Hello fellow waste-reducers! Are you doing Plastic Free July with us this year? If not, there’s still plenty of time to sign up and try it for one day, one week, or the whole rest of the month! Head here if you want to learn all about the challenge: http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/
I’ve finished 10 days of Plastic Free July and wanted to update you on how it’s going and what I’ve learned so far. Let’s just say that I feel like it’s been more of a “Plastic Full July” instead! The great news is that no matter how easy or hard it is, how many times you find yourself stuck with plastic (on purpose or by accident), simply participating in the challenge will help you become aware of the systems and habits that are leading to waste and plastic use in your life.
The Big Four
The “Big Four” plastics to avoid – to-go coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and straws – haven’t once been an issue for me this week. I suppose it’s because I don’t eat out very often, don’t drink coffee, and usually refuse fountain drinks when I am at a fast food place for health reasons. Avoiding just the “Big Four” plastics can drastically reduce your usage, but it’s also important to notice what plastics you use most in day to day life.
In 10 days I have lost count of how many pieces of plastic I’ve generated – the number is at least 25. This plastic comes basically exclusively from packaging: mostly of food, but also of a few other items like a case for my phone. Some of the plastic I generated is packages of larger quantities of food that I bought before July began, but finished the contents of this month. I chose NOT to buy plastic-free replacements for things I already had that were wrapped in plastic – that would end up generating more waste.
That said, I’ve had some great “wins”. I found a place that sells bulk spices and will tare my containers for me (this also saves me money, as I don’t over-buy and it’s way cheaper than the jars at a conventional supermarket). I’ve been much better about remembering to bring my reusable produce bags (not just shopping bags) with me to the store. My favoured brand is CareBags and these mesh bags but there’s lots of other options in a variety of materials. I’ve found that with careful ordering, I can still eat a fast food lunch and only generate paper waste (recyclable!). On my near-zero plastic grocery run, I brought a couple of jars and snackbags (I like these but you could make your own or find them elsewhere too) and my local bakery had no problem with putting a muffin and dessert in my own container instead of their plastic-lined paper one.
Over the next few weeks I hope to visit Generation Green at the Forks (moving this fall to the Exchange District!) to explore their refillable household cleaners; Bulk Barn to try out their new “BYOC” option; Bouchee/Boucher for meat put directly into my own reusable containers; and many more farmer’s markets! Don’t live close to ‘alternative’ food stores? Save On Foods has a great bulk section, as does Superstore, and many foods are naturally plastic free, like produce and food that comes in jars.
Lastly, for those unavoidable “oops” plastics you collect? The company “Winnipeg Recycling Service” will collect aluminum foil (also unfortunately not accepted for recycling in Winnipeg) and filmy plastics (styrofoam, bread bags, chip bags, granola bar wrappers, and more) and recycle them into plastic lumber used for things like flower planters. Give them a call at 204-299-7368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can sign up for their service (it costs a few dollars but they pick up right from your door!).
For a month that is supposed to be free of single-use plastic, I’ve produced quite a bit of it! When we start noticing the waste we produce, it can be discouraging, but it’s the first step towards changing our habits. What’s the first step for you? If you’re just starting your journey, look to the “Big Four” and consider a simple step like taking a reusable water bottle with you instead of buying bottles when you’re thirsty, or putting a few reusable grocery bags in your car or backpack so you’ll have them when you unexpectedly stop for a few items on the way home. There are many lists out there of plastic-free and zero-waste swaps available – I’ve shared a few below to get you started. The steps you take may feel small, but they’ll make a difference. By the end of the month, I challenge you to have changed just one habit that will reduce your use of single-use plastics going forwards!
Some great resources for going plastic free in Winnipeg: