The plastic-free challenge is officially at an end. It lasted exactly 30 days. It was not as difficult as we anticipated as we already put forth a considerable effort to reduce our plastic consumption. The biggest challenge we faced was changing our shopping habits. We no longer shopped at just one store and had to source fruits, veg, cheese, bread, etc. from a variety of different places. This took a lot of time, a little bit extra money, and a few extra fossil fuels to get around. Beyond the reduction in plastic, there were many benefits to this as well! We ate all organic, the bread was always fresh, the cheeses were delicious, and the food I cooked was healthy.
I just want to remind you of the plastic that we accumulated over one week:
One week’s plastic – before the challenge
Eggs comprised a large degree of our plastic waste. We switched to organic eggs that came packaged in cardboard. We eliminated all packaged foods (milk, pasta, chips, cheese as seen in the photo). We also shopped at the organic vegetable market with cloth bags instead of buying the convenient, plastic-wrapped fruit and veg from the grocery store.
So, did we succeed in going 100% plastic-free? No. We still had a lot of plastic kicking around the house when we started our plastic free month and inevitably it was consumed. Primarily this included lentils and dried fruit. Also, we (mostly me) messed up a few times!
You’ll see from the photo below that the plastic we generated in one month is far less than that which we generated in one week before the challenge:
So, what did we learn?
The deli is awesome! Take your reusable container and fill that bad boy full of cheese!
Everyone should own light-weight muslin/mesh baggies for their produce. They’re just as convenient as their plastic counterparts and wash so easily in the sink.
We’ve made a habit of saying “no straw please.” We encourage you do develop that habit. Restauranteurs all get it and are happy to oblige!
Reduce first, then reuse, then recycle. Yes, some plastic is unavoidable but it’s really easy to reduce your consumption. Use what you can again. Recycle as a last resort. By the way, we look forward to the implementation of plastic recycling here in Phnom Penh (apparently coming soon!)
We’ve been plastic-free for over two weeks now. So far, we’ve found the journey to be fairly easy and straight-forward. Yes, we’ve had to plan ahead what groceries to buy, where to get them, and what reusable bags/containers we’d need to take along but that’s a small sacrifice to make to reduce our plastic waste. But now, we’re starting to miss snacks.
One of the things we’re quite accustomed to is having snacks around in the house. When we get home from work, we have a quick bite to eat before we get dinner on the table. The late night munchies are also a common occurrence here too. There are only so many carrot and cucumber sticks one can snack on and we like a little variety in our lives. Rice cakes, dates (and other dried fruit), cereal, peanut butter and … our guilty pleasure … potato chips are all enjoyed here. Buuut, the plastic packaging is not.
Consequently, we’ve given them up our favorite snacks this month. And today, we’re not happy about it.
It’s been a tough week at work and now it’s Friday night and we just want to sit down, watch TV, and enjoy a tasty treat. We worked up the bravery (thanks wine), headed to Java Cafe with cloth bags in hand, and explained our mission in hopes of getting plastic-free snacks. We expected to confuse everyone royally and walk away empty handed, but, as I whipped out my cloth bags and ordered potato chips to go, plastic-free, they nodded their heads and proceeded to fulfill my order (read: Friday night dreams). 2 minutes later, I had a cloth bag full of homemade potato chips. Hoorayyy!
The folks at Java thought my bags were super cute and all agreed that plastic is a big problem in Cambodia. I feel super blessed that I have these options here and that people are so open minded about what I always assume to be crazy requests. I think if I was at home in Canada, tonight’s mission may not have been possible and perhaps I would have felt a tad crazier for trying. Phnom Penh is awesome and I’m beginning to feel like this plastic-free endeavour is a community project with so many people and businesses supporting us.
I said something in a recent blog post that has been niggling me all week. I proclaimed that some plastic items were unavoidable because making certain things such as detergents, shampoos and toothpastes would take too much time. This statement was naive. I’ve never tried to make these products and I assumed that they would be time consuming to make. Perhaps they are! I really have no idea.
So, today’s post is about challenging mindsets and trying something new: making my own toothpaste!
The verdict? It was faster, easier, and cheaper than going out and purchasing toothpaste.
I perused a bunch of recipes I found online and this is what I made:
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp baking soda
10 to 15 drops of peppermint essential oil
1 capsule of activated charcoal (optional)
I added the charcoal because my mother swears by it (it’s what they use(d) in India) but my husband took one look at the final concoction and exclaimed “that’s disgusting.” You may want to skip it 😛 Other recipes add items such as bentonite clay, stevia (for sweetness), sea salt, and other essential oils.
The final product is a bit runny as my coconut oil is liquid at room temperature but it was easy to apply to a toothbrush and to brush with. My mouth feels clean and minty fresh, much like regular toothpaste. This is something I could get used to!
I chair the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) at my school (ISPP). The committee consists of 10 students and 5 teachers. Our job is to promote sustainable practices and encourage students (and members of the community) to take action. Our school has recently revamped their strategic plan to include the environment as one of the three main themes and so we have a lot of support as we try to turn ideas into action. We’re stoked.
As one of our actions this year, we decided to target the largest event our school hosts, International Day. Over 1000 people attend this event and it is a celebration of our school’s cultural diversity. Naturally, the event also includes a lot of food which generates a lot of waste. The event organizers were very keen for our committee’s recommendations on how to green the event. We developed the rubric below and offered a cash incentive if food vendors could follow the guidelines set out.
I was very encouraged by the positive response from the vendors and they all stepped up to the plate on the day. Most of them transported their food in reusable containers with virtually no plastic waste. They also made a massive effort to ensure that their food could be eaten without plastic utensils. For the most part, they all used paper plates/packaging. I was extremely impressed by Tamarind restaurant who wrapped their food in banana leaves and committed to washing their own reusable plates and cutlery throughout the day.
My students also handed out banana leaves that they had carefully cut and cleaned to all the country booths and many of the visitors. The leaves really impressed people as a 100% natural alternative to the napkin or paper plate. Overall, I believe our small actions, and the support of the event organizers, helped reduce a great deal of non-biodegradable waste from entering the landfill (or dump).
Moving forward, this is what our committee would like to accomplish next year:
Provide the restaurants with concrete examples of plastic alternatives. Small plastic cups for sauces were common but could easily be replaced with paper baking cups.
Provide restaurants with washed banana leaves if they would like them.
Provide an incentive (prize) for country booths to follow our environmental guidelines
Create guidelines for sponsors – especially banning balloons.
Provide more stations for water bottle refill. There was only one and it was not visible. As a result, many plastic water bottles were sold. I’d love to see the plastic water bottle eliminated altogether from the event but that might present a problem with one of our sponsors.
Waste separation. Provide bins for collection of recyclables and organic waste.
Encourage visitors to bring reusable bottles/containers/utensils. Perhaps we could provide discounts on tickets if they do so.
We’ve completed week 1 of the plastic-free challenge and I’ve been very encouraged by the conversations I’ve started through this blog and through my conversations with friends and family. Collectively as a small community we’ve been reflecting on our consumption habits and have discussed simple ways to reduce plastic waste. It’s also been interesting to share insights with people from around the world and how our experiences with consumerism are very different. For example, it seems that people in certain European countries have many options to purchase items from cereal to laundry detergent by refilling containers from home. In Japan, it seems that the plastic packaging problem is worse where even bananas come in plastic bags. But no matter where we come from it’s nice to see a growing awareness of the issue and a desire to, as my mum says, “Refuse, Reduce, and Reuse.”
So far we’ve generated a small amount of plastic trash. A couple drinking straws (oops!) and two plastic sacs from items we already had in the house (raisins and lentils). We hope that we’ll create even less in the three weeks remaining. One thing I have noticed is that we’re generating much less trash in general. By eliminating plastic, we’ve eliminated much of our regular cardboard consumption. Often times we find that items packaged in cardboard often have some sort of plastic component such as a lining or a bag. It’s annoying because it seems unnecessary much of the time. So, as a result, we’re mostly accumulating organic waste.
The places I’ve been shopping or eating out at have been very understanding of my demands for no plastic. I’m obviously not the first person to rock up to the cheese counter with my own reusable container and I’m certainly not the first to refuse a straw or a plastic bag. Kudos to all of you out there who do this on a daily business and thank you to the local businesses who have been pioneering waste reduction initiatives.
As promised, below is our Google Doc of how we plan to eliminate as much plastic packaging as possible. Most of it focuses on food stuffs as that is what we consume on a regular basis. We’re a little stuck on what to do about [soy]milk and some of our pre-packaged staples like lentils/beans, dried fruits/nuts, and spices/salt. I would love any advice if you know where I can buy the later items in bulk here in Phnom Penh. As for milk, we’re giving it up for now… that is already proving challenging!
There were some items we could not find alternatives too such as toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, etc), dish & laundry soap, and toilet paper (we have not embraced the bum gun sadly). I know that we could make our own shampoos, toothpastes, detergents, etc. but as we both work 50+ hour weeks, we simply don’t have the time. I would like to try this someday however.
I hope that this list might help you in your own plastic reduction attempts and we’re very open to feedback if you have any.
I’ve known my whole life that plastic pollution is bad for the planet. I try my best to reduce my consumption by limiting my use of plastic bags, bottles and take away containers. When I lived in Canada, I took solace in the fact that certain plastic items could be recycled (not an ideal solution) but now that I live in Phnom Penh, recycling is not an option and [almost] everything ends up in the trash.
Additionally, plastic consumption occurs here on a much larger scale than what I’m used to. Literally everything comes packaged in plastic bags. I mean, even my take away coffee comes in a plastic bag! And, of course, the extremely cheap, lightweight polystyrene container is very popular.
I mentioned in my first post that I’m seeing the devastating effects plastic has had on this country I call home. The average Cambodian uses 6 times more plastic bags than the average American, approximately 52 bags a week or 2700 bags a year (Plastic Free Cambodia). Approximately 20% of trash collected in Phnom Penh consists of plastic bags and polystyrene food containers (Arduino). The impact extends globally as the Mekong river drains into the South China sea where it is distributed throughout the Pacific ocean. I’m sure you’ve seen the images of seabirds with bellies filled of plastic and turtles with straws stuck inside their naval cavities. And in case you haven’t….
Last year, my super-awesome friend decided that her birthday celebration would be a garbage cleanup around the streets of Phnom Penh. That day, I collected countless straws and plastic bags. They were literally everywhere. Soon after, I came across the Plastic Free Cambodia organisation and their simple, straightforward and impactful campaign to limit people’s plastic consumption. They initiated this campaign in attempts to change behaviours nationwide. Check out their video:
And so, my husband and I decided to take on their one month plastic free challenge! However, rather than eliminate our consumption of only the top 5 plastic enemies, we decided to take it one step further and eliminate as much plastic as possible.
So, we sat down Christmas day and devised a plan of how and where to buy our staples without the packaging. With the help of friends we’ve created a list which we hope will evolve as we learn more and more. We hope it will help other Phnom Penhers too if they choose to take on the plastic-free challenge. Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will publish this list!
Robinson, Nathan J. “The Turtle That Became the Anti-Plastic Straw Poster Child.” Plastic Pollution Coalition. 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Feb. 2017.
Jordan, Chris. “Shocking Image of Dead Albatross’s Stomach Stuffed with Plastic Reveals Just How Much Garbage Is in Our Oceans.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Feb. 2017.
Day 1 has come and gone and I have already broken the rules. Went out for lunch, innocently ordered a passion fruit juice aaaand forgot to say “no straw please.”
I’m not used to uttering this phrase and I’m sure many of my plastic drinking straws grace rubbish dumps and landfills around the world. So, I hope this digression has taught me to ask for no straws because I am oh-so ashamed.
Consequently, I’ve been thinking all day long: why the heck do we even use these things? A glass, one hand, lips and a small amount of coordination is really all you need to achieve the simple task of drinking. Unless, of course, you are lacking these things, then I see the absolute utility of the plastic drinking straw. But most of us can handle picking up a glass and bringing it to our lips. Ahhh, hydration.
OK, so it’s probably not the challenge of drinking that made the straw such a staple utensil in modern day society. Some sources I’ve perused on the internet suggest that straws became prevalent as a result of epidemics and the fear of unclean glassware. Perhaps. Even so, I don’t think the straw will provide much protection there. Not to mention we’ve made a few strides in the last century in the health and safety department.
Yet the straw persists. Wherever you eat, there it will be, in all its colourful plastic-y badness. It’ll spare your biceps a few calories of work and ensure that your lips don’t touch the glass. It will also outlive you and your children and their children and . . . you get the point.
So, this month, and hopefully all months after that, I will remember to say “no straw please.”
PS. If you think straws are really fun, paper straws are making a comeback! They also come in fun colours. I like to use bamboo straws for my smoothies and iced coffee drinks.
It is the eve of our plastic-free month and I’m having heart palpitations. I’m not sure I can do this. This week, my husband and I decided to collect all the plastic we generated in order to assess the impact our efforts will have over the course of the coming month. Almost every single thing we consumed contains plastic packaging. Food is the biggest culprit. Milk, yoghurt, eggs, cheese, dried fruit, nuts, cereal… All our staple foods come packaged in plastic.
Plastic is a remarkable product. It keeps things sealed & fresh, it is lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. We’d be hard-pressed to function without it. Plastic is the poster child of modern convenience.
But it is also a plague. The properties we love about plastic have seen it destroy the environments we cherish. Having lived the last 4.5 years in Phnom Penh, a city that is seeing remarkable growth, I see the ugly side of plastic daily. Everywhere you go, the streets are lined with bags, straws, and water bottles. My daily commute to work gets dirtier and dirtier every week. It has gotten to the point where I look around and all I can see is plastic. It is abhorrent. And this is just a small snapshot of the world. Environments everywhere are threatened by plastic pollution.
And I’m part of this problem.
So, it’s time to take action. This is my commitment to the environment for the next month. It is also my attempt to teach myself about how I can alter my behaviours long term. In the process, through this blog, I hope to teach you about steps that can be taken to lead a life of less plastic.
The ultimate goal is to go 100% plastic-free but I know that probably won’t happen. Whatever plastic we do consume will be saved for the entire month. Throughout this process, I’ll blog about steps taken and challenges faced. Then, we’ll see how we fared in comparison to this last week. Wish us luck!