We have officially settled into fall. Warm vacation nights are a thing of the past, kids are well into their first term and while you may be embracing seasonal produce, you may be starting to get sick of your daily meal planning. The turn of the season is a great time to create new routines, set new intentions and look ahead. So, as we we say goodbye to summer, why not also say goodbye to the extra plastic waste that can come with this busy time of year.
The numerous beach and community cleanups that have taken place this summer and early fall are a good reminder of the negative consequences of the daily overproduction and consumption of throwaway plastic packaging. As consumers, it can be daunting to imagine making plastic-free choices when so much of the food, household and personal care products we seek, come in plastic. Then you add the stress of making kids’ snacks, lunches or your own to-go meals every day and it’s easy to reach for those pre-packaged items in an attempt to save time.
But even though so much of our food comes in plastic, avoiding packaged food is actually one of the easier places to start when it comes to reducing our plastic footprint. If you haven’t already, stop and take an inventory in your home of all the food items that come in a plastic wrapper or container. Crackers, granola bars, yoghurt, pre-cut veggies, cookies, juice boxes, other beverages – the list could be endless. Cutting plastic-packaged food can be a great way to not only reduce waste, but to also cut out additives in your food and opt for healthier alternatives.
If you’re packing a lunch for kids, you might be thinking “oh this will go over well”, but you can totally achieve tasty lunches and snacks while also achieving more environmentally friendly ones. Here’s how to get started.
First, you need to invest in some reusable containers. For example, the stainless steel options are lightweight, come in various sizes, are durable, and don’t degrade over time like plastic ones. Glass is also a great, but a heavier option. There are so many choices these days for packing snacks, beverages and even hot meals, once you start to look you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what’s available.
Second, think bulk food. Lots of stores have bulk sections where you can bring your own containers or bags and fill up on all kinds of tasty things like dried fruit, nuts, granola, cereal, chocolate chips, crackers and so much more. Instead of that plastic-wrapped granola bar, think a trail mix with the same ingredients, including chocolate chips for sweetness.
Third, try making it yourself. While not everyone has the time or the inclination to bake or cook tonnes of homemade snacks and foods, a simple internet search can show how easy some things can be, and many things can be frozen to be kept fresh if daily variety is a must.
Fourth, embrace the growing pains of the plastic-free change. It might feel strange to bring your salad to work in a large mason jar, or your kids might groan when you send them off with containers of homemade applesauce instead of that brand they are used to, but over time these changes will become routine and you’ll see the reduction in plastic waste as proof of success.
On World Cleanup Day, September 15th, thousands of volunteers around the world cleaned up plastic pollution, sorted the trash by type and then examined all the wrappers, cups, containers and bottles that were found, to determine the companies responsible for creating the branded plastic products that become pollution. These specialized cleanups, known as brand audits, sought to connect the companies back to the problem they are fuelling by producing billions of single-use plastic products each year.
Through these brand audits, companies were called on to take responsibility for the full life of their products; to offer more sustainable, plastic-free alternatives for their customers; and to commit to reduce their massive plastic footprints. However, until they make these changes, it’s up to us to use our voice and use our dollar to keep up the momentum toward a plastic-free future. Here are three things you can do to urge plastic producers to give us healthier, more sustainable options.
- Ask your supermarket to create plastic-free aisles and reduce its plastic packaging.
- Support zero waste grocers and markets, and encourage your friends to do the same.
- Sign Greenpeace’s petition urging Canada’s top plastic polluters identified through the brand audits to do their part
Publisher’s Note: Sarah King is the head of Oceans & Plastics at Greenpeace Canada with a MASc, Environmental Applied Science and Management.