Life Without Plastic – the Book and some Ideas

I’ve just finished reading Life Without Plastic by Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha.

I haven’t read a book that had such an emotional impact since reading the Truth and Reconciliation Report a number of years ago. By drawing a comparison I don’t want to minimize the TRC. I had an inkling that there were issues but, I’ll admit that I had a pretty common colonist attitude of “suck it up”. Engaging with the TRC has had a profound affect on me and really transformed how I view the world. The tragedy of Residential Schools, the paternalism of colonialism, the ongoing trauma that is still felt throughout families, communities is deep and ongoing. The Calls to Action have real world meaning in the here and now and must inform our political policies and decision making.

I have felt a similar reaction to Life Without Plastics. I had an inkling of the plastics issue and have taken some halting steps to reduce my use of them, but I had NO idea. The harms that our addiction to plastic is causing for us and for future generations is monumental. Unlike the Calls to Action, which in my place of privilege, I can ignore day to day, I can’t help but notice every few minutes the plastics I deal with.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is worth reading. Take some time, read a bit, let it settle, read some more. The book starts off with a detailed look at all the different types of plastics – all the “mobius” recycling symbols you see that identify the type of plastic so it can, theoretically, be recycled into something new.

Recycling and Alternatives

I say theoretically because, the book goes on to discuss recycling and alternatives. As we’ve found out, recycling isn’t working. Somewhere along the way, we changed Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to Consume, Recycle, Waste. Canadians landfill about 2.8 million tonnes of plastics every year. That’s not at all sustainable.

The few pages on alternatives is a handy dandy list of materials that make great replacements for plastics. Things we’ve known about for decades and, in some cases, centuries; steel, glass, ceramic, cotton, wool, rayon, hemp.

The last half-and-a-bit of the book is how to de-plastic your home. I thought the scary part about the plastics themselves was a lot of work. This is huge.

So if you choose to read the book, go in forewarned, and go SLOW because we can’t do it all. There’s so much of it. This is a perfect example of “pick your battles”. Pick something to change. Do it, and put down the rest for another day. The book is loaded with some great ideas, recipes for making various products at home. I’m sure I’ll come back to it from time to time for new ideas.

Some Ideas

So here’s some ideas from what I’ve done. I’d love to hear ideas from other folks!

  • I’ve been carrying a satchel (made of canvas) for at least fifteen years (sure, call it a man purse if you want) with:
    • a set of steel camp cutlery – apparently the knife is just small enough that it can be taken on a domestic flight, although I’ve never tested that.
    • a set of lovely stainless steel and wood chopsticks (the wood sourced from old baseball bats. Go figure)
    • a stainless steel straw.
    • a couple of cotton hankies.
    • a compact reuseble shopping bag.
    • Beside the things I carry to avoid single-use stuff, I also carry a small phone charger, a pen, and some paper, and have room for my eReader. This isn’t hard work. In fact, I like it.
  • Travel Mugs. I never leave home without mine.
    • I’ve found that a certain Canadian coffee institution will often pour your coffee or tea into a regular plastic-lined cardboard cup (YES, they are plastic lined – what are we drinking?), fill your travel cup, and throw out the cardboard one they just used! I even had one place put the LID on the cup to walk across their aisle.
    • So, bonus: find local coffee shops. They will refill your cup. There are some fantastic places all across the country. You’ll support local business, get a better product, and save the plastics.
    • Also, skip the drive through. You get a bit of exercise and reduce your emissions.
  • Shopping Bags. In addition to your shopping bags, get some fabric product bags – cotton please, not nylon – and challenge yourself to buy as little plastic-packaged veggies as possible. Avoid clamshell packaging if at all possible – if we keep buying it, suppliers will keep selling it to us.
  • Homemade deodorant. I’ve been doing this for a few years now. Yeah, most of the ingredients come in plastic containers but can be bought in large quantities. Does it work? I have no complaints.
    • 6 tbsp Arrowroot powder
    • 3 tbsp Coconut oil
    • 2 tbsp Baking Soda (some people might find this irritating, test in a small spot)
    • 3 tsp MCT Oil (available at health stores – basically coconut oil that is liquid at room temperature, otherwise the deodorant gets totally solid in cooler temps).
    • Put a dozen or so drops of a favourite essential oil in (I like Spruce and Cedarwood)
    • Melt the coconut oil, mix it all together. In hot weather it will be pretty soft but in colder weather, take a pea-sized lump and roll it around in your fingers to soften it and apply.
  • Shaving – they seem small, but disposable razors and disposable blades made out of plastic frames mean a lot of waste. I discovered one of my dad’s old safety razors that use double edged blades. Made in the 1960s, it is durable and new ones probably make great gifts. Surprisingly, despite that single blade, I find it a better shave than the multiple blade plastic ones.
    • Buy good blades (there are loads of choices to try) and avoid the ones in plastic dispeners – they’re probably worse than disposable blades.
    • These blades are surprisingly sharp – get a styptic pencil (ouch!)
    • Kent (see the link above) and other suppliers have little metal “blade banks” to put the old blades in. Try to avoid the plastic ones because the metal ones can go straight into metal recycling (which can be trusted more than plastic recycling).
  • Shaving Cream / Soap – after experimenting with some commercial products that reduced packaging, I decided to try making my own. This stuff smells great and feels good:
    • 3 tbsp MCT Oil (Medium Chain Trigliceride from health food stores – coconut oil with the long chains removed, making it liquid at room temp. This is important for stuff you are putting down a drain to reduce clogs.)
    • 1 tbsp honey (melt it gently before mixing so it is liquid.)
    • 2 tbsp castile soap ( Dr. Bronner’s almond is particularly good with the honey – find it at Peavy.)
    • optionally a bit of baking soda – 1/2 tsp.
    • Mix it all together. You might need to shake it for a few days until the honey gets a little solid. Take a little bit, wet it, lather, apply, shave.
  • Coffee and Tea – K-cups. Sigh. Tea bags with plastics in them. Also sigh. Tea and coffee are quite good in your compost (you have compost, right?) as long as they don’t have plastics. I’ve switched to loose tea to be sure there is no plastic teabags and try to buy both tea and coffee in large quantities to avoid packaging. I can throw the tea and coffee, along with the coffee filter, into my vermicompost bin and the worms are quite happy to deal with it.

Feel free to leave a comment here if you have any suggestions or ideas!

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