The war on single use plastics in North America has become even more contentious since China refused to accept exported waste from other countries last year (2018). While banning straws and shopping bags has been popularized through grassroots campaigns, the majority of my household plastic waste comes from neither of these sources. Rather, it is the packaging directly around the common everyday purchases that really would inflate the amount of disposable plastic going into waste streams. Think of the plastic that surrounds a pack of store bought toilet paper, a bag of pasta, or a litre of milk. Gram for gram, all of these single use packaging methods out weigh the shopping bag used to carry them out of the store. Plastic is a marvellous invention. It can be spread so thin, yet have great integrity, it protects our food from contaminants, it keeps like-things together, it is impermeable, and it is so cheap it can’t be given away.
When living in Africa, I had a brilliant housekeeper, named Dona Lidia, who would recycle and store everything that might have a use in the future. She would strip all packaging, clean it, and store it. She would rinse out all Ziploc bags and use the remaining moisture to stick them to the tile walls around our sink. They were dry when they fell off the wall. She would strip all card and paper out of packaging for fuel, and save every plastic drinking bottle and food container until they spilled out of our cabinets. When it became overwhelming and I would clear them out, Lidia would take it all home with her and resume them herself. Our cans were used for toy cars, and our bottles to sell portions of homemade sauces, petrol or drinks along the highways.
Left to our own devices since returning to Canada, Dan and I take a lot of these lessons with us, and kept up the practices Lidia had made habitual for us. While, like many people, reusing containers for other foods or storage is easy, some food packaging is just not functional a second time around. Making sculptures from single-use plastic packaging is a colourful way to fuel a love of crafting without going out and buying a huge amount of specialty supplies. Sure, maybe you don’t need a plastic sculpture, but maybe you don’t need to be throwing it in landfills either.