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.
Can you live plastic-free?
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...
Vancouver's Les Amis du Fromage cheese shop sells wheels of wax-covered cheese that have never touched plastic. If that seems like too much fromage, start a cheese club with friends so you can buy, share and sample a different plastic-free wheel each month.
If you’re an eater-outer, avoid plastic dishes and take-out containers by always carrying the basics with you. Bring your own ceramic cup (preferably without a plastic lid), stainless-steel food containers and handy bamboo utensil set from, for example, To Go Ware.
For grocery shopping, arm yourself with a large cloth bag and a number of smaller ones, which can be used for produce, bread and bulk foods.
Keep smaller cloth bags inside a large one so you always have what you need when you leave the house. (Nice bag, Taina!)
Let everyone know what plastic you refused today. Print out and leave these handy plastic refusal cards in plastic places. Snap a shot of your refusal and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org so it can be shared on the Plastic Manners blog.
Hit the next page for tips on how to get started on living the life non-plastic...
Can you live plastic-free?
If you're interested in doing your own version of Taina's plastic-free diet, here are some suggestions on getting started.
Plastic challenge 1: Refuse and reduce plastic waste
1. Rethink your use of plastics. Remember that every plastic item ever created still exists, and ask if that disposable convenience is really worth it. That plastic granola wrapper, for example, will be on this planet for thousands of years—could you do without it, or make/find a better treat?
2. Recognize where all of the disposable plastic items in your life come from. What are your own bad plastic manners? What items are you buying out of habit? Are others constantly imposing plastics on you without notice?
3. Refuse single-use disposable plastics. Start with easy things: coffee lids, drinking straws, plastic bags, cutlery and wrapped muffins. Then move to “harder” things, sourcing one alternative at a time. Be creative, and visit Plastic Manners for tips and alternatives.
Plastic challenge 2: Take stock of your plastic habits
1. For one week, collect all the plastic you acquire. This means all the caps/lids, bags, wrappers, cans (yes, they are lined with plastic), bottles and containers etc. Be sure to follow your normal routine, and carry a big bag!
2. At the end of the week look at the trash you’ve accumulated. Remember, all this plastic will be on the planet forever. Ask yourself: Where is it coming from? What items did I not need in the first place? What items can I replace with a non-plastic/plastic-wrapped alternative? What items can I not live without? (Be realistic!) What items have no alternative?
3. Adjust your habits accordingly. Set ground rules for the things you plan to eliminate and goals for the things you plan to replace—just be sure to allow yourself time to find alternatives at your own pace.
TIP: Do this challenge with a group. At the end of the week, get together and compare your trash!
Plastic challenge 3: Take a plastic inventory
Your kitchen and bathroom—where most disposable plastics live—are the perfect places to start becoming more aware of your plastic habits:
1. Gather every item from these two rooms that’s plastic or has a plastic component—and we mean everything!
2. Make a big pile, stand back and take it all in. Remember, all this plastic will be on the planet forever. Ask yourself: Where is it coming from? What items did I not need in the first place? What items can I replace with a non-plastic/plastic-wrapped alternative? What items can I not live without? (Be realistic!) What items have no alternative?
3. Adjust your habits accordingly. Set ground rules for the things you plan to eliminate in the future—just be sure to allow yourself time to find alternatives at your own pace.
Good luck and spread the word! Challenge others to do these plastic exercises, too.
Noa Glouberman is a freelance writer and editor in Vancouver. She’s also a yoga addict. When she isn’t putting pen to paper (or forehead to knee), she’s out walking the city with her trusty spoodle (spaniel + poodle), Wally.