Trash talk: A plastic waste challenge

By Jamie Morris

From L to R: Jamie Morris, Sylvia Keesmaat, Councillor Tracy Richardson, Ginny Colling, and Deb Pearson.

Last year, more than 917 tonnes of plastic was collected from our 38,000 households in Kawartha Lakes. That’s the calculation of Kerry Snoddy, whose forbidding job title is City of Kawartha Lakes waste management regulatory compliance officer.

It’s so easy for each of us to produce heaping, full bins of plastic waste. Reducing plastics to the absolute minimum? Much more difficult.

Four members of the City of Kawartha Lakes Environmental Advisory Committee (CKLEAC) are involved. That includes me and council’s designated environmental champion, Councillor Tracy Richardson, as well as Ginny Colling and Deb Pearson. The fifth person involved is Advocate occasional writer Sylvia Keesmaat.

For the month of January, instead of depositing plastics into our blue bins or garbage containers, each of us hung onto every scrap.

On Feb. 3 we all brought in January’s accumulated plastic waste — some recyclable, some of it not — to Lindsay’s first zero-waste sustainable living store, Unwrapped, for a weighing.

The one with the smallest amount of waste over the month would receive an Unwrapped Store gift certificate along with a hefty dollop of self-satisfaction and some bragging rights.

The Scene

Richardson is first.  She’s shifted a meeting with the city’s engineering department to be here, which says something about her commitment to all things environmental.

I’m next. We’re both a little early so I use the time to explore Unwrapped’s light-filled, minimalist space. At the entrance are wooden baskets for purchases. Along the white pressed-tin-lined walls are a range of environmentally-friendly products — everything from natural deodorants and soaps to “Unpaper” towels and cotton mesh shopping bags. The only plastics in sight are what Tracy and I have brought (mine is contained in a mini blue box).

After parking her EV (a Hyundai Kona), Colling arrives along with Pearson. Both of them are dedicated environmentalists and educators. (That evening they’ll be making a presentation on what they believe is a climate emergency in Fenelon Falls ).

Last is Keesmaat, who lives with a fluctuating number of people and animals at Russet House Farm, an off-grid solar powered permaculture farm in Cameron. When she isn’t selling heirloom tomato seedlings, Sylvia teaches permaculture and is a part-time professor of biblical studies at the University of Toronto.

All of us look a little sheepish about bringing plastics into Unwrapped, which looks like a plastic-free Marie Kondo daydream.

We gather around the finely-calibrated scale used to weigh customers’ refillable containers and the quantities of cleaners, shampoos, conditioners and even toothpaste that go into them. (Dispensers line a set of shelves behind the counter).

One by one, our bags are set on the scales. Each fits into a single grocery bag and the individual totals range downward from a respectable 848 grams (1.9 pounds). We’re all, in a sense, winners. But only in a sense. There is just one gift certificate.

It goes to  . . . the person whose name will be announced at the end of this report.  (Spoiler alert: It’s not me).

First though, some responses to questions each were asked about their month-long experience. (Initials identify particular respondents).

What were your most useful strategies for reducing plastics?

*Just trying to be conscious about the packaging of every purchase. (GC)

*Bringing a travel mug and cutlery when on the go. (DP)

*Storing grocery and shopping bags in the car and a reusable bag that rolls into something small. (DP)

*I tried not to buy any produce that was prepackaged.(TR)

*Reducing consumption. I realized that I eat an awful lot of cheese (I am Dutch, after all) and that I could be eating less. (SK)

*When it came to juice I didn’t buy any all month, focused on drinking more tap water. (TR)

*Buying ingredients from a bulk food store (Tip: Burns Bulk Food in Lindsay and Country Cupboard in Fenelon Falls gives a 10 per cent discount if you take your own container). (JM)

*When buying fresh fruit and vegetables, ignored rolls of plastic bags and set them directly into the shopping cart. (JM)

What plastics were hardest to eliminate from your life?

Collectively, there was a long list of pretty-much-unavoidable items that included milk bags and cartons; shrink-wrap for cheese, containers for shampoo, medicine and vitamins, dog and cat food, coffee, furnace filter packaging, hardware items, multi-roll toilet paper packages.

*What was your biggest sacrifice?

*Giving up Keurig coffee pods. (TR)

*Protein bars and chips. (GC)

*Giving up pre-washed salad greens in plastic boxes. (DP)

*Proudest or most satisfying moment?

*Making my own yogurt in the InstantPot. (DP)

*Going to great lengths to avoid buying a new nutcracker because of all the plastic packaging. (SK)

*Lunch at Ping’s served on china dishes instead of a plastic clamshell and eaten with metal utensils. (Ping was more than willing to go along with the request.) (JM)

 What was your most shameful instance of backsliding?

*Using those little plastic containers for milk at a church I was visiting. (I need three of them for a cup of tea). (SK)

*Buying a book entitled Zero-Waste Home from Amazon (it was delivered in a non-recyclable bubble-wrap package. (JM)

*Succumbing to a plastic bag of chocolate bark. (DP)

*The sleeves in cracker packages. (TR)

What were the biggest lessons learned over the month?

*How much completely unnecessary plastic is out there. (Stacks of broccoli crowns individually shrink-wrapped in plastic, for example). (JM)

*That there are all kinds of hidden plastics and that eating local really does make a difference. (SK)

*It takes preparation to avoid plastic food wrapping, having your own clean containers and reusable bags with you for instance. (DP)

*That we have a lot of work to do in demanding that manufacturers and suppliers eliminate plastic packaging at the source. (GC)

*How hard it was to change my behavior.(TR)

*Shop around. To make an impact you must take the time. (TR)

After this experience, is there something you’ll be doing differently in the future?

*More baking from scratch (TR)

*Refilling cleaning products at Unwrapped and making some of my own. (DP)

*I’ll be buying more at bulk food stores and bringing my own containers. (GC)

*I’ll take milk in a small glass jar with me when I think I might otherwise be forced to use those little plastic containers for milk for my tea. (Did I mention that I drink a lot of tea?)(SK)

*For any purchase, checking whether it comes with plastic and if it does whether there’s an alternative. (JM)

And the winner, with an impressive total of just 186 grams (6.5 ounches) of plastic for the 31-day month, is Deb Pearson who is, appropriately enough, chair of the CKLEAC plastics subcommittee.

A Final Note:  This contest was an experiment to see what’s possible. Not everyone has the resources, time or commitment to match these results. We can all take small steps, though.  

Here’s a challenge issued by Richardson: Take a month and reduce your own personal consumption footprint. Bring your own containers, bring your own bags, shop smart and be your own environmental champion.


  1. Deborah Pearson says:

    Thanks to the support of City Council for environmental action we now have a voluntary ban on single use plastics in the City of Kawartha Lakes!

  2. Mike Barkwell says:

    What do they believe is a climate emergency in Fenelon Falls?

  3. Jane Chapman says:

    I would like to see composting in Kawartha Lakes. I have asked many times and do not get an acceptable answer. One was that we tried it and it didn’t catch on. I was told I could have a backyard compost. This isn’t feasible for many especially seniors. I moved here from the Region of Durham that has composting every week and garbage everywhere other week. People would learn. How about having to use clear plastic bags for garbage. Is that helping reduce the use of plastic?

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