Every piece of plastic you have ever bought, used, and thrown away is still hanging out on the planet somewhere, either in a mountain of garbage at a dump, or maybe in the stomach of a bird or a turtle who thought it was food. According to the Canadian government, less than 11 per cent of Canada’s plastic gets recycled and manufacturers continue to make new plastic from fossil fuels. The problem with plastic is that even though it has potential to be recycled, 89 per cent of the time it just isn’t. Plastic bottles are among the most widely recycled plastic, because people generally know which bin to throw it in, but other items such as drinking straws and bubble wrap are not as easy to recycle and end up getting thrown away. It’s easy to discard plastic wrap and styrofoam containers because once we throw it away it’s out of sight and out of mind. The problem is that “away” ends up being the ocean, seriously endangering and killing marine life, and ultimately ending up in our food chain. The World Economic Forum predicted that if we keep dumping plastic in the ocean at our current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish when measured by weight. When considering all these facts we need to seriously reduce, or even eliminate our plastic usage, lest our world end up a toxic waste dump similar to the setting of Wall-E.
You may be thinking, “I am just a student. Not using plastic is too hard and too expensive; ain’t nobody got time for that.” But reducing your plastic waste involves just a few simple lifestyle changes that anyone can do, which will save you money in the long run. Here are some of the easiest ways to cut plastic out of your life:
- Get a water bottle: There are refill stations all over campus for those with water bottles: beside the ATM machine in the SUS building, beside the elevator in the library, or right across from Spirit Bear Cafe in Building A, to name a few. It makes absolutely no sense why anyone would spend money on a plastic bottle of water when we have constant access to clean water in nearly every hallway.
- Bring your own coffee mug: Did you know that most coffee shops give you a slight discount if you bring your own mug, including Fairgrounds? But not every coffee joint is as responsible as Fairgrounds, whose coffee cups and lids are all compostable, so get yourself a good coffee mug; maybe even splurge for a Yeti that will keep your coffee warm for hours.
- Stop using plastic bags: You would be surprised how many reusable bags you can get free at conventions and the like. Instead of relying on plastic, start a mini-collection of canvas bags and keep them in your car to use while you grocery shop; don’t be responsible for a sea turtle who eats a plastic bag thinking it’s a jellyfish.
- Carry your own cutlery: UFV is great for free food options: Waffle Wednesdays in the Global Lounge, various meals that different clubs give away — sometimes you can even find the Student Lounge giving away bowls of soup. But make sure that you carry around your own spoon, knife, and fork to avoid using plastic cutlery. It really doesn’t take up any more space in your backpack, and saves that much more plastic from ending up in landfills.
- Start using menstrual cups or period underwear: Ladies, stop using an ungodly amount of plastic and save a ton of money during your red tide by buying one of these alternatives. The average woman uses 11,250 pads or tampons in her lifetime. These single-use items take 500-800 years to degrade; that’s why using these alternatives are guartuneed game-changers.
- Buy in bulk: So many grocery stores have expanded their bulk section and you can now buy anything from beans, cereal, rice, spices, or candy in bulk. These options are usually cheaper than buying packaged items, and you are able to bring your own jars to use instead of the plastic bags they provide. Check out PickEco Refills in Chilliwack or the Bulk Barn in Abbotsford to find literally everything imaginable in bulk form. These places exist in the Fraser Valley, not just hipster neighbourhoods of Vancouver!
- Buy a bamboo toothbrush: Your dentist probably recommends you change your toothbrush every 12 weeks, but that ends up as a whole lot of plastic being throw out. However, you can get a three-pack of bamboo toothbrushes online for just $5 that are natural and compostable.
- Buy better toiletries: From the moment you start getting ready for your day in the morning until you get ready for bed at night, plastic is part of that routine. Canada made a big step in plastic waste reduction by banning most products that contain plastic microbeads, but something serious still needs to be done about how much plastic goes into packaging the many items that online ads tell us to buy. I know I’m not the only one with a hundred different plastic bottles under my bathroom counter with everything from hair gel to elbow cream. Marie Kondo would not be proud of us. Minimalize your toiletry collection and try to buy from companies that use less plastic, or recycled plastic packaging instead, such as Lush.
- Stop buying new things: This one may seem a tad extreme, but hear me out. Anything you could ever want, you can probably find used: in thrift stores, on eBay, on Craigslist, or on Facebook marketplace; the options for buying used items are endless. You will save money and save all of the packaging involved in buying a new item. Nearly half of the world’s plastic waste is from plastic packaging materials. Not to mention the massive carbon footprint your Amazon prime membership produces by having your purchases shipped to your doorstep in just two days. So please stop buying new clothes, camping equipment, kitchen appliances, furniture online and try finding them from alternative
Image: Kayt Hint/The Cascade