Imagine that you are standing on the water tower in Fenelon Falls, looking as far as the eye can see. To the north lies Coboconk, to the east Bobcaygeon. To the south is Lindsay and to the west Beaverton. Except that you can’t see any of these places. Instead all you see is bare earth, roads and trucks driving deeper and deeper into excavated dirt. In fact, as far south as Pontypool there is no vegetation, just dirt piled higher and higher as the trucks go deeper.
This is what I saw when I went to the oil sands four years ago. An entire ecosystem destroyed, with the result that even those who live far outside of the tar sands can’t find animals to hunt anymore, berries to eat anymore, water that doesn’t give them cancer.
We often talk about the way in which plastic ends up in our oceans and our landfills, killing sea creatures in the first instance and leaching toxins into the soil in the second. But we don’t focus too much on where that plastic comes from. It is all made from oil; oil that is “refined” from the tar extracted from a destroyed habitat while inching our climate towards uninhabitable temperatures.
But how can we live without plastic, now that we depend upon it for almost everything? While it can seem overwhelming to try to eliminate all plastic from your life, why not try a few things from the list below to get started?
Here are a few tips:
Avoid using liquid soaps and body washes, which not only come in plastic bottles but also use plastic to maintain their fluidity. Use old fashioned bar soaps. You can also purchase shampoo and conditioner in bar soap form from Lush or from Toronto-based Soapworks (available in local health food stores). Not only are these bars much cheaper than shampoo and conditioner, they also have no plastic packaging. Note that your hair may take a week or two to get used to a bar soap. Many people also use baking soda and water to wash their hair and apple cider vinegar to rinse. Look for the latter in a glass bottle.
Instead of plastic menstrual products try using the Diva Cup or reusable cotton pads. In a similar theme, choose cloth diapers over disposable.
Bamboo toothbrushes are also available in local health food stores, as are the reusable cotton pads.
In the Kitchen
Use glass jars or containers to store food in the fridge. Glass is also excellent for freezing, providing you leave space at the top for liquids to expand. Be careful to defrost slowly.
Instead of plastic wrap use beeswax coated cloth for wrapping. These can be bought new or handmade.
Instead of a salad spinner, whirl your greens in a salad bag or a clean pillow case (this works best outside).
In addition to carrying your own travel mug, carry your lunch in reusable stainless steel containers and a cloth bag. Carrying some extra cutlery also helps avoid disposable plastics.
In the Grocery Store
Buy bulk when possible and bring your own containers. Country Cupboard in Fenelon Falls is a plastic-free store that has glass bottles available for your bulk purchases.
Avoid plastic produce bags. Bring a cloth bag or two to put your produce in. Some produce doesn’t even need its own bag.
Buy fresh bread or bread in paper bags. Mikael’s Bakery in Lindsay only uses paper bags.
When buying meat from a butcher or deli, bring your own container. They can subtract the weight of your container before adding the meat.
Avoid synthetic fabrics and clothes like fleece that release microfibres into our water system every time they are washed. Try to buy cotton, hemp or bamboo clothing. If you can’t find natural fabrics, shop second hand for your clothing to avoid buying new plastic products. If you already have fleece products, use a microfibre-catching laundry bag when you wash them.
While pens are sometimes necessary, try writing with a pencil whenever you can.
This list, of course, covers a very small number of the plastics that are used in our daily lives. For more comprehensive ideas, including sources for plastic free hair ties and plastic free dental floss, visit 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life as well as Rubbish Free, based in New Zealand but very comprehensive.
It will not be possible to eliminate all plastic in your life. Begin with a few things that you think are possible for you to do. And then try a few more. Before you know it you will have made some big earth-saving changes, one small step at a time.