Read about a No-Plastics Month campaign from Beth Jenkins of the Nepean Club (responsible for the CFUW Single-Use Plastic Resolution).   Could we do this in Stratford for Earth Day for the month of April?


Lightweight, versatile, economical, and durable, plastics have become a part of almost every aspect of our lives ranging from essential life saving medical equipment to coffee stir sticks. The explosion of plastic production since the 1970s has provided many benefits but has also created a massive waste disposal problem. We are just beginning to understand the toll on the environment, animal, and human health all along the plastic life cycle, as well as associated economic and social justice issues.

There is no shortage of facts and statistics about plastics and their effect on our world;

• Since 1950, 9.2 billion tons of plastic has been produced, 7 billion tons has become waste (1) More plastic was produced in the first decade of this century than in the previous 40 years. (2)

• About 400 million tons of plastic is produced annually, (3)

This (and plastic waste) is projected to triple by 2060 (4)                                                                 Upwards of 50% is meant to be used only once (5) with single use plastics being the most rapidly growing area of plastic production (2)                                                                                                         • 19 – 23 million tons of plastic waste enters aquatic systems annually as macro and micro plastics (6)                                                                                                                                           

In water systems. It poses risks to the marine life, and in land fill it contaminates the soil and ground waters – all entering the global food chain. (2,7)                                                                            • The world throws away about 500 billion plastic cups every year,(12) and the US alone throws away about 25 billion Styrofoam cups annually(7)

• Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, was patented in 1973 and designed specifically to hold carbonated drink. It was revolutionary, almost unbreakable and lightweight. In 2019 more than 500 billion PET bottles were being sold each year (8) more than half of these for bottled water (9) About 14% of all litter comes from beverage containers (9)

• 3.7% of global greenhouse gases come from plastic production, by 2060 the emissions are projected to more than double from 1.8 billion tons to 4.3 billion tons (10)

• Less than 10 % of plastic has been recycled, and less than 1% recycled more than once – not necessarily because consumers don’t want to recycle, but because plastics often contain many different chemicals and pose challenges for recycling – it is cheaper to and easier to make virgin plastics. (11)

The numbers are staggering and hard to relate to on a personal level – what does all of this mean?

In April 2022, we invited Rebecca Prince-Ruiz to help us understand the plastic issue as a speaker in our series:  “Tackling the Environmental Crisis: together we can”. (You can watch her excellent presentation at Rebecca clearly remembers the day when the meaning of all these facts and figures hit home for her.

Rebecca has spent most of her career in Western Australia working in the fields of resource management, as well as waste and sustainability education. Like many of us she dutifully filled up her recycle bin but had not given much thought to the ultimate fate of her household waste. A trip to a recycling centre in June 2011 changed her life forever. Seeing the sheer volume of material, “the collective impact of our consumption” hit home. And what about all of the plastic that doesn’t get recycled, or is sent to landfill?

Rebecca felt that she personally needed to do something differently and impulsively announced to family and colleagues that she was going plastic free in July that year – everyone was invited to join her.

That first Plastic Free July was an eye opener for the small but determined group in Western Australia – there was a lot to learn about finding alternatives to nonessential single-use plastic, mostly in the form of packaging.

Everyone found it a challenge, no one was able to be entirely successful, and shopping trips were frustrating. When members of the team found plastic packaging that they could not avoid, they put it in the “Dilemma Bag” and focussed on joint problem solving. Their philosophy was to be positive – just get started and learn as you go. 

There was an appetite for this type of approach and by the 2nd year, over 400 people participated in Australia and five other countries (including Canada).  As the Challenge grew, it continued (1) to focus more on helping people find solutions and less on the problem, and (2) to keep the ask sensible. The expectation was not that participants would avoid all single use plastic; that would be unrealistic and unachievable. Instead, the view is to have many people making small changes – this would have a global impact. This approach gave people the tools and confidence they needed to begin to make a change, and often one change would lead to another. 

By 2017, the Challenge had become a global success, and a non-profit charity, the Plastic Free Foundation Limited, was established to help support participants and work towards its vision of a world free from plastic waste. Plastic Free July is now an award-winning campaign that has a growing impact: in 2022 over 140 million people from 195 countries made changes that reduced their waste by 18KG per person per year representing 2.6 million tons of waste, and 88% of participants made at least one lasting change. (13)

In Canada the recent federal ban is already phasing out a number of single use plastics like checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks and straws so we have a good start. CFUW Nepean has been a strong supporter of reducing single use plastic with a Resolution in 2021 that was accepted nationally and was recently adopted at the international level by GWI.

However, even when we want to act, it can be hard to take those first steps. Making changes can feel uncomfortable and daunting so, to start, pick just one thing that is achievable and appropriate for your life –  Make your changes at your own speed. A first step can be as simple as sitting down to have a cup of coffee served in a real mug instead of a take-away cup, and then perhaps this could become a routine.

You may be surprised that once you take that first step, it is not as hard to sustain as you thought. Every situation is different and not every alternative is an option for everyone: Here are some ideas on where you might start to reduce your single use plastic consumption –

           Instead of                                           Consider

Plastic fruit and veggies bags            Cloth or mesh bags

Bottled shampoos, conditioners        Hand soap Bar products

Bottled laundry detergent                 Pods or Laundry detergent strips

Dryer sheets                                        Wool dryer balls

Dishwasher pods                                Tablets in plastic free packaging

Plastic food storage bags                   Repurpose resealable pita/naan bags

Instead of                                                                  Consider

Meat/Poultry on Styrofoam and plastic         Butchery or deli products wrapped in paper

Plastic wrapped bread, buns, cookies            Bakery products in paper bags and boxes

Fruit wrap; Veggies in plastic clam shells      Loose produce or in basket

Plastic wrap                                                        Parchment paper, wax paper, beeswax sheets

Bottled water                                                      Refillable container with tap water

Bottled juices                                                      Reconstitute from frozen in cans

Prepackaged candies, nuts etc.                        Buy in bulk using your own containers

Other things you can do?

• Start a conversation with friends, family, grandchildren about reducing single use plastic.

• Encourage your family, religious organization, your social groups (book club, bridge, curling, tennis, choir), to eliminate plastic and Styrofoam cups. and bottled water at their events

• Learn what is going on in your community and City – get engaged in consultations and webinars.

Eventually, innovation will find ways to safely produce and manage plastic and plastic alternatives. It may be hard to relate to the figures, but one conclusion is clear: we need to consume less plastic.