Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Going Plastic-Free is Tough

by Candice Keast

Canadians use between 9 and 15 billion plastic bags a year - that's enough to circle the globe a whopping 55 times. And that's a lot of oil being used to make single-use bags that are discarded a few minutes after use. Going plastic-free can be a challenge - and that's no joke. Plastic is everywhere.

In July, thousands of Torontonians, including staff here at the City of Toronto, took the Plastic-Free July Pledge. As you could probably guess, this was no easy feat. Our struggle was seriously real but we did our best – and ended up making quite a difference. Gold stars for all!

Over 200 City of Toronto staff took the pledge and in the process became more conscious about just how ubiquitous plastic is. While it's relatively easy to find reusable shopping bags, water bottles, and coffee tumblers, other reusable items were a bit harder to come by. Fortunately there are many participating Live Green Perks businesses who sell these products and offer exclusive deals for members. We listed some of these in a previous blog post.

In a follow-up survey with staff, we learned that plastic (including Styrofoam trays) at the supermarket were the hardest to avoid. I personally found that it was easy to get tripped up by the little things, like that time I was in the checkout line and did a triple take at the little plastic window in my cardboard box of pasta, all the time with a sinking feeling that there would be no pasta for dinner (there wasn't).

In the table below (after the jump), I've summarized feedback from City staff, including some of challenges they faced. Additionally, you'll see some tips on where these items should go when you are finished with them.

Plastic Item
What We Switched to
Important Tips
Plastic Shopping Bags
Backpacks, reusable canvas, cloth, and nylon bags

Reused plastic bags multiple times then recycled them
Remembering to keep reusable bags accessible at all times

Couldn't find an alternative for pet waste
Compostable (and biodegradable) bags and items are not accepted in Toronto's blue bin
Plastic Straws
Refused straws and drank from cups instead

Used cups with built- in straws, glass, and stainless steel straws
Had to get used to drinking directly from the cup
Paper straws go in Toronto's green bin (they're too small to be separated at Toronto's recycling facility); glass and metal straws go in the garbage
Used glass containers, reusable cups, Tupperware, paper plates (these go in Toronto's green bin program)

Stopped ordering takeout
Meat in supermarkets always on Styrofoam trays

Most takeout meals are in Styrofoam; remembering to bring own container for 'doggy bag' meals
Styrofoam food takeout containers should be rinsed off before being placed in the blue bin

Food goes in the green bin (never in the blue bin)
Plastic Cutlery
Used own reusable, cutlery, or washed and reused plastic.
No option but to use them when eating in fast food places while on the road
Plastic cutlery should be rinsed before being placed in Toronto's blue bin; no black plastic is accepted in Toronto's blue bin
Shrink Wrap
Used cardboard,
made beeswax covers, asked butchers for paper, went to Farmers markets where shrink wrap is not used
Very difficult because supermarkets use shrink wrap for vegetables and fruit; it's unavoidable
Shrink wrap is not accepted in Toronto's blue bin; it goes in the garbage
Coffee Pods
Stopped using pods, changed to drip coffee, used a French press, paper filters (these go in the green bin), used refillable, reusable pods and grinds
No alternatives available when visiting other offices
Despite saying biodegradable or plastic free, all coffee pods should go in the garbage.

We appreciate their support in this cause and expect this challenge provided insight into how much plastic we use, often without a second thought. Remember: being plastic free isn't exclusive to July, let's do our best to go plastic-free - year round!

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