The ban of some single-use plastics announced by the federal government last week is a good start — but that’s what it is, a start.
And with the pushback already beginning on this first step, we will need to be dedicated and robust so as not to lose these gains in the years to come, let alone take the further necessary steps needed to preserve our environment from our mounting piles of plastic waste.
Canadians toss out three million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Only nine per cent of that waste gets recycled. So where does the rest of it go? You guessed it.
If we’re lucky it ends up properly disposed of in landfills in Canada. If we’re not lucky, which much of the time we aren’t, it ends up burying third-world countries overseas where we ship our problems so they’re out of sight. And then of course there’s the 29,000 tonnes that we know makes its way into our environment, from plastic straws littering roadways, to can rings strangling birds, and plastic bags joining swaths of garbage in our waterways.
We haven’t gotten the message: it’s reduce, reuse, recycle. We’ve only paid attention to the “recycle” bit because that way we didn’t have to make any major changes in our daily lives. But that’s exactly the wrong way to look at it. Up first should be “reduce”. Followed by “reuse”, with “recycle” only for what we cannot get rid of with the first two.
Don’t think we need to reduce? If the three million tonnes of plastic garbage didn’t convince you, how about these numbers: 15 billion plastic bags used every year in our country, and 57 million straws used every day.
For almost every occasion, these two items can easily be replaced by non-plastic alternatives that are going to most likely be used more than once.
The ban is far from perfect. For one thing, only some plastics have made the list, namely checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard to recycle plastics.
Notably missing is a lot of the plastic packaging that wraps just about everything we purchase at a store. This is waste that consumers usually have no choice but to take home, and something that must be addressed in the future. And then there’s plastic water bottles. Reduce, reduce, reduce.
We need to do this. If we don’t do it now, voluntarily, we’re going to be forced to face our garbage. Because those countries where we ship out refuse? They’re starting to decline to take it. Think you see a lot of garbage in our environment now? Imagine if we actually have to come face to face with the true amount we produce.
Andrea Rondeau is the editor of the Cowichan Valley Citizen.
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