FACT: Canadians throw away more than three (3) million tonnes of plastic waste every year, including 15 billion plastic bags and nearly 21 billion straws every year. A mere 9% of that is recycled.Source: CTV News
Growing up, I always had a drawer full of plastic bags and plastic utensils. We’d collect a whole bunch from going to grocery stores and fast-food restaurants, but as I grew older, that habit also grew. It grew into something different. We started using reusable cotton grocery bags, and we’d pack silverware for our lunches.
Although we made an effort to using less plastic, we could never fully escape the carbon footprint that we would go through in our capitalistic society. Most businesses cannot afford to package their items in eco-friendly materials, doing so would run their margin thin and cause them to go out of business. Some packaging alternatives could include paper, cardboard, or other materials, but these alternatives are also more costly in terms of production and/or shipping.
How It All Started
1933 – The most commonly used plastic, polyethylene, was created by accident at an English chemical plant during World War II.
1965 – Swedish company, Celloplast, patents a one-piece polyethylene shopping bag. Sten Gustaf Thulin designed plastic bags to quickly replace cloth bags in Europe.
1979 – Plastic bags currently control 80% of the European bag market and are introduced to the American markets to replace paper counterparts.
1982 – Two of the largest American supermarkets, Safeway and Kroger, switch to plastic bags while leading other businesses to follow suit.
1997 – Charles Moore, sailor, and researcher, discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest gyres of plastic in the world.
2002 – The first country in the world to implement a ban on thin plastic bags, Bangladesh, after it was found to clog drainage systems causing disastrous floods.
2011 – Officially, one million plastic bags consumer every minute on a global scale.
2017 – Kenya bans plastic bag use to join two dozen other countries that have reduced plastic bag usage or bans.
2018 – Annual World Environment Day hosted with a #BeatPlasticPollution theme to announce Government and corporate pledges to tackle plastic waste.
Source: UN Environment
Plastic bags were initially developed to combat an environmental concern, of which was to reduce the frequency that forests were being chopped down. Although that seemed like a good cause decades ago, it’s not the case now.
Plastic bags were designed to be stronger than paper bags and to be used multiple times, that did not come to fruition. Most plastic bags are used once and for once purpose, hence their classification as single-use plastic. This effect has caused an estimate that marine plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. With oceans of tremendous depth, it’s hard to imagine such a case.
In fact, plastic bags have reached a production rate of one trillion bags per year. To combat this, corporations, grocery stores, and other merchants have begun selling and distributing reusable cotton bags, but they also have other significant environmental impacts. For a cotton bag to be fully utilized, it needs to be used at least 131 times to outweigh the effects of a recycled plastic bag. This is because cotton requires huge amounts of water to grow and produce. As for paper bags, they would need to be used at least three times to be as ‘environmentally friendly’ as a recycled plastic bag.
Source: Independent UK
What’s Going On Now
Recently, the Canadian government has made strides to ban plastic with a major impact on the environment including,
- checkout bags,
- stir sticks,
- beverage six-pack rings,
- straws, and
- food packaging made from plastics that are difficult to recycle.
Items not covered in the ban include,
- garbage bags,
- milk bags,
- snack food wrappers,
- disposable personal care items and their packaging,
- beverage containers and lids,
- contact lenses and packaging,
- cigarette filters,
- items used in medical facilities, and
- personal protective equipment
Under the new regulations, the government of Canada will require:
- a minimum percentage (50%) of recycled content in recycled materials;
- rules for measuring and evaluating the amount of recycled content; and
- guidelines and related tools to help companies meet their requirements.
Although some of the government is trying its best to minimize the plastic waste being produced and distributed, are they doing enough? Many think they aren’t. Something to think about would be that cigarette buds are the most littered item in the world, yet they are not being banned. Questions need to be raised.
“The only way to prevent toxic substances from getting into the environment is to ban all of them. The government says it wants to tackle the climate crisis, protect our oceans, and move toward a circular economy, but as long as single-use plastics continue to be produced at current rates, there is no incentive for companies to transition to cleaner and healthier reuse models” – Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada
In addition to the beginning of the plastic bans, Jonathan Wilkinson, the Environment and Climate Change Minister, has pledged $2 million to a zero plastic waste initiative led by 14 Canadian projects.
Source: CTV News
What Will Happen
There are still many questions regarding what future actions the government will be taking and rightfully so. As King mentions in the quote above, the only way to prevent these toxic chemicals from getting into our environment is by completely banning them, and until then, we’ll be stuck with them.
The reason that the government has not yet placed a ban on all plastics yet is due to the nature of its materials. There aren’t any cheaper alternatives to replace them yet. The lack of affordable and readily available alternatives puts a major strain on the advancement of our environmental initiatives.
Source: CTV News
Wilkinson explains that the ban on single-use plastics has been delayed this year due to the pandemic. The government reported that through public support, a crackdown on certain plastic products diminished due to the importance of safety from a health perspective. In regards to the use of PPE, a proper recycling method will be investigated to determine the best and safest way to do so.
Source: CTV News
Looking forward, the government will need to continue working on zero waste initiatives while providing the resources that businesses need to make the transition from disposable to reusable or effectively recyclable. Take the initiative to make plastic waste less dominant in today’s society. Ask questions and keep learning.