Nova Scotia·waves of change

Small group hopes to convince entire community to ditch plastic

A small group of determined residents in Lunenburg, N.S., has undertaken a big task — rid the seaside town of single-use plastics.

Plastic Free Lunenburg is on a mission to change the habits of customers and business owners

About eight residents came together this summer to form Plastic Free Lunenburg. (Gary Yim/Shutterstock)

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A small group of residents in Lunenburg, N.S., has undertaken a big task — rid the seaside town of single-use plastics.

Plastic Free Lunenburg, a collection of about eight passionate residents that formed this summer, is trying to convince business owners and customers alike that it's time to move beyond recycling. 

It's time to refuse plastics altogether.

"We really need to address behavioural changes and so to get at that, it's really about attitudes and really capturing people's confidence that they can make a difference," said member Teresa Quilty.

Plastic Free Lunenburg is arming restaurant owners with information about green alternatives, launching an education campaign to change consumers' habits and discussing ways for the entire town to share resources.

"It'll be within the next year or two that we'll reach that tipping point where it's like this is just how we live in Lunenburg," said Quilty. "We just really refuse these single-use plastics and that's how it is."

The perfect size to share

The group is in talks with the Town of Lunenburg about allowing the community centre's dishes and cutlery to be shared with anyone who needs it.

Whether hosting a birthday party or a weekend festival, the idea is that residents could borrow dishes and cutlery instead of buying items that would end up in the trash. 

"I think in a community of 2,500 people it's kind of perfect because it's a size where you can actually easily access decision-makers, easily engage them and easily be noticed," said Quilty.

Quilty visited nearly half of the restaurants in town this summer to find out what's standing in the way of them ditching single-use plastics such as straws, to-go cups and containers.

She said some small businesses worry about the risks and costs, but there are also many that have already made changes.

Katherine Eisenhauer, who owns The Savvy Sailor on Montague Street, has offered compostable takeout containers since she opened, and this year switched to wooden cutlery, too.

It costs more but it's worth it, she said. 

"You just see a volume that's so different when you're in the restaurant industry that you don't necessarily see at your home, and it really makes you aware. It's so in your face how much plastic is being used unnecessarily."

'We refuse to accept all of this garbage'

Katherine Marsters, who owns The Point General just outside Lunenburg in Blue Rocks, stopped stocking to-go cups altogether this summer.

If customers want a coffee or tea, they must bring their own cup or use one of Marsters's mugs. She said even a simple change like that goes against people's normal habits. It became about "trying to change the culture of coffee drinking."

"So it gave me the platform to talk about reducing plastics and reducing waste and just taking a moment to enjoy," she said.

Quilty said Plastic Free Lunenburg can't solve the problem of all plastics. People will still order products online and many grocery stores continue to be stocked with plastic-wrapped food from elsewhere. 

Still, it's a start that she hopes has a ripple effect far beyond Lunenburg. 

"That sets an example that's pushed back up to stores, to manufacturers, to companies that are actually producing all of this, and says enough ... We refuse to accept all of this garbage."

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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