Your Plastic Footprint encourages people to learn more about plastics and the dangers of these products to ourselves and Earth’s fellow creatures and how to use (and consume) less. While author Rachel Salt didn’t intend to create a book about doom and gloom, I did find made me feel scared and overwhelmed. However, if you go past those pages about what plastic is and the problems it is creating, she offers you real ways to help decrease your dependency on plastic and use less.

Prior to COVID-19, I thought I was doing fairly well in decreasing the amount of plastic I used and then what felt like overnight, I was using more plastic then I had ever done before.

In this Q&A, author Rachel Salt talks about the dangers of plastics and how everyone can make a difference.

Hi Rachel,

Congratulations on your book, Your Plastic Footprint: The Facts about Plastic Pollution and What You Can Do to Reduce Your Footprint from Firefly Books. This is your second book about plastic. Your first book, The Plastic Problem, came out in 2019. Can you tell me the difference between the two books?

A. The main difference between the two books is the scope. The first book, The Plastic Problem, covers our plastic crisis broadly and delivers solutions to individuals, businesses and countries to make a difference. While, Your Plastic Footprint, zooms in and investigates how we as individuals interact with plastic on a daily basis and shows how that visually stacks up over time. Additionally, the first book is suitable for a younger audience (ages nine to 12), and the second book goes into a lot more detail and it designed for an older audience (13 and up).

Q. Why is now the time to talk to people about plastic?
A. In 2018 ‘single-use’ was named the word of the year by Collins Dictionary (referring to items designed to be used one time and then thrown away). Since then, so much has changed and we have faced so many challenges. Plastic pollution may no longer be headline news, but the problem has not gone away! Now is a great time to rethink our relationship with plastic.

Q. How did you become aware of the plastic problem in our world? Would you consider yourself a zero-plastic user? Explain.
A. I’ve always considered myself a very diligent recycler. I always felt really good about recycling and I assumed that everything I recycled was being turned into new goods. One day a friend challenged my assumptions about recycling, and I began to learn that though recycling is an important tool, it is definitely imperfect. From that point on I became so curious about what happened to our waste and wanted to learn more.

I started to document what I was learning on Instagram as well as my attempts to reduce my waste. I started really small, like skipping the plastic produce bags at the grocery store. I started buying cooking supplies at bulk stores and bringing my own containers. Though I have reduced waste in a lot of ways I’m definitely far from zero waste though I admire people who have made that commitment.

Q. Why did you decide to write Your Plastic Footprint? How long did it take from idea to final product? Did you learn anything you didn’t know before? What was the most interesting thing you learned? What is the most important lesson you want people to take away from this book?
A. I think a lot of people are aware of our plastic crisis and they want to do their part to make a difference. I wanted to create a book that showcases how the plastic waste a single person makes in their lifetime stacks up and how reducing our waste can really make a difference. I started writing in August 2019 with a goal of completing the first draft before the arrival of my first baby.

However, baby had other plans and arrived way ahead of schedule! It took me three additional months, a lot of help at home, and an amazing editor but eventually I was able to finish. I learned so much while researching this book. Maybe one of the most fascinating things I learned was the innovative packaging alternatives people around the world are creating (did you know you can make styrofoam-like packaging from mushroom ‘roots’?). The most important thing I want people to take away from this book is that the changes they make can make a difference.

Q. In your introduction, you suggest there will be a lot of jarring numbers and images on the pages, but the book isn’t about dismay, but rather a call to action to encourage people to learn how much plastic they use and how to decrease their dependency on it. What are the five easiest ways people can reduce the amount of plastic they use?
A. Remembering the 6Rs is a great way to use less plastic. The No. 1 most important ‘R’ is reduce. Whether it’s buying less clothes, less electronics, or food (make a meal plan and grocery list so you don’t buy more than you need and your food spoils).

Next up is Reuse. What are the single-use items that are currently part of your routine (coffee cup, cutlery, mask) try and substitute this with an item you can use again and again – it doesn’t have to be fancy and if you can find something second hand even better!

No. 3, Rethink – one of the reasons we dispose of plastic so easily is we think it is low value, what if you reframed plastic as something precious? How would this change your relationship with plastic?

Repair: more often than not the things in our life that we throw away and replace with a new item were fixable. If you aren’t very handy, check out tutorials on YouTube or invest in someone’s craftsmanship, be it a tailor or a shoe cobbler.

Refuse: if you don’t need it, don’t take it. For example, if you dentist hands you a new set of floss (but you already have a supply sitting untouched at home), you can politely say no thanks!

Last on the list is recycle – it is last for a reason. Though an important part of our waste solution, a lot of items we throw in the bin are never recycled for one reason or another, better to follow the first 5Rs before tossing it in the bin.

Q. How can the average person get manufacturers to reduce their use of plastics?
A. Great question! If you are using social media, you can use your platform to help hold brands accountable. Snap a picture if you see excessive packaging and tag the company. See some branded trash in your neighbourhood? Tag the brand and let them know that you no longer want their product served in single-use containers

Q. While Canadians produce and use a lot of plastics, you could argue that even if this country did its part, plastic would still be a problem planet wide? What would you say to people who would say what’s the point if the rest of the world is still consuming so much plastic?
A. Plastic pollution is a global issue, and it isn’t equitable. Trash dumped in the Toronto harbour could one day end up in the middle of the ocean. It could take just one piece of litter to seriously harm an animal. With that in mind, every piece counts.

Q. At one point in the book you talk about people not worrying so much about making a plan to reduce their plastic use, but just doing it. Why is it important to just do it? What are ways people can make long-term differences?
A. In my experience I sometimes get too caught up in doing something ‘perfectly’ and if I don’t meet the expectations of my plan, I give up. Everyone is different and a plan along the way can certainly be helpful, but I recommend starting today and seizing that excitement and motivation you are feeling!

What’s one thing you can change today? As you find things that work for you repeat them and set yourself up for success – soon these changes will be part of your routine. Your path to reducing your waste is bound to be imperfect, but if everyone reduced their waste imperfectly it is way more impactful than a handful of people doing something 100 per cent.

Q. Are you hopeful for the future as far as plastics in our oceans go?
A. I am hopeful! Millions around the world are trying to reduce their waste, through public pressure business are changing their packaging and governments are changing their policies. Change is absolutely possible!

Q. If people don’t change their dependency on plastics, what do you think will happen to our oceans and the creatures that call it home? How will this harm humans?
A. Millions of animals die every year in relation to plastic pollution. Already humans eat a credit card size amount of plastic via microplastic a week. If we don’t change our relationship with plastic, these impacts will certainly amplify. More research is required to understand the impact ingesting plastic has on our health.

Q. What message do you want to give to children about making a difference?
A. The main message is that you matter! The changes and decisions you make matter. What you do as a single person is so important but remember that we’re stronger together. Share what you are doing and learning with others. Use your voice to challenge industries and companies that pollute. Demand that your government does more to protect your environment and future. Your voice is so important and so are you!

Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. Be part of the solution, not the pollution.