Getting Off Plastic
For the plastic haters in your life, there are simple gifts for reducing plastic use at the individual and collective levels
By David Gray-Donald
Nov. 17, 2023The Context
Many of us feel a tension. We want to reduce our plastic consumption and we know it's essential for a better world, yet we find it a struggle. Just about everything around us seems to be either made of plastic or packaged in it.
While each of us feel this in our daily lives, it’s also much bigger than any one of us.
The powerful oil and gas industry is happy to push more plastic on us too.“We’re seeing a predicted drop-off in demand [for oil and gas] for transportation and energy, but we’re not seeing the same kind of drop-off in demand for plastics,” says Karen Wirsig, plastics campaigner at Environmental Defence in Toronto. “In fact, the plastics and the petrochemicals industry become a kind of a ‘Plan B’ for oil and gas extraction.”
And so, the industry is trying to influence governments to avoid plastic-reducing policies that environmental groups are advocating for.
The federal government has a ban coming into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, on some single-use plastics including plastic straws at restaurants and plastic bags at checkouts. The plastics industry is suing the government to stop the regulations.
This page has a few ideas for how to start helping each other reduce our plastic use.
“Obviously, this whole plastic pollution crisis isn’t going to be solved by the actions of some good individuals,” says Wirsig. It isn’t behaviour change alone that will get us out of this, she says.
Advocacy and policy change is desperately needed so that less wasteful behaviours become the new norm.
For example, when dining in Paris, France, at fast food spots like McDonald’s, the only option is reusable plateware, which the restaurants are responsible for washing.
Or in Edmonton, several single-use plastic items were banned this summer. There were some complaints from Edmontonians in the first couple months, but those declined as people got used to the changes.
We could see these kinds of changes around Toronto if there is broad public support and willingness from politicians.
The City of Toronto is going to be considering a plastics reduction plan, likely before the end of 2023. The plan was developed by city staff with input from a number of groups, including the Reusable Toronto coalition organized by the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
The federal government is also considering plastic-reduction policies beyond the narrow single-use plastics ban, like mandating grocery stores to significantly reduce plastic use.
But at every turn, the fossil fuel industry will be fighting these changes.
Make a donation in your loved one’s name to an organization working to reduce plastic pollution. The Toronto Environmental Alliance is working on Toronto’s policies through the Reusable Toronto coalition, and Environmental Defence is working on federal policies.
Sign yourself and your loved ones up for updates from those organizations’ plastics campaigns.
Refilleries tend to refer to places where you can get cleaning and hygiene products in refillable containers, without disposable packaging.
Getting someone set up at a refillery for just one product, like dish soap or conditioner, is a great, gentle start. And it can be a gateway to learning more about plastic use and alternatives.
Your best bet is to visit a refillery to chat with them about options that will work for your loved one. And you might just see many more eco-friendly products. Search online for the one nearest you. Unfortunately, there aren’t many in Toronto.
A glass-and-metal pump for their home, which can be easily refilled. They range from $10 to $30, depending on the store.
One full container of a cleaning product, in a reusable jar. I went for the fragrance-free dish soap from Omo Bamboo Shop (it’s good!) in a free glass jar that was available there. New glass jars are available as well ($5 to $20)
There are a number of services operating in Toronto now that offer reusable containers for takeout and delivery food. After use, you return the dishes and they get washed.
This is the kind of system that will need to expand if we want to really make a dent in plastic waste.
Check out these local programs, sign your gift-ee up for one, and put some money toward their first order:
Suppli: Compatible with Uber Eats app, has added fee per order of $1.49 - $3.99. mysuppli.ca
Muuse: You can borrow reusable food and beverage containers for free for up to 30 days and return them to any participating location to be washed. You can order home pick-up for a fee. muuse.io/toronto
Inwit: Specializes in corporate and institutional catering, partnering with restaurants so they don’t have to use disposable containers and plates. A good one to recommend and use for your next event. inwit.ca
At bulk food stores and some grocery stores, they’ll let you put food in reusable containers. Coffee, flour, cereal, and so on. This can range from cheap spots like Bulk Barn up to fancy ones like Urban Bulk & Refill in Leslieville.
To use a reusable container, ask the cashier to weigh the empty container first, then come back with the container filled up and they’ll weigh it again at check-out to determine the weight of the food item and the price.
Buy one or more nice sturdy reusable containers (glass or plastic, like Tupperware) that can hold food products and will be good for bringing to the store and back. Starts under $5. Using this regularly will noticeably reduce plastic waste. You can also weigh the empty container and put a label or a tag on it showing the weight, so the cashier doesn’t have to write it on each time.
Buy a gift certificate for their nearest (or your favourite) bulk food store.
Buy beeswax wraps to replace plastic wrap for keeping leftovers and produce fresh. Find from under $10 at eco-stores, whole food spots, and online retailers like Ardent Earth.