An estimated nine million tonnes of plastic waste are being dumped into the world’s oceans each year. At this rate, it’s expected that plastic will outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
Many Canadian families want to cut down on their plastic waste but struggle to find realistic, practical ways to make it happen. Is it possible to cut back in a way that’s convenient? Can you punt plastic without committing to the lifestyle of a pioneer?
We went to Alyson Shaw, associate editor at National Geographic Kids, for some real life solutions.
Laurel Gregory: If a family wants to cut down on plastic waste, where can they start?
Allyson Shaw: So the first thing you need to start with is just noticing what’s passing through your hands. Especially busy parents can get lost in all the stuff that is going on day to day. The place to start with reducing your plastic is just to see where it is going. And so one good exercise is to try to sit with your plastic. Maybe that would be fun to do with your kids if they kind of like gross stuff because every time you open a plastic chip bag or have a reusable container, put it in a corner of your kitchen and just watch it grow. And then you can see what’s growing the most and see where you can make cuts. That’s where I would start.
LG: Would you recommend getting kids involved at a specific age? When are they old enough to get it?
AS: I think around eight to 11 is when kids are really interested in the environment and they are really interested in animals and that’s when they are ready to learn about all the problems going on. They are old enough to get that information. And so I feel like that’s the age when they are ready to take on this role as your little eco-conscious family member.
LG: So once families are finished their audit, what steps can they take to start cutting back?
AS: The first and easiest step is just to get a reusable water bottle and give each child their own. Let them decorate it. Let them pick it out. They can choose whatever they want and then make sure they are responsible for that bottle.
Basically you need to ban plastic water bottles from the home. It’s pretty easy to do. Tap water in general is very safe and available. So that’s a good place to start.
If you want to keep moving through the home you can switch to a bar of soap instead of soap out of a bottle. You can also switch to bar shampoo and conditioner, which can be more fun … A lot of kids I know are really into the bath bomb thing right now and so that’s way more fun than soap bubbles out of a bottle. It’s fun, they can make their own and it’s plastic-free.
LG: Any tips when packing lunches, because that’s often where we see plastic zip bags or cling wrap?
AS: Ya, definitely. If you are packing your kid’s lunch, I use beeswax wraps for sandwiches. They are really easy to clean. Or just cloth. Or we have instructions on the website for how to make a lunch bag out of jeans, an old pair of jeans or an old T-shirt. So you just toss the food in there. It’s really easy to clean, you can just throw it in the wash with the rest of your clothes.
LG: When you look at each part of the household, which areas represent the biggest hurdles in eliminating plastic?
AS: It’s probably the kitchen and the bathroom because that’s where single use plastic really comes into play.
You’re at the grocery store and the thing that you want is spinach and it’s wrapped in a plastic bag. What are you going to do? So that’s a struggle. You have to be really creative if you are shopping as a low waste ethos. You have to be willing to walk away from products that are wrapped in plastic, which can be difficult especially with kids.
Especially with kids that really like certain snacks. They really want this one type of cracker that comes wrapped in plastic. That’s tricky. But one thing we recommend, is to shop with your kids at a grocery store that has a bulk section and let them pick out whatever kind of trail mix type of stuff and then make it an activity to fill up banana chips and candy and pretzels and all the stuff that is in the bulk.
LG: Any other tips?
AS: My favourite tip, because it’s so fun, is when you go to the ice cream shop, because it is such a treat, just get it in a cone instead of a cup. Because the cup is usually Styrofoam. It comes with a plastic spoon and why be wasteful when you can eat a delicious waffle cone?
LG: What if your child wants to get involved in reducing waste outside the home?
AS: We also have a guide on the website for how kids can push back on restaurants a little bit. If they are interested in talking to a business about reducing plastic, we have a whole guide on how kids can do that.
We have a little guide for how to do a Saturday morning neighbourhood cleanup safely. You might want to contact the neighbourhood association or the city, depending on where you want to do it, just to make sure it’s OK. And then you want to make sure you wear protective gear, especially for kids. You don’t want to get hurt. Never pick up anything that seems unsafe. Let your neighbourhood friends know for kids that this is something you want to do together and collect the trash.
With files from Josh K. Elliot, Global News.