This January I took on a personal challenge to live a plastic free year. No straws, no plastic wrapped cheese, no shampoo bottles. Nothing.

A few years ago I had a drawer full of plastic-bottled hair products and was addicted to the conveniences of takeout coffee cups and plastic shopping bags. The more I learned about plastics working at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, the more I saw the negative impact plastic debris had on the environment.

Living a plastic free life

Plastic debris is all around us.

The thought of living plastic free can be overwhelming at first, but fortunately there are many alternatives to everyday single use plastics. Plastic has invaded our lives and it no longer makes sense to use an item that litters shorelines or sits in landfills for thousands of years because it doesn’t break down. Plastics are also invading our waterways and harming marine animals such as the hundreds of sea lions off the coast of B.C. who are entangled in marine debris.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue

Dr. Haulena works to disentangle a sea lion from marine debris.

Switching to sustainable alternatives can actually save money while also helping the environment. Committing to an entire plastic free year may not be for everyone, but there are small steps you can take every day to help reduce your carbon footprint:

  1. Start today: Don’t think about yesterday or the plastics you used last year. Just focus on what you can do today to make a difference.
  2. Set rules: Set some ground rules for how you want to use fewer plastics in your life. Will you allow compostable plastics? Will you purge all disposable plastics from your home, or just focus on new plastics? What about gifts containing plastic? Set a few rules based on your comfort level, and remember not to be too hard on yourself if you forget.
  3. Start small: Choose two or three items to start with. Maybe it’s a single use plastic item like bags, straws, takeout coffee cups or plastic cutlery. If we all commit to making small changes in our lives, it will have a big impact on our environment.

Since I began working with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, a joint venture with the WWF Canada, I have learned a lot from volunteers across Canada on the most common types of plastic litter they find along shorelines. The “Dirty Dozen” list below highlights the top 12 items found along shorelines last year. Notice something? Nearly every item listed contains plastic.


2014 Dirty Dozen

  Items Number Removed
1 Cigarettes/Cigarette Filters 329,562
2 Food Wrappers 75,768
3 Bottle Caps (Plastic) 37,994
4 Beverage Bottles (Plastic) 35,482
5 Beverage Cans 27,500
6 Other Plastic / Foam Packaging 24,994
7 Straws / Stirrers 24,482
8 Other Plastic Bags 23,296
9 Bottle Caps (Metal) 20,551
10 Lids (Plastic) 20,077
11 Grocery Bags (Plastic) 18,232
12 Cups & Plates (Paper) 15,183

Challenge yourself this new year by trying a plastic free day, week, month or year. What are the top two items you could start with?

Plastic free living

Tanya shares her tips and inspiration on working towards a plastic free life.

Interested in seeing the amount of plastic shoreline litter for yourself? Registration for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, begins March 1 all across Canada.

Tanya Otero is the volunteer engagement coordinator for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup at the Vancouver Aquarium. Over a series of blog posts, Tanya will share her journey towards living a plastic free life including tips and ideas on how we can all work towards reducing our plastic consumption.  

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4 Responses

  1. Bren Murphy

    Hi Tanya,
    It’s a great suggestion to get started on a Plastic Free Life by setting aside a single day, and seeing how you go. I’ll admit many of us will find it quite overwhelming to see just how much single use plastic is embedded in our routines. And going from one day to then stringing a whole week together…
    It’s always about progress and following the mindful process – not perfection or going 100%.
    Thank you

  2. adam

    Here’s a great way to reduce consumption of those darn plastic bags! Here’s another method of getting your groceries home in an environmentally responsible way. Every grocery store gets their products in boxes. They end up getting recycled. Ask any staff member in the produce section for a sturdy banana box, and they will bring you one, two, or three boxes. Pack your groceries in the boxes, Tetris-style. Once home, you can re-use boxes multiple ways. Use it for storage, a moving box, break down the box and use it for sheet mulching in your garden. Compost the box. Cut it into strips and use it for fire starter. Kids can paint them and make castles and houses out of them. Stack them to store tools or clothes. A good banana box has a million uses and it is a shame they are only used once. Worse case scenario, send it to recycling-where it was headed anyways

  3. Brenda

    I think what you are doing is great, I to have been decreasing my plastic consumption, it’s easy, by using canvas bags for all my shopping, buying products in bulk.


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