To start off my year of plastic free living, I created three plastic free preparedness kits to get me started off on the right foot. These kits made up of alternatives to single use plastics are easy to create and a cost efficient way to shop and eat.

Bringing your own mug to your local coffee shop and a bag to your grocer can save you between five and 15 cents each time. I did the math of potential savings for one person’s use of coffee cups and plastic bags (see table below) and over a lifetime those savings add up – up to $1,850. The more staggering numbers are the total cups and bags saved – 12,000 and 13,000 respectively. Imagine what that would look like if your whole family went plastic free, or even your whole community.

Potential Plastic Free Savings for One Person

Takeout Coffee Cup Five cups a week Plastic Bags Five bags a week
Savings Cups Saved Savings Bags Saved
Per item $0.10 $0.05
After 1 week $0.50 5 $0.25 5
After 1 year $24.00 240 $13.00 260
After 50 years $1,200.00 12,000 $650.00 13,000

Plastic free kits last a lifetime and they are easy to transport and store in your desk, purse, backpack, car, or pannier. Here are three kits I’ve created to help live plastic free:

Grocery Shopping Kit:

Items to include: Reusable cloth bags, bulk and produce bags, and paper bags for dry goods (e.g. bulk tea, spices, or mushrooms).

Some grocers prefer bulk and produce bags that are transparent – this is where mesh bags comes in handy. Though mesh is polyester (plastic based) material, the bags can be washed and reused for years. You can also buy or make your own cotton bulk bags.

Living Plastic Free

Stock up on a few different bag sizes and styles to complete your grocery shopping kit.

Dining Out and Coffee/Tea Kit:

Dining Out – Items to include: Fork, spoon or “spork,” napkin, metal straw, and glass container (optional).

Coffee/Tea – Travel mug or a glass jar and cozy.

Plastic Free Living

Keep a few items in your desk and car to always be prepared for a to-go meal.

“But what do I do when I forget my kit?” It happens to the best of us, forgetting your grocery bag or mug when you head to the store or coffee shop, whether you had made plans to go or not. Here are some quick tips to run through in those moments.

Grocery Shopping:

  • Find a grocery store that uses paper bags instead of plastic.
  • Evaluate whether the items you are thinking to buy are items you need right at that moment.
  • Could your items fit in a purse, backpack or carrier you currently have on you?
  • Make a last minute shopping bag out of your hoodie or scarf.

Eating-Out and Coffee/Tea:

  • Look for food vendors with compostable containers and utensils.
  • Have it “for here.”
  • Ask yourself, “Do I really need a coffee?” or “Can I wait until I have a reusable cup?”

January had many learning curves in store for me. Here is an image of my plastic count for that month – about 10 items I wasn’t able to substitute. My goal for February and March is to find alternatives to these items.

Plastic Free Living

Those plastic wrapped Babybel cheese are hard to give up!

While a plastic bag, lid or straw might be useful for all of three minutes, the life cycle of that item extends beyond production and consumption, living the rest of its 1,000 year life in landfills and oceans.

Want to spread the word on single use plastics and shoreline litter? Register today for Vancouver Aquarium and WWF’s Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, and make an impact on a shoreline in your community.

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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3 Responses

  1. Marcy Smith

    I was going to restrict this to a couple of questions, but then realized, I have a lot!

    1) Straws: where do you find metal straws? And does it change the taste? I’ve heard of glass straws, but I’m pretty sure I’ll break it.

    2) I’m all for composting food soiled paper. Do tea bags fall into this list? Some tea bags appear to be foil based. But some seam to be plastic coated paper. I’m not sure and is there an easy way to determine if paper has a plastic coating?

    3) Where do you buy cheese? I’ve checked the farmers markets and grocery stores for cheese that isn’t wrapped in plastic, to no avail. If you bring wax paper with you, will some vendors wrap the cheese in that? I have some Abeego sheets that I could use if I know where to take them.

    4) Have you tried making yogurt? It isn’t as hard as I thought it would be… 🙂

    5) I’ve heard that washing polyester does release plastic into the system as the polyester slowly breaks down in the wash. Can you confirm?

    I’ve been slowly reducing my plastic usage for the last couple of years. It has the happy side benefit of forcing me to eat healthier!!


    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks Marcy for your great questions. Here are Tanya’s responses:

      1) Straws: Health food stores carry them, places like Whole Foods, or you can purchase them online. I have a metal straw because I’m also worried about breaking a glass straw too, but have heard great reviews for glass straws which are built to be quite durable. They don’t change the taste of your drink, I think it actually tastes better. And cold drinks feel refreshingly colder!

      2) Tea bags: Paper tea bags can be composted, the plastic tea bags cannot. A great way to find out if it is paper or plastic is to try to rip the tea bag open, if it does not tear it’s plastic and if it tears easily it’s paper and can be composted. The same goes with tea bag wrappers, you can tell there is a plastic coating when you tear it, it will have a plastic film and won’t tear the same way as paper.
      Other options is to find tea bags or bulk tea that comes in tins, or a tea shop that sells in bulk they will usually allow you to bring and reuse your own container.

      3) Cheese: I can relate, it took me a while to figure out where to get plastic free cheese. First, find a deli or cheese shop that carries the large wheels or rounds of cheese. Be prepared, finding wheels of cheese with a natural wax coating can be tricky, most wheels are wrapped in plastic.
      Second, ask around various cheese shops or delis if they are okay with you bringing in your own container or Abeego sheets to package your cheese purchase.
      The upside to bringing your own container or wrapping is that at least if the cheese is wrapped in plastic, you are not generating more plastic waste by having it re-wrapped to take home.

      4) Homemade yogurt: I have! It is incredibly easy, and there are many great resources online that can teach others how to do it easily and safely.

      5) Polyester: Unfortunately it is true. The tiny fibres are called microplastics, and though they cannot always be seen with the human eye they are released from clothing with every wash.

  2. Randa

    Great reminders! Thanks for posting, I’ll be sure to share this idea at work and at church. I’m not as thorough as you, but hey, anyone can be inspired to improve, and to reduce the amount of plastic we willingly use!


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