Life without plastic
The early days of Taina Uitto’s life without plastic weren’t easy.
“The first time I went shopping at the grocery store it was really hard,” she recalled. “I came out with an apple, only because I didn’t want to come out with nothing. Even that had a plastic sticker on it.”
Now, three years in to her selfimposed year without plastic, there is no going back. “I just feel so much better without the weight of all that waste and all the toxins that plastic leaches into our water and our fo Nike Factory od and even the chemicals in the soaps and cosmetics,” said Uitto, a marine conservationist.
Some of her solutions are a little unappetizing: “Choose a toothbrush with natural bristles and a biodegradable handle. Mine is boar bristles and bone (the wet pig taste goes away in time).”
But many others are easy personal fixes to address the mounting global plastic pollution crisis.
Uitto began her quest while she was working with Sea Choice, the David Suzuki Foundation’s sustainable seafood certification program. She viewed a presentation by the research and advocacy group 5 Gyres on the massive plastic garbage patches that have accumulated in the world’s oceans. “That really shocked me,” she said. “It literally broke my heart.”
The Great Pacific garbage patch is a collection of plastic debris spread over an area between Japan and California, essentially a confetti of degrading plastic bits concentrated by the ocean’s natural currents. It is one of five such pollution gyres in the world’s oceans.
A recent analysis from the University of Oregon also notes that the ocean floor near populated areas is covered with sunken plastics. “Even though I didn’t do anything about it for a long time it stuck in my mind,” she reca Nike Factory lled. “At that point I didn’t own a tiffin, never brought a cup to the coffee shop I was just having a normal life.”
But images of water samples full of decaying material and albatrosses with their stomachs bulging with garbage seemed to be everywhere for Uitto. The nauseating sight of seaborne junk and dead birds gnawed at her mind until one day, she snapped.
On Jan. 1, 2010, Uitto purged the plastics from her kitchen and bathroom. “I wanted to start with a clean slate and force myself to come up with alternatives and, second, I wanted to get rid of the toxic things that live in plastic, like personal care products and cleaning products.”
Uitto started with a single Rubbermaid bin to collect the bottles, brushes, containers
and other products, but filled it after clearing out just one drawer. “I was determined, but not prepared,” she admitted.
By the time she was done, her front room was waist deep in food packaging, personal care products, g Nike Factory arbage bags and various gadgets, tubs and containers. “It was pretty intense,” she said. “I challenged six other families to quit plastic as well and they all said the same thing: They weren’t aware of how much plastic they had and they had all felt like they were already eco consumers.”
Matthew Stewart and his girlfriend Sarah Milton took the challenge and filled six boxes when they purged their home.
“It was a drastic change in lifestyle,” said Stewart. “Where we used to go to the store and buy things like almond milk, we just started making them ourselves. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen together, it was really kind of romantic.”
Uitto has chronicled her journey and those of her families in a still unfinished documentary film and in her blog, Plastic Manners.
“People always say they don’t use that much plastic, but until you collect it even for a week and pull all the plastic from your kitchen, you don’t know,” she said. “It’s a shocking exercise.”
Uitto’s kitchen and bathroom shelves look cleaner and far more spacious after the purge, or “sophisticated,” as she put it. “It feels a lot less cluttered and the things I bought to replace them look and feel a lot nicer.”
Many of the cosmetics, cleansers and shampoos she seldom used and really doesn’t miss.”I was one of those women that felt naked without mascara. But I had to stop wearing makeup,” she said. “The benefit of that is that I can rub my eyes whenever I want.”
“I had to simplify my personal care routine . a lot,” she explained. “Finding a deodorant was hard, but now I have my little collection of things that work for me. I have five things instead of 500 things in the bathroom.”
The lowest hanging fruit on the plastic tree is the plastic shopping bag, according to Uitto. They are easily replaced with relatively benign cloth bags. “I haven’t missed shopping bags since Day 1,” she said. “Now when I touch a plastic bag if someone leaves one at my house it’s a weird object and I think it smells bad.”
Slightly more challenging and insidious are produce bags. Watching people load their cloth shopping bags with a dozen plastic produce bags is an especially tragic irony to Uitto. Ditto for plastic bags in the bulk aisle.
“How does it help to stuff your cloth bags full of plastic?” she said, laughing.
She subverts the established order of grocery shopping by using paper bags supplied for mushrooms to bag all her produce and dry bulk items, or she brings her own paper bags, dried and reused for as long as possible. Of course.
Uitto and her boyfriend Nino Kinmont are living plastic free, but it is very much a life on the fringes of society. As though to prove the point, they are building a cabin on Denman Island with the intention of living “off the grid.”
A plastic free life is an extreme challenge. Tensions may arise between couples and family members when certain products are forbidden.
Most beer cans and bottle caps are lined with plastic, requiring a trip to the local nano brewery for a refillable, plastic free growler of beer. A handful of strong specialty beers are sealed with cork and wire, if that’s your cup of tea.