The Current

'Little by little': How this woman is saying goodbye to single-use plastics

From Canadian landfills to the shores of Asian countries, plastic waste is piling up

Posted: May 30, 2019
Last Updated: June 25, 2019

For her 2018 New Year's resolution, Tippi Thole vowed to avoid the use of plastic in her daily life. (Submitted by Tippi Thole)

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Concerns over mounds of Canadian plastic waste in Malaysia and the Philippines have amplified the issue of non-recyclable plastic. We explore what it would take to reduce the use of single-use plastics in daily life.  19:15

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Originally published on May 30, 2019.

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At the end of each week, the amount of trash Tippi Thole has generated can fit in the palm of her hand.

She totes a so-called "zero waste kit" with her everywhere she goes to avoid single-use plastics, and explains she has drastically reduced the amount of waste she throws away.

Her portable kit, she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, contains reusable containers and utensils, which she uses while shopping for produce, meat, and even fast food.

Montreal's Thole asks a server or store staff to place food items directly into her containers, thus foregoing any plastic bags or packaging.

"I felt a little uncomfortable; I was a little bit shy at first. But I have never really been denied," the zero-waste blogger and website owner said.

"For the most part, the reaction from people has been very positive."

The weekly contents of Tippi Thole's trash fit easily in her son's hand. This trash includes the sticker off her compost bin, a couple pieces of tape, a muffin liner and a Band-Aid. (Tippi Thole/tinytrashcan.com)

On New Year's Day in 2018 Thole said she told herself "enough with the talking about it. It's time to start doing it." From that day on, she and her son committed to avoiding as much plastic as possible.

"Little by little, by basically looking at my trash, I found all sorts of things that I could remove from the landfill. And it does take some effort at the beginning because you have to look for alternatives, but once you find those alternatives it's really no harder than what I was doing before. It just becomes the new normal."

Concerns over non-recyclable and contaminated plastics were amplified in May when the Philippines called on Canada to remove its plastic waste from their shores. Malaysia then joined the chorus, denouncing Canada for its "irresponsible" export of plastic waste. A Philippine official later reported that a Canadian cargo ship had arrived to retrieve the country's waste.  

Prominent Canadian brands can be seen after container full of plastic opened in Malaysia. (Eric Szeto/CBC)

Transitioning to a zero or reduced waste lifestyle seems far more daunting in theory than it is in practice, Thole said, emphasizing how effortless it becomes once those habits are formed. And it doesn't have to be all or nothing, either.

"Set a goal, something that's very tangible, and start with one thing. Maybe commit to eliminating a particular type of plastic that you use all the time, like vowing not to buy bottled water anymore or skipping the produce bags at the grocery store or refusing straws at restaurants," she suggested.

"It really becomes a lot easier as you go because once something becomes a habit you don't have to think about it anymore."

To discuss plastic waste reduction, Tremonti spoke to: 

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Émilie Quesnel with files from CBC News. Produced by Alison Masemann and Sarah-Joyce Battersby.

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Tippi Thole buys food products in bulk and stores them in her kitchen cupboards in glass jars. (Joanne Bayly/CBC)