PEI·Waves of Change

How a mom of 5 is reducing single-use plastic

Rachel Willcock started blogging about her journey to cut back on single-use plastic in July.

The family used to produce a bag of garbage a day. Now it's about one a week.

Rachel Willcock holds one of the produce bags that she sewed herself out of an old curtain. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.

Rachel Willcock has five good reasons to cut back on how much plastic waste her family produces: her children, who range in age from one to nine.

She started blogging about her journey to cut back on single-use plastic in July.

"The big household that we have, I just noticed that there's lots of garbage going out," Willcock said.

"I just decided that I want to start cutting back."

The five Willcock children range in age from one to nine. (Submitted by Rachel Willcock)

'Cut back a lot'

Willcock now records her progress weekly, on a page called Managing our waste at home.

"If I have new ideas or if I've made changes, I'll make notes and I think it's good for me to look back and see what I've done," Willcock said.

"I've cut back a lot."

Rachel Willcock posts weekly updates on the changes she's made to reduce single-use plastic. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The family used to produce a bag of garbage a day. Now it's about one a week. 

There have been challenges, including making the switch away from disposable diapers.

Learning curve

It's a learning curve. I made my own liners to go inside the diapers but then he started to get a rash and it was because of my liners," Willcock said.

"I can't find liners so I'm on pause with that." 

Chris Willcock shares a fist bump with one-year-old Thomas. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

She has found success taking her own containers to buy food in bulk. The cashier weighs the empty containers before Willcock scoops up her items. 

She has labelled the covers of recycled yogurt containers with what the item is and the code, then the cashier subtracts the weight of the container when she's paying.

"One cashier says I'm the only one that brings in 10 to 15 containers at a time," Willcock said.

Rachel Willcock takes out her collection of reuseable containers that she has just filled at the bulk food store. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Willcock would also like to take her own containers to the grocery store to purchase cold cuts, but so far has been turned down.

She has also not been able to find an alternative, yet, for potato chip bags and yogurt containers.

"I think we need help from manufacturers to do that, maybe more bulk stores," Willcock said.

"I don't know any of that on P.E.I. where you can go refill your own laundry detergent. I've seen that there are other places, like B.C., where you can go do that.  We need more of that kind of stuff." 

Rachel Willcock uses recycled yogurt containers to purchase items in bulk. The cashier weighs the containers before Willcock fills them. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

'It's so intimidating to think "how can I save the planet?"'

Chris Willcock, a computer programmer who helped set up the blog, is proud of what his wife has accomplished.

"She's become my hero on this because it's so intimidating to think 'how can I save the planet', there's so much pressure on us to do that with our big family," Chris Willcock said. 

"But Rachel has shown me that you can avoid hurting it and that's a place to start."

Rachel Willcock now makes her own bread and uses a bread box rather than plastic bags for storage. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Chris Willcock hopes Rachel's blog will help inspire others to make changes in their lives.

"What would really help, I think, is if we can build some awareness and get some social pressure happening so we see corporations respond to our buying with our feet," he said. 

"So that we can see more options which are earth-friendly and climate-friendly so Rachel and others just like Rachel wouldn't have to try so hard to find alternatives."

Rachel Willcock uses wash clothes for wiping up spills rather than paper towels. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Rachel Willcock said she will continue to track her progress on the blog, where she's getting lots of encouragement.

"People like it a lot, they're very impressed and it's inspirational to them too," she said.

"It does take a little bit more time but once you know what you're doing, you get into the rhythm of it, it is worth it."

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca