The Plastic Dilemma

MATT: With the weather getting warmer and summer finally around the corner, it has been great to get outdoors and go for walks around town on weeknights and weekends. While its always nice to get out and enjoy a beautiful sunset and some fresh air, it is also fun to treat yourself every once in a while. On one such walk, we went to our local Dairy Queen for the first ice cream of the summer.

Of course my sweet tooth was absolutely craving more than just an ice cream cone – and given this long cold winter, it had been months since we had gone out and enjoyed a nice cool treat in the sun. Since this was the first ice cream of the season, I went all in and got a chocolate fudge cookie sundae 🙂 Not only was it delicious, but I couldn’t wait to go back and have another one. On finishing the delicious chocolate sundae, I realized that it had come in a plastic container, and there was nowhere to put that plastic container (and plastic spoon) other than in the garbage. Since started this blog, I have become more aware of things that are bad for the environment and one of the biggest culprits is the abundant use of plastic.

Sad to see plastic bags lining the branches of a beautiful tree on our evening walks 🙁

VASU: With each year almost 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean, it is no wonder that even the deepest parts of the planet are now plagued by plastic. Recently I saw how plastic wrappers and bags were found in the deepest part of the ocean – in the Mariana Trench, where even light doesn’t reach!! Imagine that, our destructive habits are now changing vulnerable ecosystems that have existed for thousands of years, even before our species came into existence.

According to a California-based non-profit called Plastic Oceans, microplastics are now found everywhere – including in food, drinking water and even our blood streams. Countries like Canada are big waste producers and those of you that follow the news must have heard about the recent scandal about how Western countries are exporting their plastics to developing ones like the Philippines.

This definitely makes us think that the blue box (plastic recycling we all feel so good about) is now ending up half way around the world – creating different problems (like a public health crisis due to plastic burning and land contamination). I hate to say it, but this is a classic example of a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude and it is definitely not helping reduce our plastic addiction.

Here is an excellent article in the CBC that talks about how our consumption-based lifestyles (where even small things like buying take-out) are making recycling products like plastics unsustainable. This article also talks about how the recycling industry is unable to keep up the demand that every disposable plastic (think about what’s in your fridge – from yogurt containers to individually wrapped cheese slices to frozen veggie bags) is now bringing. Yet governments or municipalities are not creating more recycling centres or even changing the supply chain (from plastic to zero waste) to meet this demand.

MATT: When you really think about it, there is plastic that comes with all foods that we buy or things we use. When we go to the grocery store, basically all the processed food is packaged or wrapped in some sort of plastic and so is the produce. Cucumbers, peppers, coconuts, even avocados are individually wrapped to “preserve freshness” and provide “appropriate portion sizes” to the consumer. Foods that are wrapped in plastic and then boxed in plastic are then purchased and placed into plastic grocery bags. We then take it home and throw that plastic away.

MATT & VASU: And with more and more landfills getting filled up and even other countries (like China and the Philippines) are finally saying no to waste – does the responsibility not lie with our elected representatives or even our large grocery-chains to deal with the plastic problem. So here you may ask, if it is their issue, why should we individuals care? Well, simply put, you are the ones that elect them or end up buying your weekly groceries from them. And these elected representatives or large grocery-stores need to respond to changing customer and social values if they are to stay relevant. Times are changing, especially with more and more young people getting access to information on harmful impacts of plastic.

We found this really interesting video from CBC marketplace which shows how different families and individuals are changing their habits when it comes to plastics at the grocery store.

CBC Marketplace video on how buying plastic-free groceries is harder than you think, but the solution lies in individual and collective action on demanding change.

Sadly, we have all seen the videos of how disposable single-use plastic straws can create havoc on marine life. The plastic dilemma is not an issue for just the government or companies. It is a question for all of us that use it in our daily lives, as to how much do we think we can do something about it?

MATT: Even if we put in the extra effort and sort and recycle that plastic most of it doesn’t end up being properly recycled. People are aware of all the needless plastic we consume and are willing to use less of it, however retailers find it cheaper and easier to use plastic to ship and sell foods so they keep doing it. When we go out shopping, we need to make a conscious effort to choose foods that have less or no plastics – that way retailers will notice our changing purchasing habits. It is a small step, but it definitely has a big impact on how many plastic bags we use!

MATT & VASU: So here are some tips from our life that can help you reduce your own plastic footprint:

  1. Bring reusable plastic bags when you go grocery shopping – now we are buying reusable cloth bags to bag produce (like carrots, peppers, beans, tomatoes, apples etc) at the grocery stores. You can check similar ones on Amazon or Well.ca.
  2. Go to your local farmer’s market to buy fresh and non-packaged food. Bring your reusable bags and don’t forget that supporting local is another step towards reducing your grocery’s carbon and travel footprint.
  3. We are looking into switching from plastic resealable bags to getting a compostable and natural alternative called bees wrap. However, this is a choice you can make by looking in the pros and cons of it. If not, try to rewash your plastic reusable bags and reuse them more than once.
  4. Know which plastic can be recycled and which cannot. This is very context and region dependent so make sure to check out what your municipality recommends. For us, here is what the Region of Waterloo recommends.
  5. One interesting tip is to reuse those milk bags and other plastic bags. Here is an article that talks about repurposing them in 11 different ways. If you are into arts and crafts, think of ways you can repurpose them into artwork or even mattresses. Here’s one resource to check out how to turn grocery bags into a rug.
  6. We recently switched from using plastic tupperware to glass tupperware for our lunches as well as in storing things. An excellent online store that is solely dedicated to not using plastic is Life Without Plastic! Check them out and see what cool home and wellness products you can buy, that will make you feel good about taking baby steps to cut your plastic lifestyle.
  7. And lastly, start talking about it! Even if it is just with your friends, partner, kids or colleagues. The first step is always awareness. And the second step is sending a letter or calling your local politician or grocery store to find out what they are doing about transitioning away from plastic.

Food Waste to Food Research

Shopping at the local farmer’s markets is a great way to make sure you have quality, delicious produce for the week.

VASU: This week started off with two things going bad in the fridge. The spinach went soft and the corn on the cob went kinda mushy – not the most ideal week when we were looking forward to having some palak paneer (pureed spinach and paneer) as well as pairing the corn on the cob with our Taco Fridays.

As upset as we were at the Kelvinator aka our fridge (the landlord refuses to upgrade or respond to any of our non-urgent requests), we also shared the blame in this week’s food disaster. To be honest, there have been times before when the food has gone bad due to the Kelvinator having a mind of its own (being from the late 90s, it sometimes gets super cold and other times it goes to room temperature – no wonder food goes bad!). And although we always feel guilty and a bit upset about having to throw food out, since starting this green life challenge to reduce our carbon footprint it makes us even more guilt-riddled than ever. So by sharing even our bad experiences, we hope that you can be inspired to make a change (like we are doing) when it comes to food waste!

Meet the Kelvinator! Okay we are guilty of overstuffing the fridge here -but hosting dinner party’s is no joke 😉

MATT: Another helpful way to look at food waste is how it affects your budget. Throwing out food literally feels like you’re throwing your money in the garbage. In Canada, more than half the food that is produced ends up going to waste at some point in the cycle, whether it be during production, retail or after the consumer has purchased it. It may seem like we’re just throwing out a little bit here and there every week, but the average Canadian household has over $1700 worth of food waste ever year.

Second Harvest, a food rescue organization, estimates that there is over 56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions are created every year from food waste in Canada alone. A study done by the EU also says that 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food waste. The amount of energy that goes into food waste is shocking when you think about all the processes in place from when food is produced to when it is brought home. All the energy that goes into producing the food, then shipping the food to retailers and then transporting it back home for it to not even be eaten is crazy. I remember working my first job as a butcher at the local grocery store and even meat (which has the highest carbon footprint) was thrown out on a daily basis.

Two of the main culprits for avoidable food waste have to do with buying unnecessary amounts of food and not understanding proper storage shelf life for food. People tend get all excited when food items go on sale and end up buying bulk amounts – some of which eventually gets thrown away if it is not eaten in time. We also go to the grocery store and buy food without a plan for the meals we will make that week – this is something we are trying to change in our own lives now. We found that sometimes we bought unnecessary foods that didn’t get eaten because they didn’t go in the meals we made that week.

A simple fix is to plan our meals throughout the week better so that we buy properly for the week ahead. We also need to improve our understanding of how different foods need to be kept. The shelf life of food is drastically impacted by the conditions it is kept in, whether it’s the fridge or at room temperature. Having worked at a grocery store, I know that sometimes we are also too strict about “best-before” dates and take it to mean that after that date the food is automatically no good. These dates are usually very conservative and nothing will happen once it hits midnight on the best before date. If we just make a few simple changes daily in how we purchase and eat food it can have a big impact on the environment in the long-run.

MATT & VASU: The following are some tips we found on this awesome website called Save The Food, which not only helps with food prep ideas and meal plans, but also how to store your food the right way (who knew that eggplants and tomatoes needed to be stored at room temp)! We came across this website while doing research on food waste and how to reduce it when you do meal preps. Another super helpful resource is this video by a YouTube food vlogger called Fablunch: 10 Food Waste Hacks.

A good way to eat different kinds of produce (that is about to expire) is to experiment and make recipes – here is an avocado toast with eggs and cherry tomatoes for breakfast!

Lessons in Water Conservation: From Kitchener to Our Kitchens

Twitter update by City of Kitchener (April 25, 2019)

MATT:

“You never really know how much you miss something until it’s gone”

This saying has been said so many times that sometimes it feels as though it has lost meaning. However, when the water main broke in downtown Kitchener today, I couldn’t help but realize how important water was and how everyone uses it in their day-to-day lives. The reach of the outage was so widespread as it resulted in a bit of panic among those going to work and schools.

Something as simple as going to wash your hands couldn’t be done because there was no water pressure. It is definitely something you don’t think will ever happen until it does and when that happens life gets disrupted. One can’t imagine even going part of the day without it, let alone possibly a prolonged period of time.

Mistakes like hitting a water main due to construction are uncommon, yet they happen and luckily it is something that the municipality is able to fix right away. But given how climate change is progressing and the lack of readiness to tackle it right now, we have to start thinking about what we can do when we do not have as much water at our disposal.

In a place like Canada, water (and potable or fresh drinking water) is definitely something that we take for granted on a daily basis. There are so many places all over the world where access to water is only available during a few hours of the day. Water can be extremely difficult to come by because its kilometers away or there has been long periods of drought.

VASU:

In fact, one such place that experiences scarcity of water is in India – especially in the state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital). Right now the drought this year is seemingly worse than ever before. Ground water levels are very low, live water storage in reservoirs has dwindled to less than 10% and temperatures have soared (with 40 degrees Celsius being the daily average) with no rainfall relief in sight. I read a very interesting article on this water crisis and how a lot of this is almost man-made. For those of you interested in learning more about how public policies and our actions impact water conservation efforts, check out The Marathwada’s Dry Story.

MATT:

Yes, I remember being in India when it was middle of the summer and how unbearable the heat was even in those conditions. Having access to water in a part of the world where it is that hot can literally be a life saver. But even today’s experience with water made me realize that soon in Canada we will not just be impacted by water-related events (droughts, flooding or even extreme rainfall) for short periods of time, but the things that we take for granted, like clean drinking water, will be impacted for much longer. This is why it is important to make changes and be conscience of the choices you make now so that there will be more water to use in the future. Doing this we won’t be forced to think about how we could have done things differently and been more careful with water if we had only known better.

MATT & VASU:

Since this was how our day played out today we thought much about water and how important of a resource it is in our daily lives. That is why we wanted to share some interesting tips that we follow when it comes to our own water conservation:

Tweets by the City of Kitchener on how residents can save water by using water efficient shower heads (City of Kitchener, 2019)
  • Be Prepared: Especially when it comes to water, preparedness means having spare bottled water at home incase there is an interruption in the supply or another emergency situation.
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: The 3R’s are important when it comes to water conservation. Reducing usage by either having shorter showers, reusing extra tea kettle water to water plants (after it has cooled ofcourse!), washing dishes in the sink or brushing your teeth without running the tap can all be good starting points.
  • Household Chores: Always do a full load of laundry (and use cold water if you want to save energy too) – it is most efficient in terms of water use. Water your plants at night time, since evaporation is the lowest then. Figure out other ways that you can conserve your water use by combining chores or making them more efficient.
  • Rethink Your Drinking Habits: Use tap water for drinking (it is pristine and safe here in Canada – that’s a luxury most of the world doesn’t get!), put a jug of water in the fridge if you want cold water in the summers, do not buy bottled water (unless absolutely necessary), carry your own bottle when you travel and use public fountains to fill them up.