Ditch single-use everything

I hope single use isn't on your shopping radar.

Take a short stroll down the aisles of your favourite grocery store and it becomes pretty obvious just how reliant we’ve become on ready-made, single-use and over-packaged items.

  • Pre-cut fruits and veggies
  • Snack packs in mini plastic pouches
  • Bottled water,
  • Single-use coffee pods

The list goes on and on.

And unless you cook from scratch only and are in the no-packaged-food-allowed camp (I want to meet you!), you’ve likely popped your fair share of these goodies into your shopping buggy.

We all lead busy lives, looking for shortcuts when it comes to food prep and getting meal to table, day in day out.

So, what’s the big deal with single-use and over-packaged items, you ask?  

While the packaging and delivery of some of those items we are buying can be recycled, lots can’t. And that means these items are filling up landfills and littering our environment.

Let’s look at some of the common culprits that we can’t recycle.

Cling wrap for instance, around just about anything packaged these days – Garbage, not for the recycling cart.

The same goes for single-use plastic cutlery, napkins, paper towels, plastic straws- — also all not recyclable —straight garbage.

Those single-use coffee pods (don’t get me started) are recyclable if you take the time to properly take them apart, compost the coffee grounds, recycle the mini-plastic cup, and throw out the tiny foil lid.

(The single-use coffee pods that have been trashed in landfills could wrap around the planet 10 times.)

Why should we care?

Shouldn’t producers and manufacturers make packaging that is more recyclable or not-over-packaging products in the first place?

In a perfect world, producers should be responsible, and we’re moving in the right direction with the onset of various stewardship programs in British Columbia that has put the onus for dealing with waste directly on the shoulders of producers and manufacturers.  

But so far, not all items or types of material are covered by these programs. So, we, as Joe shoppers, still have our part to do.

You’ve likely seen those disturbing videos showing all that plastic floating in our oceans, impacting and killing wildlife. 

We’ve all become well aware of the repercussions of ill-managed plastic and waste in general. The whole issue of plastic pollution arises from our disposable culture and excessive consumerism.

Generally, as a society we’re too disconnected from our waste and what happens to it when we are finished with it. And we’ve become dependent on all those single-use items so easily and cheaply available.

In a perfect world all single use would be eliminated, and our behaviour would be focused on reuse only.

But we’re not there yet. While there are often better options than plastic and single use, let’s focus on where we can make choices and make a difference.  

We have a role to play. By the choices we make, day in day out, with our shopping dollar. After all, it’s all the small choices that each of us has control over, each and every day, that leads to widespread long term change.

One person. One act. One small step at a time.

Tips for reducing single-use Items:

  • Carry a reusable travel mug. Asking for your take-out coffee in a reusable mug can make a big difference. (In Metro Vancouver for example, 2.6 million disposable cups are thrown away each week. Things aren’t that different in most larger cities with lots of coffee shops and take-out food joints.)
  • Rethink bottled water. Carry a refillable.
  • Buy fresh unpackaged produce using a reusable mesh produce bag.
  • Keep reusable bags or baskets or fold down boxes with you always, so they’re handy each time you shop. There are also lots of the teensy fold down variety that fit in a pocket or purse these days, for each time you shop.
  • Check out the bulk shops. All types are springing up regularly, and many allow you to bring your own containers to fill.
  • Use cloths instead of paper towels. Old cloths or towels make for great rags.
  • Re think your take out. Fast food equals a ton of waste. Some restaurants may accept your reusable containers. Ask!
  • Coffee pods, ditch them or buy a refillable filter for your pod-type coffee maker.

Got more ideas, share them with your friends and family. That’s also a great way to recycle.


Are you a wish cycler?

Is someone in your family wish cycling? 

You know the drill. You’re standing next to your recycling cart, making that final call if the item goes in there or not. You’re not totally sure, you hope it’s recyclable, and as a great champion of the environment, you err on the side of caution. 

You toss it into the recycling cart, assuming it will all work itself out, that someone somewhere will take care of it, the right way. 

That behaviour just described is commonly known in the waste biz as “wish cycling” — tossing questionable household items into the recycling cart, hoping they can somehow be recycled.  

If you recognize that you’ve practised wish cycling, you’re not alone. It’s a common and troublesome occurrence for a slew of reasons. And it’s not just here at depots and in curbside carts in Kelowna, but right across the country. 

The types of items that cause the problems vary slightly from region to region, but there are rafts of them that frequently show up at recycling processing facilities and cause problems when they just don’t belong.  

For example, plastic bags and wrap cause equipment malfunctions and sometimes full on plant shutdowns. Glass, sharps, hazardous wastes cause worker injuries, and contamination of the end product.  

Garbage and other non-recyclable plastics that don’t belong can be difficult to spot or sort and end up contaminating other ‘clean’ recyclables.  

We’ve been hearing a lot about that lately as global markets have tightened up and many overseas end markets are refusing even slightly contaminated commodities that used to be accepted. 

The household recycling you have so fervently sorted at home with all good intention is often hard if not impossible to market or recycle — if it has items that just don’t belong.

So what are the some of the offending culprits that lead to all the trouble, and should not be wish cycled, ever? 

Here's a list, Items that should stay out of your recycling cart, always:

  • Durable plastic products — plastic toys, hangers, tupperware-type containers, laundry baskets, straws, plastic cutlery, plastic dishes
  • Hard and soft cover books — text books and novels
  • Textiles -— clothes, pillows, sheets, rags, shoes
  • Scrap metal — pots and pans, auto parts, chains, bike parts
  • Plastic bags (take these to a depot)
  • Glass jars (take these to a depot)
  • Styrofoam (take this to a depot)
  • Electronics (take these to a depot)
  • Soft plastics -—cling wrap, stand up pouches, cereal bags, chip bags, candy wrappers etc.
  • Hazardous wastes — chemical containers, propane tanks, sharps

What to do if you’ve been wish cycling  

Stop the trend as soon as you can, and help your friends and family kick the wish cycling habit too.

What to do with all those items you just are not sure about? Get familiar with the requirements and guidelines of your local recycling program so that your good intentions stay that way. 

Tools to help you get there 

Go online to regionaldistrict.com/recycle to view current recycle menus. Download a handy guide to post on your fridge or recycle cart or somewhere prominent in your home for the whole family to see. And while you’re at it, download the free and easy to use MyWasteapp; all the info you need at the touch of a fingertip.   

Or, anytime, call the Regional Waste Reduction Office at 250-469-6250. We’re here to help.

More How's Your Waste Line? articles

About the Author

Rae Stewart is a waste reduction facilitator with the Central Okanagan Regional District and passionate about sharing information on all things related to waste-less living.

Contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.