Welcome to 52 Weeks! A weekly tip, challenge or suggestion on how to reduce your carbon footprint over the year. Some are quick and easy, some build habits towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Starting on Earth Day, April 22nd, you will be emailed a weekly tip that gives you a challenge, or something to think about that week. It will also be posted on social media, local media pages, and here on our blog.
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It’s an interesting question - how did we go from “waste not, want not” to “let’s make everything disposable to make our lives easier”? Ironic. Are our lives easier because we can throw away cling wrap? It doesn’t seem so. Most of us realize that it’s kind of a foolish endeavour to manufacture something with the direct intention of throwing it away. But still, old habits are hard to break. And along the way, we associated the convenience of disposability with progress and prosperity. Remember those old commercials with the tag line “clean up’s a breeze!”, showing a carefree person tossing something happily in the trash? It’s time to shift that perception. Being able to throw something away doesn’t mean we’re prosperous. It means we’re selfish.
Next week at this time, most students, teachers and those who love them will all be back to work/school. So, we figured it was a good time to talk about plastic, disposable products and why we should work to eliminate them.
Some people question why plastics and single-use items are a no-no. What good will rejecting a plastic straw do for the planet? Even if you just commit to eliminating, say, one straw, it still makes a difference. If 7.5 billion people reject a straw only one time, that’s 7.5 billion straws that aren’t floating in the ocean. Imagine what happens if we permanently replace them with something different!
Nearly all plastic, at least 99% of it, is made from fossil fuels. At least 40% of plastic manufactured is for single-use products, or for packaging. It is meant to be thrown away after one use. It’s nonsensical when you think about it. Grabbing a plastic bag to put your broccoli in, and then driving your broccoli home where you throw away the plastic bag. Then, that plastic bag lives on for centuries, while your broccoli is long gone after a few days. Does broccoli require this kind of special treatment? Wouldn’t broccoli be just as safe naked as it would be if shrouded in plastic for 15 minutes? I’ve heard the argument - “those belts at the store are dirty - I don’t want my food touching them.” Newsflash: your food has been handled multiple times, by multiple people since being picked. It doesn’t magically appear on your grocery shelf. If it hasn’t been wrapped since it left the field, the few minutes you put it in a plastic bag really doesn’t do anything. If it’s going to be contaminated, it’s already happened. Wash produce well, and store it in a dish towel, or glass container in your fridge. Those plastic bags actually suffocate your produce, making it rot faster.
Plastic contributes to global warming at every stage of its production. From the initial extraction, to refining, to extrusion, to transportation, to waste management. Estimates are that 6 kg of CO2 is produced for every 1 kg of plastic. In essence, it’s bad news for the planet. Single-use plastic is very difficult and expensive to recycle, meaning that it is cheaper for companies to use new plastic than it is to use recycled plastic. And because it’s so cheap and widely available, it’s used for everything, and it’s almost impossible to avoid it.
Beyond the carbon conversation, plastic is a disaster for our ecosystems, and for our health too.
Because plastic is lightweight, it is easily carried on the wind, and often ends up in the water, making its way to the ocean, where huge plastic islands exist, some as large as Texas.
Since 1950, humans have produced over 8 billion tons of plastic, and less than 10% of it has been recycled. Plastic doesn’t ever biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into bits of toxins, chemicals and microplastics. A plastic bottle takes an unbelievable 450 years to break down. Then, these toxic bits leach into our groundwater, our lakes and oceans, and our soil. Animals eat them, or, become ensnared in them. Fish consume thousands of tons of plastics annually. Then, we eat those fish. You get the picture. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.
Challenge 20: Leave reusable cups, dishes, serviettes and cutlery at work for greener lunches!
If you haven’t attempted to remove single-use plastics from your life, it’s not the easiest task in the world. When you’re looking for alternatives for everyday products, it can be frustrating to find an ecological alternative. Compound that by the thousands of products that we consume daily that are made from, or packaged in plastic. Luckily, alternative products are making their way into the mainstream, and the extra push from consumers is fuelling changes in the packaging industry. And, while we’re waiting for the world to change, there are things we can do to make a difference.
There are many alternatives to disposable stuff. First, skip take out, unless you know compostable materials are being used. Don’t be fooled by a “compostable” sticker on your package - many of these materials are not readily compostable without industrial equipment, and end up in landfill anyway. The same goes for “recyclable”; that’s often just a theory, and if you don’t follow recycling rules properly, they’re bound for landfill too! If eating out, you are much better off to bring your own containers, and ask them to be filled, though right now, that can be a challenge too.
Commit to bringing your lunch and favourite beverage along to work. Deck yourself out with some quality products that are durable and long-lasting. Take a ceramic or stainless steel mug for your hot drinks. A glass works just as well as a plastic cup. Stainless steel straws are everywhere now. Serviettes replace disposable napkins. Keep a pouch of cutlery handy and take your lunch in glass containers with snap on lids. Your dusty old thermos will be thrilled to see you again! If you’re stuck, there are a multitude of bamboo and hemp products available, which act just like plastic, but are more sustainable.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. Even a mason jar with a screw top can replace a plastic water bottle. My favourite thing is mason jar lunches. There are tons of mason jar meal ideas out there. Tasty, convenient, and sustainable. You can even reheat them in the oven, or microwave (without the metal lid of course!). Food lasts longer when stored in mason jars than in plastic tubs, so you can make a few ahead of time to grab and go breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even dessert is easy. When it’s time for lunch, just scoop it into a regular dish, or eat it straight from the jar. While you’re at it, don’t forget to do the same for your kids’ lunch boxes. The layered jars are appetite-inspiring, and are only limited by your imagination.
And it goes without saying, take your own bags and bins to the store so you can avoid using plastic bags. Plastic is really just fossil fuel in a different form. If you’re feeling that it’s just too much bother, or the problem is too insurmountable for you to make a difference, you’re wrong. Just try a few simple steps, which can become a regular habit. We got used to bringing our own bags when we shop. Most plastic straws are now replaced by paper. That happened pretty fast. So, jump on board the sustainability train and see where your mason jar lunches take you. Happy back to school everyone!
Yours in sustainability, Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood
52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.