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Trying to live 7 days without any plastic

Working mother succeeds with bottles, bags but when it comes to food, well, not so much

Apr 19, 2009


My editor asks me if I think I can live for a week without plastic and I stupidly agree, thinking it will fulfill a fantasy of mine.

I dream of whacking every plastic toy that has been brought into our house since my son was born four years ago. My fantasy includes a brown packing box, the Goodwill and a shopping expedition to The Toy Space Inc., an eco-friendly, family-owned store that sells wooden toys.

My son will buy educational hand puppets and grow up to be an acclaimed actor. Or a best-selling author, telling Vanity Fair that he got his start making up stories for Peter and Patty puppet.

Second thoughts sour my fantasy as I mentally scan the contents of our house. The meat we buy is wrapped in plastic. So are the mushrooms, milk, cereal, bread and sparkling water. My toothbrush is plastic. I think the bumper on our Dodge Caravan is plastic.

I decide to try anyway. With everything going green these days, I should be able to make it up as I go along.

As it turns out, even organic produce is wrapped in plastic and a good, plastic-free water bottle is hard to find.


I talk to my son about getting rid of his plastic toys. He looks up at me thoughtfully, his plastic soother bobbing up and down in his mouth.


How about the broken ones?

"No, Mommy." He tilts his head to one side.

I know what he's thinking: Is this going to require tears?

I tell him what plastic is and how it's bad for the environment. I can tell he feels important about being able to help the Earth.

I end up with 10 toys, four of which he yanks back the next day.

Which isn't bad, considering I've been trying for two years to get him to give up the soother.


Shopping in a rush at Loblaws, I grab an organic banana and an organic apple. It's not until I've paid that I realize that I put the single apple in a plastic produce bag. I'm shocked at how automatic my use of plastic is.


Running family errands at Yonge and Eglinton, we stop at What a Bagel for a snack. I pop some cinnamon rolls into a paper bag. My son, who hoovers up any candy positioned at his eye level, spots a gingerbread man and begins batting his fabulous eyelashes at me.

It's hectic, there's a crowd, we're in line, I say yes. At our table I realize the gingerbread man is wrapped in plastic. My son is already halfway through it, pink icing smeared around his mouth.

I didn't want to buy water in a plastic bottle and now he's thirsty. I ask the cashier for water in a foam cup, and when she obliges, I gratefully add 50 cents to her tip jar. But have I actually achieved anything here?

Franz Hartmann, executive director of Toronto Environmental Alliance, says yes. "Better not to have Styrofoam at all, but given the comparison you definitely did the right thing. The water wasn't transported from who-knows-where."


My husband calls me from the grocery store. Pork tenderloin is on sale!

"The vacuum-packed ones in plastic?"

He groans and hangs up.

He arrives home with pork tenderloin wrapped in waxed brown paper by the butcher. But it's also wrapped in plastic.

"He did it before I could tell him to stop," says my husband.

That night, I find a post from a long-ago colleague on my Facebook page. She's running a business that has started stocking – I can hardly believe this – organic produce bags.


Nancy DeHart runs KaiKids.com, selling ethical, eco-friendly clothing and accessories for babies, toddlers, new moms and moms-to-be. Not only will I be buying plastic-free, I won't be supporting child labour.

The machine-washable produce bags sell for $6 for small ones, $8 for large. Stainless-steel lunch tins are $25 each, and a two-pack of little tins (for salad dressing or sauces) is $15. I buy four organic produce bags, two lunch tins and a two-pack of tins for salad dressing. The bill comes to $105 with taxes.

Even DeHart hasn't been able to find a plastic-free water bottle, so I settle for stainless-steel bottles with plastic tops, for $22 each.

Then I hit The Big Carrot on Danforth. Lots of organic products here. A lot of them wrapped in plastic. I manage to find organic penne that comes in a sugar cane package for $4.59 and milk in a one-litre reusable glass bottle for $3.69. The pasta is delicious and I love the way the glass milk bottle looks, but our family can't afford paying that much for milk.

A few steps east on the Danforth, at Grassroots, I find some reusable utensils made from potato starch and a lettuce bag for the fridge to replace my lettuce Tupperware container.

I'm ready to bring lunch to work.


The stainless-steel lunch tins are visually appealing and work well. It's a treat to carry my lunch in something so attractive, unlike the dim plastic containers I typically use, and have always found vaguely embarrassing. They were suburban. Now I'm avant-garde.

A co-worker tells me that I'm actually using a popular South Asian lunch container called a tiffin box. I find pages of online suppliers, including www.citychef.ca, which sells a two-tier for $15, three-tier for $18 and four-tier for $20.


Having to think so much about plastic has made me more mindful of what I buy and eat. Milk is a precious resource when it's $3.69 a litre.

I realize that I shop like a robot in big grocery stores, mindlessly pushing a giant cart down giant aisles. I buy too much and schlep it all home in a dozen plastic bags. It's not exactly a sensory extravaganza.

I decide to try out my new produce bags at the St. Lawrence Market.



I flash my organic bags all over the market. No one notices, except a cashier because I say: "Ever seen bags like this?" (She hadn't.)

I am surprised to find that a lot of the organic produce in the market is wrapped in plastic. So is the handmade pasta, although certainly not as much plastic as the pasta you find in grocery stores.

I buy fresh bread and pop it into a paper bag. I buy maple syrup from Quebec in a tin. I watch a group of giggling school kids swarm through the market buying souvenirs. Nothing robotic about this.

The week is over and it's just as well. We're a working couple with a pre-schooler and three part-time teenagers. We have to choose our battles.

We'll go back to buying milk in plastic bags. We'll buy meat wrapped in plastic when it's on sale.

But with gusto, I fill a recycling bag with plastic food containers and toss them out. I'll never buy them again. I resolve never to buy produce wrapped in plastic either, and to shop more often at markets. The next gift I buy my son is made of wood. Plastic water bottles are verboten.

When he sees his new metal water bottle on the kitchen counter, my son grabs it and then stops dead in his tracks. He looks up at me. "Is this plastic?"

"No." He runs off.

Maybe we all learned something.

As Published at: http://www.thestar.com/news/GTA/article/620840

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