The Clean Bin Project movie airs today

Do It Yourself (DIY) Royalty

Plastic is so ubiquitous that most people hardly notice how deeply it permeates our lives – except those who have tried to avoid it. Grant and Jen, who spent a year without plastic, found it hard to get people to focus on plastic long enough to remember to not give them a straw after they asked for no straw. Grant started telling waiters that he is allergic to plastic. (Such an allergy does exist, with reactions ranging from dermatitis to anaphylactic shock). It worked – except in the restaurant where he was told there was nothing they could serve him because all of the food in the restaurant had touched plastic.

A straw may seem like no big deal – unless you are in a competition to create the least amount of waste in a year. Then that straw will go into the little box that holds all your garbage and take up a fair amount of room, relatively speaking. It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back--the final straw.

I asked Jen whether she felt like a martyr during her zero waste year.  Jen pointed out that Brian Burke, a North Vancouver co-housing resident, has lived for years with 20 families, producing less than one can of garbage every two weeks. He’s the go-to man for tough recycling questions, like bottle caps and milk tetrapacks. Some packages could never be recycled because they contain more than one material. Sadly for Jen, these include chips and crackers. But saving money and the pleasure of making things (like princess garb for her niece, modeled above by Grant) outweighed the chips. Also, the public nature of their endeavour helped keep them on track. (“Is that Jen with a straw?”)

Jen and Grant also stopped buying stuff for the year, like clothes and electronics. This was harder for Grant, who likes the best camera, the newest iPhone, and great band equipment. He survived the year noticing that, even though he urgently he wanted something one day, he had often forgotten about it by the next day. He also reminded himself about the insanity of electronics packaging, like the tiny camera memory card package that is impossible to open, cuts your fingers and leaves a pile of waste thirty times bigger than the product itself.

Jen and Grant’s biggest push-back came from Whole Foods. Every other restaurant allowed them to use their own reusable containers. Whole Foods refused, even after persistent Jen obtained a letter from Tim Lambert, the provincial ED for Health Protection. It stated “I agree that reducing packaging is an important environmental concern and encourage the use of reusable items where their use does not create public health concerns…. I would encourage you to speak with the operators of the food premises you frequent and try to reach a solution.”

I asked Jen why they chose garbage instead of something like carbon, pointing out that a ton of carbon is equivalent to 100,000 plastic bags. This means that the shopper who brings their reusable bag to the store, then drives a mile home in an SUV, emits the equivalent of 50 plastic bags in invisible yet potent garbage out their tail pipe. Jen noted that, unlike carbon, garbage is tangible, measurable and easy for people to relate to. The average Canadian produces 750 pounds of garbage each year. They produced about four pounds.

What can the city of Vancouver do to help reduce landfill waste? “There’s a gap in food composting for multifamily residences that needs to be filled,” Jen said.  Food companies? “Get rid of plastic bags within boxes.” Food service? “Accept personal containers. Coffee places do.” Individuals? “Always be prepared; take your reusable containers wherever you go.”

And go to the movie with your family and friends! It’s funny and pleasing to  all ages.

The Clean Bin Project screens this Friday, November 5 at 7 p.m. at the Djaread Mowafghian Cinema SFU Woodwards, 149 W Hastings St. For tickets and other viewings see

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