Easy ways to make a huge impact this #WorldEnvironmentDay

Easy ways to make a huge impact this #WorldEnvironmentDay

Jun 05, 2018Adam Hart


Happy #WorldEnvironmentDay! June 5 represents the UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. This year’s theme is Beat Plastic Pollution, and is a call to action for the world’s citizens to come together to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic—with severe environmental consequences.

At Neal's Yard Remedies, we're proud to be dedicated to the preservation of our environment, and aim to reduce the use of single-use plastic as much as possible. Our 100% recyclable blue glass bottles are made from sand, limestone and soda ash, and our plastic bottles are made from 100% recycled materials.  All of our cardboard is made from recycled materials and is printed with vegetable-based inks. We have never used plastic microbeads in our products—only organic, natural ingredients.

We’ve sat down with Isabelle Couture, Co-Founder and Director of Engagement & Collaboration at Plastic-Free YYC. Isabelle is dedicated to developing, supporting, and enhancing partnerships that encourage waste reduction, within the Calgary community and beyond. Today, we discuss the important work Plastic-Free YYC is doing, why we should all care about reducing our reliance on single-use plastics, and what we can do to make change—today.


Plastic-Free YYC founders Isabelle Couture and Briana Loughlin

Plastic-Free YYC founders Briana Loughlin and Isabelle Couture
[Venzie Pascual from Cultured Photo]


Hi Isabelle! Thank you so much for chatting with us. To start things off, could you please tell us a little bit about Plastic-Free YYC?

Plastic-Free YYC is a non-profit aimed at reducing single-use and other unnecessary plastic by raising awareness about the overall impact of plastic on our community and our planet. We seek to inspire individuals, collaborate with businesses, and encourage governing bodies to evoke change and eliminate waste by sharing information and educating all Calgarians on how to lead a plastic-free lifestyle.

Our team focuses on community engagement to share our messages and goals. We invite all Calgarians to get involved and join us in any capacity they can!

How did Plastic-Free YYC come to be? Was there a particular moment which sparked the decision?

Plastic-Free YYC is the brainchild of co-founder Briana Loughlin, who started this movement a year ago through a personal lifestyle blog. While traveling to Australia and other coastal regions, Briana saw first-hand the damage that plastic pollution can have on our environment and after returning to Calgary, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create a blog to share her ideas with the YYC community. Meanwhile, I had become increasingly involved in Calgary’s Zero Waste community, launching the city’s first ZW meetup. Through this initiative, I hoped to connect with like-minded individuals in order to drive change at the individual-, business-, and government- levels.

Briana and I were introduced in social media in late 2017 and after a fortuitous encounter, Plastic-Free YYC the non-profit was born! Ever since, our power duo has taken the city by storm, bringing attention to the impact of plastic waste here at home in our Canadian prairies and demonstrating that land-locked Calgarians also play an important role in addressing the waste issue.

Unfortunately, there are still many people that take an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to the consequences of single-use plastic. Why should we all care about reducing our plastic usage, even if the consequences aren’t obvious?

It is important to remember that there is no “away” when it comes to single-use plastic. While glass can be recycled an infinite number of times without losing its strength, plastics are typically downcycled, meaning that they are used to make a lower-quality form of plastic until they can no longer be recycled and end up in our landfills. Every piece of plastic that has ever been produced will take between 450-1000 years to decompose, breaking up in smaller and smaller pieces over time. These particles end up in our waterways and oceans where they create giant plastic islands and get ingested by fish and marine birds and, from there, move up the food chain.

Alberta continues to generate the largest amount of waste per capita in Canada and has one of the lowest rates of diverting waste from landfills. Plastic-Free YYC is the first Calgarian grassroot organization focused on raising awareness of and reducing plastic waste. While there exists fantastic local waste diversion initiatives at the provincial and municipal levels, PFYYC is currently filling a crucial gap in our local waste management strategy by addressing waste at its source—before it happens.


Straw on Beach

You’ve recently started The Last Straw Calgary Campaign. Can you tell us a little more about it, and why in particular we should stop using single-use plastic straws?

Over 57 million straws are thrown away every day in Canada alone. These straws take countless resources to produce and to distribute, are only used for a short time before going to live for an eternity in landfills, end up in our waterways, washed up on beaches around the world, or worst, eaten by wildlife. They have a huge impact on our earth but such a small impact on our lives and the quality of service that bars and restaurants provide.

The Last Straw Calgary Campaign was born out of the desire to shift perspectives and behaviours. Every time a straw-free drink is served, it means one less item in our landfills, one less piece of plastic in our oceans. Small changes can make a big difference. The Last Straw is a stepping stone to a more mindful approach in our consumption of single-use plastics.

This campaign will make a difference in Calgary because it will show business owners that their actions can amplify to big impacts in their community. From our interactions over the last years, we know that Calgarians care deeply about curbing plastic pollution and this campaign is a good example of how the average citizen can demand more of the businesses they support. Our plastic problem is immense and our goal is to support those in our community who want to make a difference but may lack the resources or time to do so.

Through this campaign, we hope to cultivate a sense of community and hope amongst those who already care about plastic pollution, as well as inspire new individuals to consider their own ability to make change. The potential reach of this campaign is large, as it includes the staff and owners of bars and restaurants but also the public who utilize their services.

We are currently recruiting volunteers to help with this campaign. Anyone interested in supporting can contact us at info@plasticfreeyyc.com.

World Oceans Day is coming up on June 8. Could you touch a bit on the current state of our oceans in relation to plastic pollution? What can we all do to help protect our ocean’s fragile environment?

Our oceans are currently estimated to contain five trillion individual pieces of plastic, floating around and disrupting marine life, tourism industries, fishing industries, and potentially risking human health. Plastic waste in our oceans is concentrated in five gyres, which are large circulating oceanic currents. The largest gyre in the North Pacific is twice the size of Texas and unfortunately growing. The oceans currents in these gyres break larger plastics into micro-plastics, which get ingested by sea birds, fish, and mammals and are extremely difficult to clean up.

80% of the plastic in our ocean environments comes from land-based areas in coastal regions of the world. So part of the problem is proper disposal, of course. But the larger part of the problem is our over-production and consumption of plastic in the first place. 50% of the plastic entering our oceans is plastic packaging, which is designed to only be used once. Thus, we think one of the most impactful actions we can all do is saying no to single-use plastic. This includes everything from grocery produce bags to plastic straws. Another important thing to remember is that less than 10% of the plastic produced globally is actually recycled. So focusing on reducing and reusing plastic in your life first (and recycling last) is a direct way to protect the fragile state of our oceans. Following the motto “if you can’t reuse it, refuse it” can go a long way. Finally, participate in river and coastal clean-ups in your own city to ensure that we are getting to the plastic waste before it enters our oceans.


Neal's Yard Remedies Blue Bottles on Mantle

We love this brilliant re-use of our blue bottles! How do you re-use yours?

Many of us have already made the switch to reusable bags and bottles. What are a few other products that are easy to find plastic-free but that we might not think about?

Other items include reusable coffee mugs, toothbrushes, menstrual products… There are so many plastic-free options out there! 

For more ideas and to learn more about sustainable products, check out our blog at plasticfreeyyc.com. Every month we feature amazing, sustainable businesses and the eco-warriors behind them. Through this segment we strive to introduce Calgarians to new plastic-free alternatives and share new, attainable ways to reduce their plastic consumption and help the environment.

What are your hopes for the future of the plastic-free movement? Is a plastic-free or nearly plastic-free existence possible for everyone?

Through our efforts, we hope to inspire more Calgarians to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics. We wish for this movement to be an inclusive, safe space for anyone to participate and get started on their sustainability journey. Because it is a marathon, not a race and slow and steady will win the race. Building new habits will take time and we wish to support others as they join us on this journey.

Do you have any plans for World Environment Day?

We treat every day as World Environment Day! While we have no event running on June 5th, our Last Straw Campaign will be running until July 14 and we have several events coming up. We will also be at the Feeding the 5000 event on June 14, and VegFest on June 16 so make sure to drop by our booth and say hi!

We are always looking for new partners to host events (workshops, documentary screening, etc). Shoot us an email if you’re interested in partnering with us!


Plastic-Free YYC Cleanup

Photo taken during PFYYC Earth Day Riverside Clean-up Event last April—20+ bags of litter were picked up in Shouldice Park that day!


Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our vision and we welcome anyone to contact us if they have any questions or want to get involved.

Thank you Isabelle for your knowledge and expertise! To learn more about Plastic-Free YYC, please visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

How are you making a difference this #WorldEnvironmentDay, and every day?

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