Recapping an exhilarating month of no plastic. Wow.

Plastic-Free Groceries
Success! A grocery run almost entirely free of plastic! Can you spot my only blunder?


Plastic-Free July is over! Frankly speaking, I was quite relieved when August 1st rolled around. While I thoroughly enjoyed avoiding plastic for a month, it was challenging experience to say the least.

Plastic is everywhere. Some products only come in plastic! Plastic-Free July meant guilt every time I sipped soy milk (plastic lids), boiled pasta (plastic “windows”), or purchased sponges (good luck buying a sponge not wrapped in plastic). For a month, I longed for tofu. Tofu, why are you so needy? Tofu’s demanding preservations requirements ensure plastic is involved in its packaging. Maybe I should make my own.

Nearly all my toiletries ran out, or almost ran out, during July, causing me much anxiety. These products seem to be universally made with plastic. I couldn’t live without sunscreen, so I replaced it without hesitation. Seeing my body wash, face wash, and acne cream go was quite a shock. My shaving cream and toothpaste are also on their last legs. I got by for the month, but still could use a field trip to the soap dispensary.

But why focus on the negatives? Despite my struggles and all the inconveniences,  Plastic Free-July was an edifying experience, and overall a very positive one. No-plastic shopping completely changed my outlook as a consumer, and I’m convinced many of my new habits will stick. Here are a few examples (you can do them too!):

No plastic bags at grocery stores. Eliminating bags at the grocery store requires foresight. It’s hard to remember to leave space in your backpack or bring tote bags for each shopping run. But it’s very doable! Those little plastic baggies you tear off for fruits and veggies are also problematic. My trick is to bring my own produce bags, or find a grocery store that provides paper (compostable) bags instead! See the picture above for an example of a successful grocery trip!

No take-out in single-use containers. Take-out is an amazing thing. Delicious food to-go is clutch during exam period, and lovely for picnics. While a policy of no plastic containers is demanding, it can be done. It just sometimes means reworking your evening plans. Many restaurants do compostable containers, a huge blessing. Otherwise, bring your own containers! On the phone with Sushi Bella last Saturday evening, I asked if I could take my sushi to-go in tupperwares. The answer: “Yes!” Apparently their customers do it all the time. What a revelation. My girlfriend, her family and I took our tupperwared sushi to Jericho Beach for a wonderful sunset and fireworks display.

Sushi Jericho

No disposable coffee cups or water bottles. This is a big one. In fact, it’s HUGE! Coffee cup and water bottle waste is massive in North America, and in particular on UBC campus. Fortunately the solution is as easy as it comes! Reusable water bottles and travel mugs are not expensive and very convenient. Travel mugs keep your beverage warmer than a cup, and won’t spill when you throw it in your bag. Water bottles don’t leave a plastic-y taste in your month and are super stylish these days. Making the conversion is so worth it. If you forget your mug at home, Common Energy is working on a program that lets you borrow one from your favourite cafe! Find out more about our Mug Share Pilot Program.

Reuse reuse reuse! Reuse as much as possible. The only redeeming part of my purchase of swimming goggle last week was that the fitted plastic container that hugged the goggles on the shelf now works perfectly as a protective case!

I want to make every month plastic-free. If that seems too challenging for you, I strongly encourage you to a try a plastic-free day or week! If you choose to blog about it, I promise I’ll be your faithful reader. Good luck!


-George Radner

Common Energy External Team


Sorry, I only eat food on plates.

It’s Saturday night, myself and three friends make our way to Indian Roti Kitchen near Cambie and Broadway for a delicious feast. We’re hungry, and roti, essentially curries wrapped in flatbread (some describe it as an Indian burrito), is exactly what we’re craving.

Indian Roti Kitchen 1
Indian Roti Kitchen’s quaint yet charming interior.

We stroll in and take our place at the window table, before the hostess can even seat us. We have already opened the menu, when the hostess makes a startling announcement: “Past 9 P.M., we only do take-out!”

I frantically check my watch. 9:20 in the P.M. Immediately a sense of defeat overcomes me. My stomach chemistry changes for the worst. I look up. My friends don’t seem to realize what the hostess’ message means. “It’s Plastic-Free July,” I soberly inform them, “I can’t do take-out.”

Our collective sense of disappointment is palpable.

Since my friends are kind enough not to leave me behind and order without me, we’re all in the same boat. We inquire about what containers the take-out comes in. They’re recyclable aluminum, not plastic, so technically permissible, but anything single-use violates the spirit of Plastic-Free July. Can we buy reusable plates from a local supermarket or thrift store? Brilliant, yet even more absurd! If only we’d brought tupperwares in anticipation of this problem!

As we solemnly get up to leave, urgently googling local restaurants willing to feed us on plates, a customer waiting for his food struck us with a comment that perhaps made the whole endeavour worthwhile.

“Wow, I am so inspired that you guys aren’t eating because of the waste. I’m going to do Plastic-Free August!”

We engage with this man for a few more minutes, learning that he is a vegan primarily for environmental reasons, but continues to struggle avoiding wasteful products in a plastic saturated world. He even agrees to read my blog!

While our stomachs part with the restaurant unsatisfied, we are all in a good mood. We are proud of our discipline and the positive impact we made on a stranger. Half an hour later, we arrive at Foundation, and all is well.

-Blog post by George Radner, Common Energy External Team


Agonizing over Straws, Pasta-Box Windows, and Bread Thingies

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Disclosure: I borrowed these straws from a cafe for the purpose of this picture. I have only consumed two straws this month.

This is the eleventh day of Plastic-Free July, and I have already accumulated more “problem items” than I hoped to for the entire month. Was I naive in imagining that I could already go an entire month using little or no plastic?

Well, I had a rocky start. On July 1st, I innocently grabbed a free almond butter package from my friend’s office at Google, and then proceeded to purchase a iced coffee from Starbucks…to-go. The cup was plastic, of course, but what really killed me was that green, garbage-y straw.

Admittedly, I had forgotten that Plastic-Free July had started. While I successfully avoided plastic for the rest of my weekend in Seattle, disaster struck the following Monday. Driving up to my grandmother’s cottage in Maine, USA, my family and I stopped at the grocery store to supply our four day stint on the lake. As we prepared a monster grocery list, I remembered my commitment to no plastic. My family’s response: “Wow.”

I still feel incredibly culpable for allowing the purchase of, and later consuming, a gallon milk jug, half a dozen cartons of berries, a block of cheese, two loaves of bread, tubs and tubs of cottage cheese, and more. The subtler plastics were the lids to Soy Milk cartons, plastic “windows” in pasta boxes, and that thingy that keeps loaves of sliced bread closed, whatever it’s called.

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Does the fact that I did not purchase any of these goods absolve me from blame? Practically speaking, I felt I had to eat the food my family bought so it wouldn’t go bad, not to mention to avoid inconveniencing everyone. But no, this was my failing.

If Plastic-Free July were a sporting event, and I were the competitor, I invite all my fans to boo me. But don’t revoke your support. I pledge to recover from my initial blunders of July’s first quarter. There’s still more than a half to go.

Who am I kidding? Yesterday, ordering from a seafood spot overlooking the water in Gibsons, BC, on the Sunshine Coast (in case you were wondering why I’m travelling so much, these past ten days have been my summer vacation!), I was shocked to receive a straw in my water glass and some unwanted salad dressing served up in a stupid plastic open-faced dip holder (you know what I’m talking about).

The one plastic purchase I don’t regret is two bottles of sunscreen. I can’t live without my sunscreen.

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Excellent sunscreen.

Wish me better luck world!
-George Radner, Common Energy External Team