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Zero-Waste Challenge Recap

Plastic Waste

Here is all the single-use plastic waste we generated in April after our zero-waste challenge – enough to fill two plastic bags. I’m not sure if that’s a success or a failure. It’s a lot less than the average family but I thought we could do better.

A third of it was recyclable – hard plastics and tetra-paks. A third was soft plastic that London Drugs will take for recycling – although I’m skeptical of what they actually do with it. A third, sadly, went straight into the garbage.

We were pretty good at not buying new products with plastic packaging, but that didn’t stop us from using what we already had in the fridge and cupboards. Most of the plastic waste we generated was from food products we bought back in March.

Everytime we generated plastic waste, we tried hard to find a replacement that didn’t have plastic packaging. Some things we managed to find plastic-free alternatives for, but it was shocking how much of the grocery store is covered in plastic. If it wasn’t for Nada, we would have generated a lot more plastic waste.

The hardest plastic packaging to avoid:

  • Anything medical, like Astrid’s medications
  • Vitamin containers
  • Cereal – we can get bulk granola but not cereal flakes
  • Garden seedlings, fertilizers, and soil
  • Tetra paks from juice and plant-based milks
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Convenience foods, like perogies and sausages

The only plastic that was easier than expected to avoid was take-out containers. A lot of food carts and restaurants in Vancouver use compostable packaging, and all of them will once the styrofoam ban comes into effect in April 2020.

I’m happy to see more cities jumping on the zero-waste bandwagon and banning plastic and styrofoam: Montreal ‘going to war’ against single-use plastic and styrofoam food containers.

But the biggest change has to come from grocery stores. They are the only ones with the power to influence suppliers. If some of the big chains in Canada (like Loblaws, Sobeys, or Overwaitea) made a concerted effort to cut down on plastic packaging, it would make a huge difference.

Now that our challenge is over, there are a few habits we picked up last month that we will continue with.

  1. Being conscious of plastic packaging and choosing products without plastic where possible.
  2. Doing more shopping at the zero-waste stores in Vancouver.
  3. Buying fresh vegetables that aren’t in plastic (like field cucumbers)
  4. Making our own pizza dough instead of buying it.
  5. Making own own hemp milk (see recipe below) instead of buying plant-based milks in tetra paks.
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Zero waste Challenge – No Single-Use Plastic

India - Cochin

For the month of April, we’re taking a zero waste challenge and trying to avoid all single-use plastics.

That means no plastic take-out containers, no straws, no bags of cereal, no plastic-wrapped english cucumbers, and the list goes on.

Plastic Wrapped Carrots

That might sound impossible, but we’re lucky to have some good resources to help. In addition to bulk bins at conventional grocery stores, Vancouver has 2 amazing zero-waste shopping options Nada and the Soap Dispensary, where we can fill reusable containers with food and other household products.

Nada Shopping

To kick off the month, I purchased a nice safety razor to replace the standard 5-blade Gillette and Schick ones I’ve used in the past (inspired by this AOC tweet). Safety razors are a little trickier to use, but have zero plastic and are cheaper to buy blades for.

We also had a successful zero-plastic pizza dinner on Sunday night. The biggest challenges were the crust and cheese. Normally we buy pizza crusts and Daiya cheese in plastic packaging. But we found Daiya cheese at Nada and made the crust from scratch, which was surprisingly easy and fun even if a bit more time consuming.

Our hope is that by being conscious of our plastic use this month, and striving for zero, we will learn new ways of reducing it once the challenge is over (like making pizza dough from scratch). It also gets us ready for a future when single-use plastics are no longer commonplace. There’s a growing movement worldwide to reduce our use of throwaway plastics. Here are some examples:

  • Europe has agreed to ban single-use plastics by 2021.
  • The NDP has promised to get rid of single-use plastics in Canada by 2022 if elected.
  • Vancouver’s straw ban goes into effect on June 1, 2019, with other single-use plastics targeted in coming years.
  • California, New York, and Hawaii are leading the charge in the USA with state-wide plastic bag and straw bans.