Nicole walks into the local grocery store every Wednesday afternoon, preferring to avoid the weekend mayhem. Carrying her re-usable shopping bags with a sense of purpose and confidence, she heads toward the entrance with ear-buds sweeping in soothing rhythms to deal with the coming anxieties. Each bag handle dangles in the air as she clutches them all together in her fists, each one a different colour, salvaged from previous shopping trips or someone (luckily) leaving theirs at her house. These bags have seen many shopping trips, refilled time and again at the same grocery store, every Wednesday, in suburban Ottawa. It should be a very normal afternoon for her it seems, yet every time she walked through the sliding doors, it would become the most trivial, saddening, and stressful experience; one she had to deal with over and over again, every Wednesday.
The issue Nicole has, and so many other like-minded folks share, is the absence of choice. It’s not the lack of choice in brands or variety, but the lack of control she has over the amount of plastic she takes home to just toss in the garbage or the recycling bin (if it even gets to a recycling facility). After spending enough money to feed a family of four on herself, she redeems the act of filling up her garbage bins with indestructible, Earth-toxic materials. The enforced cycle will start all over again on Thursday morning. Nicole is just one person who tries so hard to make a difference. Reusable coffee and water bottles, compost and recycle, organic and bulk foods, short showers, cold-water laundry, meat once a week, and don’t even get her started on all her “vintage” clothing. “It’s all second-hand stuff, let’s be honest here,” she laughs. Her nose-ring glints sunlight as her smile grows. “But really—living as an eco-friendly gal has a lot of challenges and there’s a lot more to it than most people seem to realize.”
The more I hung out with Nicole, the more I kept asking the question: Is the average person doing as much as she is? And if they are–if there are people who care in the world– why haven’t we seen a change yet? We all get stuck watching videos on social media about plastic invasions all over the world, taking in all the evidence about a parasitic race invading the planet—us. We’ve dominated this planet for so long now and all we’ve done is distanced ourselves from nature. Trying to get back to it has become not only an expensive inconvenience, but a belayed burden for some. Halloween and Christmas can become the darkest hours with over-consumption, consumerism, and tiny plastic packaging for individual “fun-size” candies. The alternative being trick-or-treaters taking handfuls of loose chips out of your personal stash, which is not entirely ideal, and pretty creepy.
Nicole is a younger woman. At 28 years-old she struggles with finances, job security, and the every-day grind we’re all familiar with. But what about the older generation? What do they think about the impending existential risks that we seem to blame on the Baby-Boomers? Robert is fully aware of the issues at hand, and at the age of 64, he does make an effort to reverse the damage that has been done, to the best of his abilities. A steady income is one of the factors that allows him to make those changes. The backwards thinking of an older population isn’t the issue apparently, it’s the lack of financial security that hinders our attempts at making more eco-friendly lifestyle choices. Plastic is cheap to manufacture and to sell, but what’s hardest is changing the way we live. 28 years-old or 64, the theme is the same, how can I change to better our dying planet? Robert has chosen to put the emphasis on his home in Spencerville, Ontario; recently retired, it’s where he spends most of his time and his money. “Triple glazed windows, geothermal heating, plant more trees, and when we go out, we plan it so we kill many birds with one stone.” I noticed his home being on the chillier side when I walked in mid-October, so we can assume the thermostat stays fairly low as well. I’m grateful for the steaming cup of coffee he handed to me before we sat down in the cozy, yet modern living room. What a lot of people tend to assume is that Robert’s generation is the cause of our over-use of fossil fuels and our consumerist desires, but in fact, his generation is working just as much as Nicole’s. Truly, the older generation was the one who reused and recycled everything, all by themselves. Wasting was not an option at that time, but re-buying when something broke or faded away just made things easier, and by the 1980’s, we were left with an oblivious view of the damage it was doing to our only home, planet Earth.
The changes, the fight, and the evolution of our society has only just begun, but think for a moment that if we could all channel a little bit of Nicole and Robert into ourselves for a day, what changes would we make? And would it make a dent in the walls of our toxic habits? As I sit down with Nicole at her favourite coffee shop, we discuss and compare what we love and hate about our new shampoo bars from Purple Urchin. The topic of essential oils and how much they’ve changed our lives is inevitable and the glint that shone on her nose ring just hours before is now in her eye, as we have both found someone else who cares. Two people who have joined the fight for Mother Earth—a group where everyone is welcome.
Chloe Vincent is an avid reader, aspiring writer, and lover of culture. Being in her second year of Professional Writing at Algonquin College and a new mother there’s always another step to take to get further. Check out her children’s book “The Life of a Pie” at the Connections store and always check back here for more.