Imagining a plastic-free life

By Sylvia Keesmaat

We don’t focus too much on where plastic comes from. It is all made from oil.

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:

Personal Hygiene

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.


  1. Arihant says:

    How can we imagining a plastic-free life? When do you go to write your pen makes from plastic. your computer, iPod, and bottles make from plastic.

  2. Sylvia says:

    With the exception of the computer, it is not hard to imagine these things without plastic. Pencils work for most things, and they are made of wood. I use a refillable fountain pen. Although the cartridge is made of plastic, I think, it will last for at least 10 years (which makes it a cheap investment in the long term). Living without plastic might mean giving up things like iPods (I don’t have one, nor a cell phone) and these days it is easy to avoid bottles made from plastic if you buy metal refillable water bottles, or, better yet, just use a glass jar. We might not be able to live entirely without plastic, but we can at least try to reduce where possible! As for imagining it, well, more than 3000 years of history show that it is possible! Thanks for you comment. Sylvia

  3. Richard says:

    Great article Sylvia, thanks!
    Unfortunately there will always be detractors and deniers who refuse to acknowledge certain realities. The global fossil fuel godzilla that we all bow down before is so heavily subsidized and ingrained into our economic system that we scarcely realize it. The billions in annual tax breaks and direct corporate welfare are obvious. Not so obvious is the global licence to use everybody’s air, water and soil as a toxic dumping ground without consequence or cost. Apparently taxpayers are also on the hook for billions now to deal with abandoned wells in Alberta – just one more example of the perverse accounting methods of an economic system that counts all this as a plus.
    Anyway, all the above is to say that plastic too is part of this massively subsidized hypocrisy, such that it remains overwhelmingly cheaper to make things out of plastic, or sell goods, food, etc. in plastic than to provide non-throwaway sustainable alternatives. Oh and there’s another subsidy – taxpayers have to cover the costs of trying to deal responsibly with it all once discarded. My suggestion therefore – let’s gradually put an end to the subsidy charades, and deal with reality. Sure the price of everything now in the planet destroying category will have to rise. Sure too, the price of everything that doesn’t destroy the Earth will fall, and seem like a bargain, as it should be if we take the blinders off and face reality.

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