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Failing Grade

June 20, 2019 Failing Grade

Guest post written by Lillian Nakamura Maguire, June 12, 2019 For Whitehorse Star


Okay…I’ll fess up…I FAILED!

No…Not school. It was the No or Low Use Plastics Challenge our household took on last July 2018!

But whenever I fail…I try to see it as an opportunity to learn about myself and why I failed. (That’s my parent voice speaking.)

Last winter it started with our adult son coming to help with various household chores and “de-­clutter” as the latest gurus call it. De-­cluttering has become an ongoing family activity with the buildup of stuff while living in our rural property the last 25 years.

Oh boy…Little did we know that the No Plastics Ninja (our son) would strike in our household! As each item got examined, I could see the steam rising…The volcano was about to explode and so it did!

Our son had lived in Victoria, a city a bit further ahead in some environmental practices than us Yukoners.

Maybe it was the salty sea air and being around other people who love the ocean that moved him to open up discussion, arguments, and dialogue about the environment. We weren’t completely ignorant – after all I can’t be a Japanese Canadian without knowing about Suzuki!

We knew about plastic pollution and what it’s doing to the fish, fauna and fowl. But did we realize that the Yukon is facing similar environment waste problems?

So being a retired adult educator, I believe in assessing, gathering information, analyzing and then taking action. (That’s my professional voice speaking.)

We decided and challenged everyone in our household, including all guests, to aim for no single use plastic. I even convinced a group of Whitehorse United Church members to take the No or Low Plastics Challenge with me for a month in the early winter. Ideally we aimed for no new purchases of plastic wrapped goods or plastic products. Our family of 3 adults collected all the plastics we used or purchased from July 1 to December 31, 2018. (Thankfully we went to our friend’s place for Christmas, but they too took on the challenge to follow this guideline. Friends and family are so supportive no matter how quirky the idea. )

Normally I wouldn’t expose my garbage in public, but see the picture taken at the beginning of January 2019. Happy NEW Year! Time for a New Year’s resolution.

Plastics collected between July and December 2018.


Okay…so that was our assessment period. This was a time to look at what was in our garbage and try to figure out what to do differently. We had plastic bottles from our various cleaning supplies, produce and takeout food containers, plastic wrappings from meat and other products and Styrofoam packing. I felt completely overwhelmed, discouraged and embarrassed.

Not to be defeated, I decided we should continue the experiment and see if we could improve and reduce our use of plastics for the next 6 months from January to June 2019.

We avoided purchasing any new plastic products. We also decided that we would reduce our purchasing of new things as much as possible. If we needed something we checked the free store or the thrift store. We always remembered our cloth shopping bags and began using the lightweight net bags for produce/nuts. We took our own containers to fill with nuts, seeds, grains and processed meats. We shopped in places that had bulk bins, checked out the Whitehorse Potluck Food Co-Op for sources of shampoo and other supplies in bulk and bought unpackaged Yukon made soaps. When we did find ourselves buying frozen berries or chocolate covered almonds in those resealable, heavier weight plastic bags, we reused the bags for other food storage.

Plastics collected between January and June of 2019.


When preparing food for community events or meetings, I insisted on preparing vegetables and fruits from scratch and avoided the pre-­prepared, cut up produce in plastic containers. No Styrofoam cups or plates were allowed. Instead of using plastic wrap to cover food temporarily, we used tea towels or for longer storage, beeswax food cover wraps. My friends and I experimented with making them from old cotton pillowcases. Recently I needed some mayonnaise, and decided to make it from scratch in a blender. It’s easy, tasty and cheap and is stored in a glass container avoiding the plastic container.

I admit…There wasn’t all that much improvement with the latest collection of plastic stuff. We did reduce our use of those clear plastic produce containers and now buy greens or other produce unwrapped. We started an early crop of lettuce and arugula under some grow lights in February, which were transplanted and now producing lots of greens in our outdoor raised bed. I continue to look at every purchase with the 7 R’s in mind.

Consider the following diagram:

We’ve had lots of interesting discussions with family, friends, neighbours and strangers. My husband often has to drag me away from conversations with complete strangers in the store, restaurant or at the fruit stand exchanging ideas or offering them one of my cloth bags.

Individually and as a family unit there is much we can do to reduce our use of plastics, especially single use plastics like bags, wrapping, straws, lids, plates, food containers and take-­out Styrofoam trays.

But I think what is truly needed is for all of us to pressure our governments at all levels to develop policies and practices that encourage the 7 R’s outlined above.

We need to pressure manufacturers and marketers of consumer goods to reconsider packaging to eliminate or replace plastics. It’s not easy but let’s tackle this together.

How about joining me in a NO PLASTICS MONTH for July? No excuses…Take the first step and just try! Every bit counts.

-Lillian Nakamura Maguire


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