On July 1st, Canada Day, millions of Canadians committed to go #PlasticFreeJuly
Plastic Free July Series (Part 1 of 4)
Yearly, Canadians produce 3.3.million tonnes of plastic waste while 2.8 million tonnes (the weight of 24 CN towers) of it ends up in the landfill, according to statistics from Oceana Canada. Approximately only 9% of this waste is recycled. Environment and Climate Change Canada shows that 47% (one-third) of Canada’s plastic waste comes from single-use sources such as packaging. Therefore, focusing on cutting down the production and use of single-use plastics should be prioritized amongst other areas of concern with plastic. The Government aims to ban the use of plastics by 2021 by implementing the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste (more on this in part 4 of the Plastic Free July series). For the month of July, I will help raise awareness of the plastic problem we face, contribute to and suggest ways that individuals and governments can help through a four-part Plastic Free July series.
The Plastic Free July campaign originally started in 2011 in Western Australia by founder of the Plastic Free Foundation, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz. This has had a global rippling effect of raising environmental awareness and bringing about changes in the reduction of plastic waste not only in the month of July. Join us in raising awareness and doing your part. This campaign has been ongoing but how can we make greater strides to eliminate plastic use? As of 2020, 86% of Canadians would like to see single-use plastics be banned by 2021, according to Oceana. This 5% increase in support from the 2019 statistics of 81% shows that individuals are becoming more mindful, alarmed and interested in making changes.
Our oceans and land are impacted by the anthropogenic-induced plastic crisis. Harming flora, fauna and resulting in the environmental karma humans face when plastics affect us in the water we drink, the food we eat and the air that we breathe. While we may say, what’s one plastic straw going to do? Unknowingly, too many people say that without thinking about the collective impact. We need to wake up and recognize that plastic waste from one country is also another country’s concern as wind and ocean currents (e.g. Great Pacific Garbage Patch) help transport plastic waste with ease. We are all in this together and the onus is on every person on this planet.
Plastics are found in polyester fibres in our clothing, helium balloons that land in oceans, disposable coffee cups and cutlery, tea bags, produce stickers, glitter (cosmetic and craft)- they’re everywhere!
However, we must do our best to use plastic-free alternatives (more on this in part 2 of the Plastic Free July series).
Ashley Wallis, Plastics Program Manager at Environmental Defence Canada raises concerns that the plastic waste statistics will only increase with time as plastics are constantly being produced and used as a foundational material in different industries. For this reason, they are also pushing for the government to ensure that the ban on single-use plastics moves forward and for them to make manufacturers more responsible for their plastic products and resultant waste. Wallis believes that manufacturers have unfairly shifted the burden onto consumers to properly sort and dispose of plastic materials. Taxpayers are paying for recycling systems in Canada and therefore paying for the infrastructure to handle all of the manufacturer’s complicated material that the recycling process wasn’t originally designed to handle. Thus, it should be the manufacturer’s responsibility to make products and packaging out of simpler plastic alternatives or products with a circular economy approach where items can be easily broken down and used to create other goods rather than being sent straight to the landfill.
COVID-19 seemed to have allowed some people to reverse their plastic-free and reusable product lifestyles. From the onset of the pandemic, there has been an increase in the use of single-use plastics by 250-300%, according to the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). That alarming increase would lead to even further environmental disruption that is being caused by plastics in the air, water and terrestrial ecosystems if proper recycling measures are not put into place. While Wallis states the banning of single-use plastics in personal protective equipment (e.g. masks) for medical and pharmaceutical use is not on their agenda as it is justified and understood for medical purposes, she encourages the public to have reusable options.
However, Wallis notes that this increase in single-use plastic since the onset of COVID-19 was also due to an increase in plastic bag use and disposable cups as places have temporarily stopped taking reusable cups and containers. She believes that the plastic industry also seems to be pushing a narrative that plastic is more sterile or hygienic during the pandemic misleading the understandably nervous and fearful public, due to the pandemic, to, unfortunately, overlook plastic alternatives under this false assumption
While single-use plastic is the most dominant type of plastic that is focused on in the Plastic Free July initiative, Environmental Defense places emphasis on promoting the elimination of all plastic as much as possible in your daily lives. Governmental action through policies and individual action will create a holistic approach in dealing with the plastic crisis we’ve created and indulged in.
So what can we do? Take a look at the items you use daily and ask yourself, where can I find an environmentally sustainable alternative?
COVID or not, we should attempt to reduce the amount of plastics we purchase and use plastic alternatives in the best and safest way we can for both our health and that of the environment, presently and in the future.
In the meantime, read about the impact of microplastics in the ocean as 1.9 million pieces of microplastics can settle in just 1m2 of the ocean’s seafloor, while unsettling sea life. That’s about two million too many, if you ask me.
Similarly, see Plastic Free July in a nutshell.