Vancouver-based sustainability advocate Taina Uitto gave up plastic for a year
On January 1, 2010, Taina Uitto—a self-confessed “hippy at heart”—took a pledge to live, to the best of her ability, plastic free for one year.
“Plastic isn’t totally evil,” admits the 32-year-old Vancouverite, who gave up everything from plastic bags to body scrubs (with plastic beads!) to plastic pens, replacing these with cloth bags, homemade beauty products and even a feather quill.
She tracked her experiences and gives tips and alternatives on plastic-free life on her Plastic Manners blog.
“There’s plastic in car bumpers, cameras, computers—plastic makes these things durable and useful," she says. "It’s the disposable, one-time-use plastic, the kind we’re made to believe we need for the sake of convenience, that’s the problem.”
Because plastics are extremely resistant to the natural processes of degradation, they persist in our environment for hundreds, even thousands of years.
“Think about that,” Uitto says. “Every piece of plastic you’ve consumed and discarded is still out there, and will be for 10 times your lifetime—or more.”
Green myth debunked: You can't recycle plastic
What about recycling? According to Uitto, plastic is actually not recyclable in the true sense of the word.
“You can’t turn one plastic bottle into another plastic bottle,” she explains. “Plastic down-cycles at best, meaning it becomes lower-quality items, which will end up in the landfill anyway at some point.
“Nobody can say they ‘recycle’ plastic,” she adds. “We put plastics in recycling containers and they’re taken away … where? Nobody knows. Most of the plastic disposables from the West Coast are shipped to China, where they’re burned for energy or melted into low-quality plastic. Sometimes it just ends up in the landfill. The recycling of plastic is a myth designed to perpetuate a business built around the generation of waste.”
The plastic strategy: Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair
So how can we help the situation? “Refuse, refuse, refuse,” says Uitto. “That’s first. Then, reduce, reuse and repair. Rethinking your use of plastic and refusing to bring any more into your life is the key.”
“You don’t have to start your plastic-refusing with the idea that you absolutely need to replace every item or fear losing out by going plastic free,” she adds. “Many of the convenience items, especially, that I’ve had to ‘give up,’ I didn’t actually need in the first place. I think we buy a lot of unnecessary stuff out of pure habit and because we’re told we ‘need’ it. But simplifying feels good. And finding alternatives has been really rewarding, especially when I’ve had to wake that little sleeping beauty inside called creativity.”
With her year up, Uitto has no plans to curb her own plastic-free diet.
“I’m more determined now than when I started,” she says. “This year has taught me that convenience doesn’t mean quality of life. It’s taught me that plastics affect my health in a negative way. And it’s taught me that if I can reduce my use of plastics, others can, too.”
In pictures: Taina's tips for plastic-free living
You don’t need separate cleaning products, which are often bottled in non-biodegradable plastic, for every item in your house. Use natural, boxed, multi-purpose detergents like Borax instead.
Bring your own natural wax paper to the deli counter and ask to have your meat or cheese wrapped in that instead of plastic. (Note: most butcher paper is lined with plastic. The same goes for milk cartons, so best to go with glass bottles.)
Seventh Generation toilet paper is packaged in paper, not plastic. But beware: many post-consumer recycled paper products are made from newspapers, receipts and other BPA-laden papers, which can make them quite toxic.
In pictures: Taina's tips for plastic-free living cont'd next page...