My Family’s Plastic Free February Experience

Written by Sarah Bokma (Environmental Education Coordinator)

Edited by Madison Martinez (Communications and Administrative Coordinator)

March 14, 2024

Could you go one month without single-use plastics?

After a compelling conversation with A Rocha’s Environmental Education (EE) team across Canada, I decided to sign my family up to participate in “Plastic-Free February ” – an initiative to eliminate single-use plastics for the month of February. We were going to be the “guinea pigs”: I would learn from experience before implementing the initiative to those involved in our EE programming. 

First, I began to read about microplastics in the A Rocha Plastics Toolbox. I learned that paint, body products, food packaging, and clothes all contain miniscule plastics (microplastics) that don’t break down. They are found throughout the ocean and are showing up on our planet’s shores. Facing this problem is a daunting task… so where do I begin? I decided to start small: our focus was to cut out single-use plastics (as much as we could!) connected to our food consumption – a seemingly doable effort. 

Two days in, I went on my first grocery shopping trip. I proceeded to push my cart down the first aisle, attempting to not purchase anything that involved single-use plastic. I quickly discovered how hard that was! Toilet paper comes wrapped in plastic. Cereal and crackers come in plastic bags, inside the box. Milk, cheese, meat, bread, lentils, carrots, apples – all of our essentials were perfectly packaged in plastic – an unbreakable garbage. I kept pushing my empty cart, feeling more and more discouraged with every step, even when discovering I could buy fishy crackers, eggs, canned goods, and yogurt. Although the yogurt container was made of plastic, I knew I could and would reuse it over and over, adding it to the “Dutch Tupperware” stash in my cupboard. 

But how does a family of five live off of eggs, canned foods, fishy crackers and yogurt? This diet is reminiscent of my camping trips as a single student. Is it worth stretching our budget and driving 30-min to the local dairy to buy an $8 glass jar of milk, just to save on single-use plastic? I know I could be more creative with sourcing food that doesn’t involve using single plastics, but that feels like adding an extra layer of hassle in our already jam-pack(aged) life.  

On a Friday evening in January, just before supper, a drain technician came to our house to clean our kitchen sink drain, and proceeded to break the pipe. Not able to fix it, we were told to call a plumber. Knowing the prices of plumbers over the weekend we decided to wait until Monday. In the meantime we placed a bucket under our sink to catch whatever water we used. It was eye-opening: I was able to see just how much water we consumed (save toilets and showers), but I was much more careful with our consumption – we were actively watching the rise of the water levels in the bucket. Our caution was reinforced by the reality that once the bucket was full, we would need to lug it to the basement in order to dump it out.

Engaging in plastic-free February felt similar. Like the flow of water, it was impossible to stop the use of single-use plastics entirely. It feels wrong to correlate the two: water is vital to our life and single use plastic feels like a bi-product of our culture’s need for efficient consumption. But while preparing almost all the essential foods for my family, I found myself opening up the garbage can over and over and dumping in single-use plastic. How is it that we’ve reached this place where plastic has become such an integrated part of our everyday life, connected to so many of our necessities? If I cut out all single-use plastic, how would I source food? It was overwhelming; I felt like I was caught in a system that I had no control over. 

While my family’s attempt felt like a fail, measuring our consumption of single-use plastic was  eye-opening. And maybe that was the goal all along – to help us better understand the impact we have and make small changes that can be implemented beyond February. Through this experience, we were challenged to rethink our purchases. Our experience while shopping changed – this was especially highlighted when at a dollar store the day before Valentine’s Day and my 7-year old daughter blurted in the middle of the store: “But I don’t want the fish to die just because we bought a bag of candy to share for Valentine’s Day!”

Like watching the rise of the water in the bucket under my sink and not wanting it to get too full too quickly, I began to picture the rise of plastic caused by our waste. What are the ways that we contribute to the use of single-use plastics? What are those plastic “drops in the bucket?” Adopting this mindful approach to cutting down single-use plastic was helpful – it opened space to rethink food choices, sort through the question “What do we really need?” and it sparked thoughtful awareness of the impact of microplastics on our planet. There’s so much work to be done, and yes it does feel overwhelming. But in the words of a good friend: “Don’t despise humble beginnings”. Even though our efforts felt insignificant, the little changes over time can make a difference!

Learn More

Get Involved!

Check out our programs! Registration and booking is now available for our education programs for the spring and summer.

Learn More