Plastic Free Beach Toronto

Meet DORA ATTARD, the kind heart behind this important cause.
I’ve lived in the beaches area for almost 7 years and I work as a teacher. I am married and I have two daughters, 10 and 7. I love animals and I also work as an educational advisor for the organization Ontario Captive Animal Watch.

What and when made you activate Plastic Free Beach?
Two years ago, I was off work for four months due to an illness and I would walk my dog on the beach daily for exercise. I came across so much garbage even though it was in the middle of winter and not many people visit the beach then. I would go almost daily for 4 months and decided that instead of picking everything up and throwing it away, I wanted to do something else with it, something big. I decided to keep the plastic I picked up for six months and wash it, sort it and make an art installation with it. In over six months, I collected over 1,500 water bottles, over 3,000 straws and 2,500 coffee cups. I ended up making an 8ft water bottle using all of the water bottles, a giant straw using all of the straws and a wooden stand with mason jars hanging on it filled with items such as lighters, balloons, bottle caps, wrappers and more. I also had a painting done by a local artist who painted a giant fish on a piece of plywood and I attached micro plastics on the fish’s belly to make it look like it had eaten a belly full of plastic. I displayed my art on Balmy Beach for two days. I continue to organize beach clean ups almost every weekend from Spring until the end of Summer.

You reach out with your message on Instagram, where else?
I also have a Facebook page and I often post on other beach related pages, zero waste pages and environmental groups. @plasticfreebeachtoronto

How do you get a community involved/activated?
I make sure my beach clean ups are always family friendly by having activities for kids to do, such as designing and decorating Butt Buckets, (for cigarette butts), beach sign making day and I always have lots of extra pairs of reusable garden gloves for people who are just walking by and want to help with the clean ups. I joined forces with a group of people who live in the Beaches area and we formed ‘Not Your Typical Beach Clean Up’. Together we designed and made 16 Beach Boxes to place along the beach from Woodbine to Balmy. These boxes contain plastic bags to encourage the community to do their own beach clean up while visiting the beach. The boxes are refilled by people in the community.

Where did you think the reuse/recycle programs are going?
Many more people are now becoming aware of how our recycling system is broken and that recycling is not the answer to our worldwide issue with garbage. I think people are waking up more to the idea of reusing items they already have available instead of always buying new, but we still have a long way to go.

What do you find most on the beach?
Cigarette butts by far are the most littered item I find during clean ups or even just walking along the beach. Second would be micro plastics and bottle caps from water/pop bottles.

What was the first plastic YOU personally ditched?
The first plastic that I ditched was probably water bottles. I never really bought plastic water bottles to begin with but I would sometimes buy juice or juice boxes for the kids. We have always brought our reusable water bottles with us everywhere. I guess the next major single use plastic that I ditched was coffee cups. Once I found out that they were not recyclable, I would always remember my reusable one. I now have ones for cold drinks and hot as well as mini ones for the kids to get hot chocolate in the winter.

How plastic-free is your lifestyle now?
We are not perfect. Nobody is. We try our best not to purchase anything in plastic but it’s hard. We purchase a lot of bulk items, fruit and veggies that are not wrapped in plastic, bread from the bakery instead of wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. I started making our own granola bars because that was the one thing the kids would have packed in their lunch every day and it was the only thing that was wrapped in plastic. I’ve had to educate and remind my husband when he does the shopping (because he goes most of the time) to bring the reusable produce bags, not to buy items wrapped in plastic that I can buy at the bulk food store, and if it can be bought in glass or aluminum, then buy it in that instead. We switched to shampoo and conditioner bars or refillable containers for liquid, bamboo toothbrushes, reusable make up pads, deodorant in tins, refillable body cream and body wash and we just recently switched to "unpaper" towels and we love them! I refill my cleaning products, laundry detergent, dish washing powder and dish soap at bulk/refill stores.

If bulk buying? What containers do you recommend for purchasing and then storage?
When I first started buying bulk, I would bring all of my mason jars and glass containers to the store. Then I realized that they were very heavy to carry home on the Streetcar, so I started bringing my reusable cotton and produce bags as well as some Tupperware containers which were much lighter to carry home. At home, I transfer everything to the mason jars and other glass containers. When refilling liquids, I just bring the empty container to the store and refill it there. Whether it’s an empty laundry soap container or spray bottles for cleaning.

I like hummus and know that making it myself would save packaging…But I’ve been slow to stop the convenience of ready-made…

Do you think people in general are likely to drop convenience to be waste-free?  And what ways do you think manufacturers and supermarkets can get round this?
I feel like people want to do the right thing and the more they know, the more they’ll want to make those changes. I think the more that ‘zero-waste’ stores become available, the more people will be able to make these changes in their lives. The biggest thing I’ve heard, and I’ve said it myself, is that it takes too much effort and it takes too long to do it. I’ve had to change my way of thinking that everything needs to be done quickly and right away. I now plan things in advance, make more lists, and know that when going to buy ‘zero waste' items, that it may take a little longer or I may have to go out of my way to get what I need.

What is the most succinct activist argument you can make re: giving up plastic?
Every single piece of plastic that was ever made still exists today in some form. Whether it has broken down into smaller micro plastics and leached chemicals into our waters or has entered the food chain. It has now been proven that humans eat 70,000 micro plastics each year. If that’s not scary enough for someone to stop using plastic, then I don’t know what is.

What piece of plastic do you/did you find the most difficult to give up?
Toothpaste tubes (with fluoride). We still use them and I’m pretty sure that my husband will never give it up unless a refillable option becomes available. I have found fluoride free toothpaste in glass jars but I still feel like it is not for me. My next step will be to try toothpaste tabs.

Your favorite easy substitute? (i.e. soap (biodegradable) versus body wash in a plastic bottle)?
My favorite easy substitute would be produce bags. There are many places that now sell reusable mesh or cotton produce bags, including grocery stores right in the produce aisle. I sometimes forget or don’t have enough of my reusable produce bags so instead of using the single use plastic ones that the grocery store provides, I go over to the mushroom section and grab a couple paper bags. I use these to hold everything from lettuce to tomatoes to lemons.

Do you think the zero-waste movement will have the same impact a say that vegans have influenced the growth of plant-based meat substitutes.
I absolutely think it’s already happening. There are already so many organizations, stores, markets, and companies dedicated to the zero-waste movement. I think it will continue to grow and people will catch on and start making these important changes in their life to get to zero waste as close as possible. Like they say, ‘we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.’

Waste is just one aspect of the environmental problem. What other things are you doing to help reduce the impact of your own behavior/your family’s on the planet?
I personally, have not eaten red meat or pork in over three years and since I do the majority of the cooking at home, my family has significantly reduced the amount they eat as well. We are a family of cyclists, walkers and public transit. We do own a car and I just recently got my license so therefore, we hardly drive anywhere unless it is outside of the city or a major grocery shopping trip. We try not to buy new clothes often, especially for the kids since we get a lot of hand me downs from cousins and friends.

The environmental impact of waste on our planet is one thing/ climate emergency is another…. What steps do you feel we have to take to mitigate our impact on the planet?
I think driving and flying less and changing what you eat and buy are the biggest steps we can take. We need to exercise our rights both as citizens and consumers by voting and putting pressure on our government and companies to make the system wide changes that are needed.


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