Woman picking out fresh produce with baby in cart


Cheese Strings are Convenient, But They Won’t Save You From an Environmental Disaster

Apr 19, 2019

I push the shopping cart through the grocery store, looking at my shopping list and making decisions for the coming week’s food. Do I get a block of cheese that has only one layer of wrapping, which is preferable? Or do I cave and buy the oft-requested, individually wrapped cheese strings that are so easy to grab as a just-in-case snack as I head out the door with the kids in tow? And let’s not forget the yogurt drinks my kids haven’t had in more than a year (when I stopped buying them to reduce our plastic use) but still longingly ask about. I now inhumanely force them to eat regular yogurt from a larger tub.

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I was a tree-hugging environmentalist long before I was a mom. My pedigree as an environmentalist was strong — I worked in a large health food grocery store as a beauty consultant for nearly a decade. I bought nut butter and cane sugar in bulk, preferred vintage clothing over new, and when I had my first baby, chose cloth diapers and wooden toys over anything plastic. I wasn’t perfect, but I was definitely trying to make environmental choices whenever I could.

'It’s way easier to put on the blinders and keep choosing convenience over the environment.'

Then we had a surprise pregnancy and I had a surprise encounter with prenatal and postpartum depression. Both of those things threw me for enough of a loop that I stopped thinking about the environment so I could focus on surviving. Cloth diapers gave way to disposable, and sometimes, survival took the form of buying pre-cut, packaged vegetables, or frozen meals wrapped in three different types of packaging. I felt guilty, but I didn’t have the energy to do the right thing.

Months turned into years, and convenience became my way of life. How much easier is it to toss pre-portioned, packaged snacks into lunches than it is to bake snacks, find reusable containers (and their matching lids) to put them in, and use everything up before it goes bad? The answer is way easier. It’s way easier to put on the blinders and keep choosing convenience over the environment. And how much can one person do, anyway?

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When the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent assessment in late 2018, it dominated the headlines. The report’s warnings were dire: the world is just 12 years away from a climate tipping point, at which point the scale of climate change-related catastrophes like droughts, rise in sea levels, flooding and more will increase by a large order of magnitude.

Between that and our increasing awareness of just how much single-use plastic is floating in our oceans, a lot of people are feeling galvanized to make some serious changes in their lives. When I say a lot of people, I actually mean me. Environmentalist me has made a comeback.

But I wanted to talk with an expert — a mom of two young kids who was making waste-free and plastic-free living work. I know plenty of women without kids who are trying similar things, but unless you’ve picked up a kid from a birthday party and watched them plow through their loot bag in 3.5 minutes, you can’t really understand the challenges parents face. It was enlightening.

'I know the magnitude of our waste problem can be overwhelming and depressing, but finding a way to keep hope alive is necessary, in order to stay productive.'

Robyn Driedger-Klassen is a Vancouver-based mother, singer and teacher who has been on the road to minimizing her family’s consumption for the past two years. “I’m doing this because I want it to become normal for everyone,” she tells me. “I want grocery stores and kids toy companies to make it easier for everyone to make environmentally conscious choices.” She does worry about burnout, though. It’s time-consuming to have to visit multiple stores in order to get the food she needs without packaging: a bulk food store for beans, rice, and other pantry staples, a natural dispensary to refill shampoo and detergent bottles, the market to stock up on fruits and vegetables and then the one butcher who’s willing to use her containers, rather than disposable packaging.

Driedger-Klassen explains this routine to me, and then heaves a big sigh. I don’t blame her at all. How do you do this and maintain a full-time job? With a lot of effort, it seems.

My takeaway is that every person’s actions matter and small choices in reducing waste can lead to more important choices. Once I began to notice just how much unneeded junk was being offered to consumers, I began to make different choices. I can’t afford fabric produce bags, so I double up vegetables in the bags I do take. I’m more likely to buy freshly baked items, to reduce how much packaging I throw away. My kids have more toys than they play with, so I plan to give them experiences as birthday gifts, rather than things. I’m starting to reuse the containers I might have recycled by now.

I know the magnitude of our waste problem can be overwhelming and depressing, but finding a way to keep hope alive is necessary, in order to stay productive. Remember that even an ocean is made up of single drops of water.

Article Author Glynis Ratcliffe
Glynis Ratcliffe

Glynis Ratcliffe used to be an opera singer, but after her daughter begged her to stop singing and be quiet for the millionth time, she decided to use her inside voice and write instead. Two years later, this mom of three writes regularly about parenting and mental health for online publications like Scary Mommy, BLUNTmoms, Romper, YMC and The Washington Post, as well copywriting, editing and ghostwriting for anchor clients in various industries. Find her on Facebook, Twitter as @operagirl and her blog, The Joy of Cooking (for Little Assholes).

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