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A Year Without Plastic: Interview with Taina from Plastic Manners Blog

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Creative Commons License Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Taina, a Vancouver-based environmentalist and blogger, has taken on a challenge most of us would find daunting: living for a year without any plastics. She started in January, so May marks the fifth month into the project. Every few days, she updates her online followers with her challenges, successes, and angry (though justified) plastic-rants on her blog Plastic Manners.

Taina cites many reasons why she’s decided to tackle this particular issue. Basically, our society is in denial about both the pervasiveness and the dangers of plastic. First, many plastics leach toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that are dangerous to our health. Bisphenol-A, PVC, and phthalates are only three examples. Furthermore, plastic is polluting the oceans, and have been found in enormous amounts in the bodies of animals like whales, clams and albatrosses. Single-use plastics, such as straws, spoons, water bottles, bags and coffee cups are the worst offenders and the greatest source of plastic pollution.

Finally, recycling is not the answer. Not all plastics are recyclable, and those plastics that are not will be on this earth forever. If they are recyclable, they are usually “downcycledâ€. This means that they usually cannot be made into the same product. They have to be made into something smaller or of lesser quality. A little is always lost at every step. Recycled plastics can also break down into toxic byproducts. Not to mention, recyclable plastics do not guarantee that they will, in fact, be recycled.

I was lucky enough to ask Taina a few questions about her project and she was kind enough to let me share her story with you:

Q: What pieces of advice can you give to people who want to use less plastic?

A: I think it all has to start with a recognition of the problem- an awareness of how ridiculous our throw away habits have become. Take a granola bar. Great snack that you enjoy for maybe one minute, but the plastic packaging around it last FOREVER in our environment. An unpackaged treat (homemade), without the pollution and guilt, would be way more rewarding, guaranteed.   

Second, once you have really internalized the “dilemmaâ€, then start refusing. On behalf of future generations/Earth/the Oceans, say NO THANKS! Refuse one item at a time – a straw, a bag, a coffee cup, a lid— until it becomes second nature and starts to apply to a wider range of things. And there are so many little convenience things that are easy as pie to give up right away without major changes to lifestyle. The bigger changes will come, when you are armed with awareness and quick refusal instincts. 

Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in the project?

A: Hmm... I have two thoughts:

“Debbie Downer†would say: how catastrophic plastic pollution really is, and how important it is for us to act now. 

The optimistic part of me says: how easy it is to give up plastic, and how absolutely rewarding it is to go back to the roots, and make your own stuff. Convenience is not what makes life colourful.

Q: What are you most missing that you can’t find an alternative for? What alternatives do you wish existed that don’t?

A: Beer is one item that I wish existed readily without the plastic- caps on the bottles, lining inside cans. I will be making my own very soon.

Health products are hard to find without plastic- be it Advil or birth control pills. And other natural products (e.g. plastic-free toothbrushes) that are always wrapped in plastic. Same with plastic-free mascara (although someone recently gave me a tip on how to make my own).

On the alternatives front, I’ve come to realize how little you actually do need.  People always ask me about alternatives, and my list of essentials is actually not that big. You can simply live with less and be totally happy. Back to the store-bought granola bar, I totally don’t miss things like that; it is simply out of habit that we feel like we need all these convenient things.

Q: There seem to be two conflicting issues when it comes to this project. Some healthy, local, organic products come in plastic, whereas their non-plastic alternatives are either slightly less healthy, or come from far away. How do you balance these two issues?

A: I’m constantly battling with this one- so this answer will be rambly. It goes case-by-case:

When it comes to natural products wrapped in plastic, I simply say “no way!â€. If it were really green, it wouldn’t have the offending substance around it. Those companies will not be getting my money. There are always better options out there- and if the stores and/or creativity fail you, then you just give it up all together. No biggie.

When it comes to things like the soap nuts [natural nuts that can be used instead of laundry and dish soap], I always land on the side of the nuts versus a plastic-wrapped detergent. This is because plastic has a huge footprint. First, the manufacturing of it from petroleum is ridiculous.  As is its shipping from wherever it was made. And then the waste; the biggest thing for me is that the plastic will never go away. If I do my own lifecycle analysis comparing the two products, intuitively the nuts would always win, even if they are shipped too.  Now, there may be a better, local, alternative to the nuts- like a baking soda that was made here.  I use that too. 

(I could go on forever about cleaning products. Most people feel that they need so many different types of products, because that is what industry has wanted to sell us. Literally, you could use baking soda and/or soap nuts to do your whole house, clothes, and dishes. And the benefit is that you, your kids, and your pets won’t be suffering from all those chemicals. And what about things like the stain repellents on clothing? Is the lack of a spot really worth our health?)

When it comes to health versus plastic, health wins in most cases (as long as “health†does not mean unnecessary “green†alternatives). For example, I will buy medicine when needed. And I buy organic vegetables and produced now, even with the stupid plastic sticker, if no other option is available. This is because the pesticides have a huge impact too, both on the Earth and me. And at least the sticker is small, and I am supporting a greater cause by putting my money to organics. But again, with a little planning, I don’t have to shop in those places that over-sticker their products.

I guess on the whole, it is a balancing act. Everything we do has an impact. The question is, what is an acceptable impact for you personally?

Q: Have you encountered any people who do not support your project? How do you deal with any criticism?

A: On the whole, people are super stoked.  I don’t think anyone wakes up and looks forward to consuming plastic and polluting, so they are happy to know that life without it is possible. It is interesting how little it takes for their own awareness to kick in. The only negativity I have received so far came from the Styrofoam-interest association. It figures.

Taina’s awesome blog contains frequent updates, as well as information about the dangers of plastics and links to other plastic-free activists. Check it out yourself at http://plasticmanners.wordpress.com/

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Wow! Thanks for the inspiring story and great interview. I think it's amazing in our convenience driven culture that we fail to realize how truly inconvenient plastic is for humanity.

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We have a problem, now 3rd generation PV solar cell been developed into a paper light thin film that could cover all rooftops to supply energy but unfortunately it's plastic.

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Hey there Taina. What you are doing is really inspiring! We all need to make sure that we can reduce the use of plastics in our lives. Because it indeed is a nuisance! We are an Eco-friendly Hotel. At Fern Ecotel, we believe in trying to minimize usage of environmentally depreciative materials. Hard, though it is, we have managed to get some good results at that front.

You are doing a great job and must coaxe others to follow! Good luck in your cause :)

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I recycle and I find it hard to recycle everything - plus I actually have to haul mine to town to the recycling center.

I always have more plastic than anything else. I will be more observant to see what things I buy that come in a more friendly package.

Thanks for opening our eyes.

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