Plastic-Free 2012

I usually have a bunch of personal New Year's resolutions that I'm lucky if I remember by the time a new year rolls around. This year I won't have the luxury of absent-mindedness. Linnet and I have signed-on to be part of a documentary, following 12 households in the Lower Mainland who are going "plastic-free" for a year. I put "plastic-free" in quotations, because we are allowed to create some personal exceptions (e.g. health-related products like medicine in a plastic bottle, or toothpaste in a tube). The bottom line is that apart from a few exceptional items, we aren't allowed to collect any new plastic. Any plastic that we do acquire (e.g. someone sends us a gift that has plastic, or we accidentally buy some unwittingly) we have to keep for a visual record for the entire year. How's that for a not-so-private New Year's resolution?

Truth be told, I'm slightly apprehensive and excited about this new adventure. I'm apprehensive because plastic is so ubiquitous in our society that it can be difficult to avoid (and I have a traditional weakness for potato chips...which I'm going to have to learn to make by hand), but I'm also excited to be doing something positive and engaging with respect to the legacy and footprint we're living and leaving behind.

It's not that we think plastic is evil, it's actually a pretty amazing and durable material with important applications (healthcare comes to mind), but the problem is that we take this incredibly durable material and make it into disposable items that we use and throwaway on a daily basis, or that we use to store or even heat food in (plastic does contain scary chemicals you don't want in your body). That's the problem and the point of this exercise - to eliminate the casual disposable use of plastic.

Plastic is connected to all kinds of nasty environmental and health issues. My mom and her friends recently tossed their Tupperware due to fears about plastic and cancer, and more and more people are learning about the Great Pacific garbage patch and the immediate effects plastic has on animals like Albatross, which mistake disposable plastic like bottle caps and lighters, for food.

As I've previously blogged, plastic does not biodegrade – literally every scrap that has ever been produced in history lives-on somewhere in some form, either as buried plastic bags in landfills or as tiny particles of plastic bobbing in the ocean, working their way up the food chain. It’s a legacy that suddenly makes a plastic-wrapped sandwich or plastic take-out fork look a lot less appealing.

At a minimum, this new resolution will mean that we're living a healthier life, and having a much smaller environmental footprint. Reflecting on a recent article by George Monbiot, I'd say that we're restricting our freedom to consume plastic, in order to protect the freedom of other people, animals and ourselves, who would suffer from its ill effects.

Doing away with disposable plastic necessitates a shift in diet towards fresher, healthier, more local food in general. I'm excited about homemade bread and hand-cranked pasta, and while some of these things will take more time to prepare, others don't. For the ones that do, it feels like time well spent, slowing down, connecting to our food and the seasons, spending time together, and all that other blah, blah, blah, that's actually true.

We're also making connections with other folks who are trying to go plastic-free, and that means a new community is taking shape (which can only be a good thing). Folks are already swapping recipes for crackers and sharing plastic-free shopping tips.

As our adventure takes shape, I'll post on the experience. Today we purged plastic from our kitchen and toiletries, and yesterday we found a source for plastic-free bulk toilet paper (100% recycled with 40% Post-Consumer Waste) - it seems to be just as green and even cheaper than the environmentally-friendly stuff we've all been wiping our asses with.

On that note, Happy New Year! Wish us luck in 2012 (or better yet, join us)!