It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I am a wee bit concerned about the ecological state of the world these days. Or more truthfully: since the age of 14 – I have agitated, argued, fought, and scrapped over the treatment of our planet. I have stood in front of logging trucks, registered concern at public officials in community meetings, and picketed outside of mining corporation offices. And I have recycled, composted, reused, repurposed, and regifted many times in lieu of throwing more trash in the garbage dump.
As you might have noticed, it has hardly done a stick of good. Whether collective or individual action, it seems that the powers that be are just much bigger and better at raping and pillaging than I am at saving my small corner of things. Downright depressing, yes. But I haven’t given up yet.
One thing I have noticed in particular in the last couple of years is that when I take a small environmental action in public people around me often comment or ask me about it. It used to happen when I pulled out my cloth bag for groceries instead of taking plastic in the store. When I scan my stylish metal water bottle at airport security, I am asked where I picked it up. And in Vancouver, the ultimate impressive (enviro-dork) maneuver is pulling out a pair of my own chopsticks instead of using yet another pair of disposable ones. Not only do people notice, but those who are paying attention to what’s going on often follow suit with their own environmental acts.
Lately I’ve been on a kick to scourge as much plastic from my life as possible. Not only because it’s environmentally horrendous and dependent on our quickly depleting oil sources, but also because of its toxicity when used to store, heat, or freeze food. Plus, plastic waste is a real killer of birds, fish, and marine mammals who eat the colourful stuff in lieu of food and then die. No matter how you slice it, plastic is some pretty nasty stuff. (And no, I don’t think the solution is to make corn-based bio-plastic either. We are having enough trouble feeding people without turning food products into more consumer waste).
I haven’t quite managed to eliminate all plastic from my life (totally unsure what to do about my desire for manufactured yogurt for example) – but here are some handy items that have helped me to get as far as I have.
Furoshiki – Pronounced “furoshkee”, this japanese wrapping cloth is the ultimate answer to plastic shopping bags. Easy to make, all you need is a hemmed square of cloth to your specifications (usually 1.5-2 feet per side), and a quick lesson on the multiple methods for tying the cloth. To promote its use, the Japanese government has produced a handy PDF for guidance. Furoshiki makes an excellent bag substitute, but is also great for gift wrap, protecting books or breakables in transport, or even as a baby carrier. The nice thing about furoshiki as opposed to other bag substitutes is a piece of cloth may have multiple purposes and folds up really small to fit in your purse or jacket pocket.
Mason Jars – Certainly not as exciting as a piece of cloth for folding, mason jars are pretty ubiquitous particularly as a lot of spaghetti sauces are now packaged in them. Far superior to the plastic container, I’ve started doing most of my food storing the way my grandmother did. Because mason jars can be both frozen and boiled without breaking, they are the safest glass to use for your food leftovers and they don’t leave nasty plastic toxics in your food! Plus they come in multiple sizes. For easy dinner heat-ups make individual soup or stew portions and freeze in the jar size of your choice. For a quick thaw simply place the jar in a saucepan of boiling water for ten minutes. Because these jars seal well and are also super durable I use them for taking leftovers to work and don’t have to worry about leakage or broken glass.
Sigg Bottles – Although a mason jar makes an excellent substitute for plastic drinking bottles, when it comes to hiking, I’ve become a huge fan of the Sigg aluminium and stainless steel water bottles. The aluminium ones are lighter weight than the standard plastic nalgene bottles and hold slightly more liquid. And despite the fact they are prone to denting, they hold up to really regular and extreme use. The stainless steel are a little heavier, but really durable. I’ve been super bummed out ever since I lost my uber-stylish Sigg canteen in a taxi cab – by far one of the nicest water bottles I ever owned.
Alternatives for Garbage Bin Lining – I find the whole concept of purchasing plastic bin liners for garbage really odd having grown up in a house where we simply used biodegradable paper sacks from grocery shopping. Normally I use plastic garbage bags for a bin liner, but since I’ve been bringing less bags into the house I often don’t have one when I need it. I’ve recently realized that you don’t really need to use a bin liner at all, or a simple piece of cardboard on the bottom of the bin will do the trick. Really, it just means that you have to rinse out the garbage can after you empty it into the municipal bin. Wrapping garbage that may be biodegradable in a plastic bag really just defeats the purpose.
At first it feels awkward to switch towards more environmentally-sound consumer practices, it’s true. But once you get past the initial discomfort (I remember when grocery stores acted like wanting to use your own cloth bag was a big headach) your whole life does feel lighter and less cluttered. I recently went out of town for work and forgot my reusable mug and sigg bottle for water which mean that for three days I was using disposable items in lieu. Shocking to me the amount of waste I generated even in that short period – I found it truly disturbing to add that much to the landfill!
Which isn’t to say I’m perfect at all, it’s hard to forgo plastic and our society really isn’t set up to assist in that process. But recent decisions like the Liquor Board of Ontario to stop providing plastic bags will hopefully help to turn the tide away from consumer waste and towards more sane alternatives (and by that I don’t mean switching to paper!)