Going beyond single-use

To reduce our waste, we need to not just recycle more. We need to produce less.

Wildsight Elk Valley is looking to change the way you think about the materials you bring into your home. Single-use packaging threatens the health of our planet. From throwaway coffee cups to plastic bags at the checkout, from a slim plastic straw to bulky takeaway containers, our system is overloaded with products that simply do not need to be there.

A few years ago, the branch had been working on a zero plastics initiative, encouraging businesses to help make the decision to move away from single-use plastics. The pandemic put a pause on the project as fears around COVID reduced people’s comfort level with reusable materials. This summer, the Elk Valley Wildsight team decided to bring the initiative back, but this time, expanding to include all single-use items.

The branch kicked off the initiative, ‘Beyond Single-Use‘ at the end of August with an opportunity for individuals to pledge to try and avoid single-use packaging for an entire weekend. Close to 50 people took the pledge. Signatories agreed to reduce their single-use consumption in concrete ways, such as:

  • “Get back to using my own bags in the bulk section of the grocery store. Work on educating the rest of the family.”
  • “Never use a single-use plastic bag! Easy! Always remember my own cloth bags. Use the packaging from the food I buy to avoid ziplock bags. Bring my own utensils with me wherever I go. Bring my own produce bags to the store . Never take a straw – so few people need a straw.”
  • “Buy second-hand, instead of new and buy from the Farmer’s Market instead of the grocery store.”
  • “Find alternatives, refuse to buy.”
  • “If I’m shopping, I will use cloth bags and refillable containers like glass. I will choose products that do not have plastic or styrofoam packaging.”
Beyond Single Use kicked off at a weekend market in Fernie at the end of August.

Kaitlyn Philip, Elk Valley board member and project coordinator, says the weekend kickoff was just the beginning. Overall, Wildsight Elk Valley is trying to get people to think about the single-use choices they currently make, and expand the options locally so people can choose to live a more sustainable life.

“We’re just trying to reduce the waste that we’re producing,” she sums up. “Recycling isn’t always perfect. In the Elk Valley, a lot of people really do care about sustainable lifestyles. But if the options aren’t there, there’s sometimes not a lot you can do.”

The branch has a long term game plan to reduce waste in the Elk Valley, with all sorts of ideas for where this initiative could go next. Pledge respondents listed options they’d like to see made available locally, and the branch is compiling the suggestions to look at where the initiative could go next.

“One of the bigger things we’d like to see happen is having the option to bring some sort of reusable container for the bulk section at local grocery stores,” says Kaitlyn.

Fellow board member Emma Gregson says another area of focus might be restaurant takeout, whereby restaurants are supplied with reusable containers, with a dropoff and cleaning system established for their return. Another is encouraging supermarkets to get rid of plastic bags.

“That’s one of my personal areas of concern,” remarks Emma. “There’s so many plastic bags!”

The solution, Emma proposes, could be as simple as grocery stores offering their cardboard boxes that foodstuffs come in for people to use to pack groceries, thereby reducing waste from plastic bags as well as reusing boxes that otherwise would just get compressed and recycled.

The branch is in the process of connecting with local businesses to discuss ways they can help slow the use of single-use items down in their own establishments.

Local store’s grand opening. Photo courtesy Fernie Free Press

At Local, Wildsight Elk Valley’s store that brings local producers and shoppers together, they are working with vendors to explore alternatives to single-use packaging for materials as well, hoping to set a positive example for other businesses to follow.

Wildsight Elk Valley started a petition to increase alternatives to single-use packaging in the Elk Valley. The petition calls on business owners and managers to increase products they offer that utilize reusable, compostable, and sustainable packaging options; for businesses to reduce the number of products they stock with single-use packaging; that reusable containers be permitted for bulk, take-out, delivery and to-go items; and that local government and the Chamber of Commerce strongly support, promote, and celebrate these initiatives.

With a dual focus on business decisions and individual choices, Kaitlyn says the hope is that single use items in the Elk Valley will disappear.

“Individual choices are a really good place to start,” encourages Kaitlyn. “Do what you can with the options you have available. Then start trying to have those discussions with your friends and family.”

Emma says the energy and enthusiasm for this initiative abound in Fernie. Now, they just need to work to give people the options they crave to choose to live a life by one single-use.

Her advice on where to start?

“Don’t think too hard about the overall scope of the problem, because that’s clearly large and overwhelming. So start small and simple — take small steps,” says Emma. “Something’s better than nothing.”