I am in a stage of life right now where my holidays are local. We don’t wander too far from home. With little kids, this just works for us. For a couple of years, we’ve been vacation-bound to the shores of Wasaga Beach with the extended family for our summer getaway.
While playing with my kids in the sand, one of our beach toys floated away. I rushed down to scoop it up before the tide took it out. In retrieving it amongst the grassy banks of the bay, I was shocked by what I saw sifted between the drift wood, grasses and milkweed: plastic! Garbage and crap made of plastic were now (disgustingly) living as a part of the local landscape.
As a first world country, we sometimes think that we are not the cause of all the scary pictures we see on the internet of turtles trapped with beer rings around their necks, but my recent vacation begs to differ. We live in a society of disposables: baby wipes, makeup wipes, styrofoam coffee cups, plastic bottles, takeout containers, plastic baggies, plastic wrap, plastic straws, plastic bags. Ugh!
Before I returned back to my kids with my found sand castle bucket, I did a really quick, super fast pick up of the pieces of trash right in my vicinity. This is what I collected in just 10 seconds. And there was much more.
This got me thinking that I wanted to share the plastic items I first eliminated in my life.
Here are five actions I first did to take a stance for the environment, and I think these are fast changes that are easy, affordable and achievable to maintain in the long run:
- Refuse one-time use plastic water bottles. With Canada’s abundance of natural water, we often take water for granted. Water is our most precious natural resource, and it should not be tampered with. Extracting, trucking, processing, bottling all produce a lot of carbon emissions. Recycling the bottles doesn’t cut it either as recycling is an energy intensive process, and a lot of places around the world don’t even recycle. Love your tap water; we’re so lucky to have it! It’s easy to refill a reusable water bottle and it’s so much cheaper.
- Refuse one-time use plastic baggies. At about $0.03 per bag, a bulk buy of 600 sandwich bags is about $20. I have seen colleagues and students take 2-3 bags a day for one sammy and two different snacks. That’s 6 months worth if only one person does this. Now make it a family of four [face palm]. I own and use a mix of glass, plastic and stainless steel containers, and ChubbyCheeks (and other handmade) snack bags. For example, one reusable PB&J-sized bag runs $8 from them. Do the math for one person only: $40 a year in disposable, wasteful plastic bags or about $110 for many multiple years for a stainless steel lunch set and a series of beeswax multi-sized bags.
- Refuse paper towels. According to Brad Gray of Planet Ark, “It all comes down to an environmental cost per use basis. Reusable costs have the lower impact. In terms of paper towels, when you take into account all the water and energy and transport costs and wrapping that has to happen for each use, paper towels each come with a cost, and then we literally throw them straight out.” When I suggest rags and cloths, the first thing people say to me is “what about the germs?” Here is what Brad says, “I actually think the whole hygiene thing has gone too far and is a bit of a marketing hype, and we as consumers are falling for it.” $40 (or more) gets you a bulk buy of about 12 rolls, and you’re literally tossing them (and money) in the garbage.
- Refuse liquid soap. First off, soap bars are actually soap (phew) and liquid soap is actually detergent (ew). Liquid soaps require 5 times more energy to create and 20 times more energy to package in a plastic bottle. Plus, we have a tendency to use more liquid soap per wash than we would if it were a bar. And it’s cheaper! I use The Soapworks for its natural ingredients, no packaging and pricing at about $2-3 a bar. We use a bar of soap in each bathroom sink and one in the shower and they last for months.
- Refuse over reuse, reduce and recycle. This is the biggie! Changing my way of thinking is what kicked my plastic-free alternative lifestyle into full gear (though I don’t believe in replacing perfectly good plastic items I already use). We all hear to recycle, we know we should reuse items, and of course, reducing is critically important. But there is one R that was never placed in the slogan and should have. It’s refuse. We need to right out refuse items we don’t think are serving our planet and future generations any good.
We can take action, together, that will maintain our natural environment that will keep our country beautiful for generations to come. Not to mention we could save ourselves a lot of money on the way there. You know what you could do with all that extra money? Save it for more holidays and memory-making. Saving money, saving the planet and vacationing – now that’s easy!