plastic-free alternative.

Other examples include:

  • Use up your stash of disposables like plastic food baggies, saran wrap, or plastic razors. A lot of disposables can be washed and reused one or two additional times. Although it can be exciting to kick this plastic waste to the curb, it’s less wasteful to get the best life out of them rather than tossing them before their end-of-life.
  • Save the containers your food comes in (yogurt, sour cream, jam jars), wash them & reuse. They can be used as storage containers or shopping for bulk items.
  • Have old mason jars sitting around? Consider them as a reusable water “bottle,” soap dispenser, flower vase, or candle holder.
  • Save your toothbrush and use it to clean.
  • Get in the habit of looking around your house prior to making a purchase. Want a container to hold your new kitchen rags? Shop at home! Often we have items in cupboards or basements that are being unused. Or again, use a mason jar.
  • Want to discontinue using coffee pods? Consider a reusable pod instead of ditching the coffee maker for a different one.
  • Looking to start composting? Consider using an already existing bowl in your cupboard instead of buying a compost container.

2. USE WHAT SOMEONE ELSE HAS
As simple as it sounds, if you are in need, see if you can borrow from friend, family or neighbour. Or make it interesting by making a swap. Either way, money saved.

3. TAP INTO YOUR CREATIVE SELF
Make your own deodorant! Making something from scratch or creatively repurposing items you already have at home is a great way to save money and lessen your waste. Although some projects may require some skill or may take a lot of your time, there are simple projects too that can save you money and are simple and easy, such as repurposing an old t-shirt as a produce bag (see video tutorial here).

Other examples include:

  • Learn to mend holes in older clothing rather than buying new.
  • Cut up unusable fabric (clothes, sheets, tea towels, etc.) into rags to be used instead of paper towel, swiffer sheets, disposable dusting wipes, facial tissue, or baby wipes.
  • Make from scratch: moisturizer, shampoo, dry shampoo, hand soap, or lip balm.
  • Make your own jam, condiments, soup stock, or start canning.
  • Crochet (or find someone else who knows how) your own reusable make-up removers/face scrubs. See tutorial here.
  • Make more at home meals. Zero Waste Chef is an amazing resource for cooking/baking/creating at home that has no packaging and minimizes your waste.
  • Save your toilet paper rolls, peanut butter jars, boxes or tin cans to use as kids crafts.

3. SHOP THRIFT
One of my favourite hobbies: thrift shopping. Oh how I will miss you this year during my “Buy Nothing 2020!” With the recent increase in popularity of thrift shopping came good quality products at a lower cost. Consider finding what you are looking for used before buying new.

4. GO WITHOUT
Have you considered doing a “Buy Nothing” challenge? This could be for any length of time you choose and can target areas that may be superfluous in your life. Perhaps you want to consider not eating out, buying makeup or clothing accessories. Whatever it may be if you cut down the costs in these areas of your budget, then implementing some more expensive zero waste changes (like bathroom products) into your life may not feel as costly.

This Moroccan Stew is such a yummy meatless meal and all the ingredients (except the canned chickpeas) were package-free!

5. MEATLESS MEALS
My family and I are not vegetarians, but in an effort to reduce our grocery spending AND reduce our packaging, I am attempting to make more meals without the meat. I do find this difficult as my son loves meat, and not so much the veggies, so finding recipes that he will enjoy is a challenge – but I am going to keep trying!

Set Your Waste Less Goals

Biodegradable shampoo. That was my very first waste less goal. If you’ve read my “About” section you know that when I first started my journey to be more environmentally friendly I got quickly overwhelmed and just gave up. There is so much hurting our planet, and there are a lot of different areas you can focus your energy on to address these things, like buying local, consuming less/no plastic, driving less, and the list goes on. So you can see how easy it would be to become overwhelmed!

Once I realized that giving up was not the answer, I decided to tackle one area at a time, and continue to do so. Once I meet that goal, I move on to the next one. Of course, sometimes there are more than one goals happening at once, or they overlap, but the point is to focus on implementing lifestyle changes, not doing a bunch of trendy “diets” that will not sustain itself.

In my last post I discussed my family’s decision to do a “Buy Nothing 2020,” to spend the year focusing on using what we have, borrowing from others, or making ourselves rather than buying it. Of course within this calendar year there are 2 other goals I have:

1. Learn to use the sewing machine that has been collecting dust for years in a closet, oops! I am hoping Buy Nothing 2020 will push me to learn quicker how to mend things, as I anticipate will be a necessity!

2. Continue to switch to more zero waste/biodegradable personal hygiene bathroom products, such as shampoo, moisturizer, children’s soap, toothpaste, floss, toothbrushes.

So what are your goals? Is there an area you are currently working on? If so, I’d love to hear about it, so please share in the comments below. If not, now is the time! Let me encourage you to choose one thing. If you are not sure where to start, check out my blog post “12 Action Steps to Get Started.” There are 12 options of very achievable actions you can take if you’re just getting started.

Buy Nothing 2020

WHY?

“Buy Nothing Christmas.” Back around 2007 I heard this for the first time. I thought, “really? You just choose not to buy anything for Christmas? What a concept!” – thus began my intrigue! Fast forward a few years and I watched this incredibly informative video on stuff:

Yup, it talks about the process of beginning to end of our entire system of stuff. And wow, we have a serious consumption problem, one that is harming our planet rather than helping it. If you have the time, please watch the video to learn more.

Lately I’ve been noticing an influx of “eco-friendly” products in the advertisements I see online. With an increased awareness and lifestyle changes being made by the general public away from plastic and other one-time use items, businesses and industry are catching on and having you believe that in order to achieve this new lifestyle you need all the products to go with it: bamboo kitchen utensils, metal containers, and other stuff. Trust me, I feel very compelled to make my cupboards and bathroom look like a super chic zero waste goddess lives there, and to buy plastic-free items, but do I need it? What are the essentials in our home, and are we focusing our time, money, and ethics on those things?

The DECISION

After many conversations with my husband, we’ve decided that our family’s next step on our waste less journey is to buy nothing for the entire 2020 calendar year. We are certainly not over spenders, but we felt compelled that now was a good time to challenge ourselves further in the area of consumption and the environment.

My husband grew up on the farm we now live on, and he is the most frugal person I know. He is always looking to recycle/reuse/use what we already have in order to tackle projects inside the house or outside on the farm. He is the gardener in the family, and is very passionate about it. Rarely frivolous with his spending, and always wanting to save money. But there are certain new items that he does enjoy buying (any board game lovers out there?!), and is excited to approach this challenge from an environmental perspective rather than simple frugality.

I, on the other hand, grew up in the burbs, had never gardened in my life or even cut the small square of yard we had, and although I wouldn’t consider myself a big spender, if we “need” something, I buy it. For example, I wanted to make mini-muffins, so I bought a mini-muffin tray. I did not stop and consider the option of just making smaller muffins in the regular sized tray, or borrowing from my neighbour/in-laws, since they already own one.

The RULES

  • My family during the 2020 calendar year will not buy any “stuff.” We define it as permanent goods that are not necessary to life.
  • We will only buy “essentials,” i.e. hygiene products & consumables such as: soap, shampoo, food, gas, toothpaste/brush, medication, razors, toilet paper.
  • We will borrow, make, swap, go without prior to the purchase of any good.
  • Experiences: these are not included. My husband and I go out to dinner once per month, and this will continue. Events or activities (going to a movie or indoor playground) with a cost are not included, although we want to keep this to a minimum.
  • Bills are not included: we will continue to pay for our phone and internet.
  • Gifts: we are still buying gifts for our friends & family, although we are giving cash/gift cards and not physical goods. We are encouraging our family to not buy us gifts this year, although we accept that we cannot control this.

EXEMPTIONS:

  • We live on a 50-acre farm, and there seem to be a lot of necessary upkeep inside and outside the house, which may require buying materials. My husband will try to fix and mend by repurposing/reusing supplies we already have, but he may need to buy nails/screws, tools, etc. in order to accomplish this.
  • Camping. This summer we are renting a pop-up trailer and renting a campsite, so these fees are not included.

UPDATES

I will be writing posts as much as possible to keep you all updated!

FOLLOW US & SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW….

12 Action Steps to Get Started…

So, with 2020 being a new year, a time to consider different ways of living, will you join me in implementing some small changes this year to reduce your waste?

Here are 12 simple things you can start doing this year. Why 12? One for each month of 2020:

1. Switch to reusable grocery bags or totes, produce bags, and/or bread bags.

2. Cut back on laundry. Wear your clothing item one more time before washing. Sleep in your sheets a couple more nights before switching them.

3. Implement the habit of evaluating your purchases. This buyerarchy of needs is a very helpful resource in this area! Ask yourself: Do you really need it? Is it something you can go without? Is it something you can make or borrow from someone?

4. If you do need to buy something, go to your local thrift store first.

5. Evaluate your bathroom routine: Wash your hair less; Shower less or shorten them; and/or switch to unpackaged bar soap.

6. Invest in a good quality reusable coffee mug and/or reusable water bottle. Get into the habit of taking them with you when you leave the house, or keep them readily accessible in the car (this routine took me a while!!!).

7. If you are going to an event try and bring your own light weight cutlery/dishes. This will involve having a “wet bag” of sorts to bring your dirty dishes home with you to clean.

8. Bring your own containers to a restaurant for packing leftovers.

9. Eat less meat. Click here to read a great article about this.

10. Pick one item in your pantry that has packaging that ends up in the trash or has needless packaging, and instead start going to a bulk store with your own container to buy it instead.

11. Pay attention to where things are grown in the grocery store, and be intentional to buy produce that is grown more local. Go to your local Farmer’s Market or stop at roadside farm stands.

12. Pick something simple that you could start making at home instead of buying at a store. For example, lip balm, pesto, hummus, or hand soap.

Happy 2020!! Whether you implement 1 or all 12 of the suggestions above, remember that it’s about small changes over time, and there’s a large imperfect community that is ready to journey through it with you!

Tour of the Niagara Recycling Centre

Last week I took a tour of the Niagara Region’s Recycling Centre. I know, I know, sounds super exciting, right?!? But when you don’t know much about how recycling works, and you have an interest in limiting plastic and/or waste, it is actually REALLY interesting! Especially because our tour guide Bert was super knowledgable.

I won’t get into too much detail that was provided at the tour, but I wanted to relay some of the important information so you are able to have a picture of what is actually going on with our recycling/plastics in Niagara and in Ontario without necessarily having to schedule a morning of your time to go on the tour yourself – but if you want to go, I would definitely recommend it!

First things first – Niagara has 1 recycling facility located in Niagara Falls, and it does not actually recycle the items collected. All the blue and grey bin items are sent there, and then they are sorted, packaged, and sold to companies that do the actual recycling by creating a new product. Niagara recycles approx. 30-40 tonnes per year. This facility also takes care of paper from the KW area (kinda weird, right?!), and we also take in all of Haldimand County’s recycling also, so including those the Centre deals with approx. 75 tonnes of recyclable material every year (wow!).

All About the Money, Money, Money…

Although many items are able to be recycled, it does not mean they are being recycled at your local facility. Our tour guy essentially said that all items CAN be recycled, but unfortunately there’s no market for it or the recycling facility does not have the proper equipment to process it. For example, not all styrofoam gets recycled in Ontario. Companies don’t want to buy it unless it is broken down and compacted because it is such a light material that takes up a lot of space. Niagara’s facility thankfully has a machine that breaks it down into a dense block, but many facilities in Ontario don’t have this machine and therefore sends styrofoam to the landfill.

Sent to Landfill

So, how much gets sent to the landfill that enters Niagara’s facility? Surprisingly only 3-5% – those items that people put in their containers that are in fact NOT recyclable, or items that are contaminated and therefore cannot be recycled (ex: you put your plastic peanut butter jar in your blue bin with it 1/4 full still of peanut butter – yuck). I went into this tour thinking this percentage would be much higher, so this made me happy! Unfortunately other facilities in Ontario do have a much higher straight to landfill percentage.

One item that does not get recycled is glass, which surprised me. Niagara does have a machine that breaks it down into sand for cleaning via sandblasting, so at least in Niagara we are getting one more use out of glass, but otherwise, companies are not buying glass and recycling it.

Other plastic items that are sorted out and sent to the landfill are smaller light weight plastics, such as Kiurig coffee containers (for those of you who are well intentioned and are separating them in order to recycle). Other similar plastic items are not recyclable, like the lid to a pop bottle. This is mainly because of the way they sort plastic, which is too complicated to explain here.

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COFFEE, Coffee, coffee…..

I asked Bert what was the #1 item that people put in bins to be recycled but are not in fact able to be recycled. His answer was coffee cups. He said the facility receives MILLIONS of these every year and they send it straight to landfill. He said if there was suddenly a market where someone had discovered a way to recycle it and sell the recycled result, then it would be a different story. So….take this as a friendly wink wink, nudge nudge to bring your own mug next time you’re out for your cuppa heaven (yes, I LOVE me my coffeeeeeee).

Why Not Just Recycle? 

Although this was a very encouraging trip to the recycling facility and made me more comfortable than I was before in the recycling process, the fact remains – it isn’t a sustainable solution. Why?

Everything has a lifespan, no matter if it’s recyclable. At some point in time all recyclable material will end up in the landfill anyway, and for plastic that is a big deal because it will not break down for a REALLY long time (read more about plastic here). There is 1 exception to this – aluminum. Yup, that is the only material that has a forever lifespan and can be recreated into another can of pop over and over and over FOREVER. I am thankful that we have a process where we can get more lives out of the materials we use and that it doesn’t go straight to landfill, but it was incredibly disheartening to hear confirmation of what I expected, that at the end, it’s going to end up in the landfill anyway.

We are facing a landfill crisis in Niagara (probably other areas in Ontario also). We have 2 publicly funded “dumps” that are very near full, and then what happens? Well, we either use one that is privately owned and say “bye bye” to more taxpayer dollars and/or start shipping it somewhere else, like Buffalo, NY if they’ll take it.

The entire process requires energy, and the majority of our energy is fueled by fossil fuels. Plastic is made from oil. To process recycling requires burning fossil fuels. To ship recycling all over the world (which Niagara does) takes trucks, trains, and boats, all fueled by fossil fuels. To pick up our recycling requires trucks that burn gas. So this issue is not solely about the landfill, but is also about the wider impact of pollution leading to climate change.

Our tour guide, Bert, said that what recycling has essentially done in the past 30-40 years has postponed the inevitable crisis we are going to face with the amount of disposable stuff in our lives.

For all these reasons I find the zero waste movement, with an additional focus to not be dependent on recycling to be a sustainable solution, and is why I am passionate about writing this information down and sharing it all with you here!

If you do want to take a tour yourself, contact Bert, registered old guy tour guide of the Niagara Recycling Centre:

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Plastic Free July 2018: Imperfectly Zero Waste

Plastic Free July ended yesterday. I ended it with a bang by visiting our region’s recycling facility – I was so curious to know what exactly gets recycled and what goes to the landfill, so look out for a blog post all about that!

It does not feel like a month has gone by. Probably because I started a new job and haven’t written on here as much as I had hoped about our abstaining from plastic. I also haven’t had the time to do the things I had wanted to this month, but my intention is to continue with this blog, but not necessarily living 100% plastic free. 31 days was not long enough for me to run out of particular products, which would have forced me to explore more plastic free options, like:

  • Personal hygiene products: toothpaste, pads/tampons (yeah I’m going there! ha!), deodorant.
  • Meat. We have a large freezer where we freeze our meat, so we didn’t run out this month. I know a butcher or deli will allow my own containers, but I need to invest in some freezable glass containers for this purpose.
  • Cleaning products: laundry soap, dish soap, paper towels/facial tissue, etc.

Is it possible to live completely plastic free? Absolutely. With enough planning and practice it is achievable. Unfortunately it takes a lot of personal time and an increase in the expense department. Want cheese or milk plastic free it will cost double (possibly more) what you would pay normally. And it takes time to make your own toothpaste, laundry soap, deodorant, or whatever it is you need to make. Unfortunately there are no stores in Niagara specific to catering to the provision of plastic free options. Health food stores do carry SOME plastic free products (bamboo toothbrushes, charcoal toothpaste, silk floss, among other thing), but they sell at a very high price (1 bamboo toothbrush = $11.00!). I did a bit of searching on Amazon and it does seem that you can find some of these items for less, but not sure what the shipping costs would be.

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What changes did we make this month?

  • Switched to fabric bags for bread.
  • Gave up on straight to landfill packaging (i.e. chips). My poor husband gave up Doritos, which is his favourite snack, and Bulk Barn unfortunately does not have a good enough equivalent.
  • Opted to buy at bulk barn as much as possible (i.e. peanut butter, s’mores, snacks, baking ingredients).
  • Planning ahead of time and taking reusable items with us – coffee cups, grocery bags/containers for Bulk Barn, containers for those unexpected moments (like take out at a restaurant, although we never got to try that).
  • Said no to a lot: packaged food, yummy easy take-out, single-use plastic (straws, cups, wrapping).
  • Had a lot of conversations with store employees: “Is plastic? Can you put this into my container? How can I buy this plastic free? Can you sell this at your store in glass and not plastic?”

What will we continue with post Plastic Free July?

Not sure about this completely. For sure we will be continuing to buy dairy in plastic until we can figure out a more affordable alternative. Otherwise we are actually going to attempt to continue with being plastic free.

What now?

Although plastic is a high priority in our household, we certainly desire to be as “zero waste” as possible, sticking to the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (in the landfill), and only in that order by Bea Johnson (see my “What is Zero Waste” page. I have come across lately blogs of people who call themselves “low waste” instead of “zero waste” and it’s warming on me, and I think it is something that fits our family right now. But this is a journey, and every little bit of action is a step in the right direction!

Plastic Free July 2018: The Cheese Dilemma

Oh for the love of cheese! All I want is cheese, good ol’ fashioned not wrapped in plastic cheese, is that so much to ask????? Oh, and can it not cost a million dollars?

Maybe this is too much to ask during Plastic Free July, and perhaps I should just abstain from cheese for the month, but really this food is a family favorite so I am desperately trying to figure this out.

Yesterday I went to Buns Master, and ended up getting 2 pounds of cheese in my own container (which is awesome that they did this, and I think most deli’s will oblige), and yes it did cost me a million dollars.

But by the end of this process through conversation with the employee there, did I really save on plastic packaging? I saved on the plastic packaging the Deli would have normally put it in after being cut and weighed, but here’s the thing, it comes to the store vacuum sealed in plastic anyway and I never go to the deli to get my cheese as I normally buy blocks on sale at the grocery store.

So here in the above picture is my cheese wrapped in my beautiful Abeego reusable wrap, but filled with a failed attempt at limiting plastic packaging.

So what are my options? Continue to buy how I was before or give up cheese entirely. There are no easy answers unfortunately.

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