October 16, 2017 Rachel Vander Veen

Let’s Break Up with Single Use Plastic

Before I started learning about my environmental impact, I would shop with plastic bags. Going to a coffee shop and grabbing a latte in a single use cup was a no brainer. Buying fruits and vegetables was a process that involved individually bagging the produce (despite the fact that I was going to wash it before eating anyways). I’d leave the house knowing I was going to buy lunch that day, and I’d still opt for using plastic cutlery and purchasing a 300ml container of juice at the restaurant.

The truth is, the majority of North America is like this. We’re raised in a society where there’s no harm in being wasteful with single use plastics as long as it’s maybe just the slightest bit more convenient.

I don’t have to tell you that climate change is real and the oceans are full of plastic. But given that knowledge, why is convenience still the main driver behind most of our purchasing decisions? Are single use plastics really that much more convenient?

This past week, I looked at what my plastic bag consumption would have been if I didn’t use re-usable bags or turn down the offers of my cashiers. Here is a breakdown of all of those opportunities:

  • 3 for my main groceries at Metro
  • 4 smaller bags for my produce
  • 4 for the multiple times I picked up extra ingredients for dinner
  • 1 at the pharmacy
  • 2 for on campus lunches

Total: 14 plastic bags

On average, I spend about 32 weeks a year at university. So by the end of the school year, I could have easily used 448 plastic bags. In 3 years of buying my own food at university, that would lead to 1344 plastic bags. Yikes.

Same goes for coffee or tea. 6 cups a week, 192 cups in a school year, and 768 cups in a university career. These cups have a lifespan of roughly 20 minutes and are then thrown away.

You don’t have to be a math wizard to work out these numbers or apply the same logic to red solo cups, straws, plastic forks, bottled water and juice, etc. The amount of plastic waste we are able to create solely based on the merit of convenience or forgetfulness is horrific.

Luckily for you, there are solutions! Here are some of the ways you can reduce your single use plastic consumption:

  1. Bring a reusable mug and a reusable water bottle everywhere you go (free water and discounts on your purchases!)
  2. Start brewing coffee and tea at home (saves you money too!)
  3. Get into the habit of bringing reusable bags to the store
  4. Wash and re-use solo cups (waste is still waste, drinking or not)
  5. Always leave the house equipped with a fork
  6. Avoid lids and straws
  7. Use Tupperware instead of zip lock bags

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to be perfect. I still find myself opting to purchase a delicious warm beverage even on the days I forget my mug (however, not without a pang of guilt).  What’s important is that these decisions are now conscious, and I’m slowly breaking the habits I’ve been conditioned to follow. Just because I used to engage in single use plastics without a thought, doesn’t it mean I still have to. Let’s stop using “convenience” as an excuse to be wasteful. It’s time to break up with single use plastic.

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