Living without plastic tests mettle of Victoria woman

The hardest part of living plastic-free — an aspect Victoria’s Carol-Lynne Michaels did not anticipate — has been the awkward social interactions.

But Michaels is growing accustomed to making unusual requests of everyone from servers to her dental hygenist.

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“The unexpected hard part was the social aspect of it — going out to dinner with friends at a pub and having that semi-awkward interaction with your server, asking things like, ‘Does the sauce come in a metal or reusable ramekin? Or a disposable one?’ And then having everyone at the table listen and question,” she said.

Michaels’ goal for this year is to live plastic-free — or as close to it as possible.

Any plastics she can’t avoid, such as straws that servers forget to leave out of her drink or the bus passes she needs to get around, are gathered as a shrine to what could be.

This is the second year that Michaels is going plastic-free. She first set the goal in 2012 after watching a documentary called The Clean Bin Project, which included images of an albatross found in the North Pacific with a belly full of plastic pollution.

“The photographer has cut open its belly and exposed what’s inside. You can visibly see bottle caps, children’s toys, toothbrushes — things we use every day and that we’ve been using years and years and years,” Michaels said.

“That’s really what triggered me to go, ‘What are we doing here? There’s got to be something incredibly wrong, if somewhere way off in the North Pacific Ocean is so polluted.’ ”

Over the course of a year, she collected less than a banker’s box worth of plastics, including baggage tags, fruit stickers and plastic windows from envelopes.

She planned to continue avoiding plastics the next year, but was disappointed at how quickly her consumption seemed to rise.

“It’s easy for it to creep back into your life,” she said. “It’s all around us all the time.”

So she returned to the mission this year, with a goal to collect even less plastic than in 2012.

So far so good — she has collected only one straw, compared with the 24 in her first box.

While Michaels’ first mission was largely private, she has brought it into the public sphere this year by writing a monthly blog for the Sierra Club of B.C.

“I’m sharing it more widely and it’s really interesting to read people’s comments and see how far the reach of this little story goes,” she said.

Michaels said she’s also learning a lot through conversations with curious onlookers and says there seems to be more public discourse about plastic pollution.

She clarifies that she doesn’t believe all plastic is evil — without it we wouldn’t have things like bike helmets.

“I’m not trying to get a hate-on for it. I’m just saying that the way our culture sees it as disposable really needs to change.”

asmartø@timescolonist.com

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