Author Rasha Rehman / Category Sustainable Living / Published: Aug-21-2019
Author Rasha Rehman / Category Sustainable Living / Published: Aug-21-2019
Every minute, one garbage truck-worth of plastic waste is dumped into an ocean around the world. In total, 8 million tonnes of plastic waste is polluted into oceans, lakes and rivers.
Think about it. Plastic bags, cutlery and straws are everywhere - from bottled water, sea salt to water pipes. There’s no doubt we are dependent on plastic materials and are wrestling with the best solutions to reduce its use and look for alternatives instead. Toronto’s latest contribution was marking July 30 as Single-use Plastic Free day. This day is dedicated to raise awareness and reduce the use of single-use plastics. And its part of Toronto’s Long-Term Waste Management Strategy and TransformTO climate action strategy - both plans underway to reduce waste.
Now Canada’s plans to manage plastic use are already underway. However, provinces and cities are independent to enforce their own standards and policies. To deal with this, Canada has announced to ban the use of single-use plastics beginning 2021. Global action on all scales is much needed. If consistent action isn’t taken, the World Economic Forum predicts there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans by 2050.
How exactly is plastic harmful to the environment? What are the alternatives for companies to reduce their plastic use? And does this mean we need to change our economic structures?
What’s the big deal?
Improper decomposition, chemical debris and entrapping marine mammals are some of the consequences of plastic pollution.
Plastic does not decompose completely and is broken down into smaller micro plastics. This tough, debris is often mistaken as food and consumed by fish and marine mammals. Micro plastics fill their stomachs and these animals are unable to eat other food and are left starving. This debris isn’t just empty space - micro plastics release toxic chemicals that disrupt hormones and liver function when eaten by animals.
The damage doesn’t just stop with animals. Plastic debris is harmful to humans as well. Why you may ask? Majority of plastic is composed of two popular, toxic ingredients - vinyl chloride and styrene.
Your home pipes, window frames and shower curtains all contain vinyl chloride. What’s the big deal? The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorized this chemical in group 1 - with tobacco smoke. If you think window frames and home pipes aren’t close enough, the second chemical, styrene is most commonly found in plastic cutlery and styrofoam. IARC has categorized styrene in group 2 with other chemicals associated with cancer.
Don’t forget marine plants
Plastic waste includes a variety of material and most of it is found in oceans and lakes is fishing gear. Lost or abandoned fishing gear makes up for 640,000 tons of ocean plastic and stays within the ecosystem for up to 600 years. It’s not just animals and humans who are impacted by plastic waste. Micro plastic disrupts marine plants and over 50% of the world's coral reefs have died in the last 30 years. About 70% of Earth’s oxygen derives from marine plants instead of trees.
The freedom to choose in a circular economy
The priority to reduce plastic waste begins with reusing and recycling on all scales. From recycling in a household to cities announcing special days for raising awareness are all great for tackling this issue.
The best solutions begin with education. After all, when you see your favourite clothing brand or your company take part in eco-friendly initiatives, it may encourage you to get involved right away. If not, for whatever reason, exploring different clothing, food or product options is a great alternative. Many emerging, small businesses are striving to differentiate themselves in every way while grabbing your attention. From manufacturing processes, product selection or simply their mission - you have a variety of reasons to make your decisions.
Take for example one of the most competitive industries, fashion. Many retail brands are moving towards creating ethical and sustainable clothing- this can mean a variety of processes. Clothing can be produced from ethical practices where people who have created the products were treated safely and paid fairly. Clothing can be biodegradable - materials like silk, linen and certain hemp fabrics are easily decomposed. Also, clothing can be made from eco-friendly or reused materials with minimal damage to the environment. The purpose of these processes or the combination of them are rooted into a new systematic thinking - circular economy. This sounds like large numbers, big investments, and international deals. And it is, except with a twist.
Circular economy is based on the natural principle of nothing being wasted and everything being reused. It’s the same principle central to how the environment sustains itself. Nothing dead really goes to waste. It’s pretty simple. When animals or trees die; they are consumed as food for other animals. Bacteria and fungi thrive on decaying matter and inherently release nutrients into the soil which grows other plants. Now how can this principle be applied to our economy? Every product that is produced can be based on “waste,” that is recycled and reused. No material’s life cycle comes to a complete end as it is reused into creating a new product which keeps cash flowing.
In the earlier example of the fashion industry, circular economy here would mean clothing that is produced from recyclable materials. Awoke N’ Aware’s hoodies are made from plastic recycled into fabric. No plastic here is gone to waste and it’s a sweet deal. No marine animals are exposed to micro plastics and the initial effort to create plastic is circled back to a new product instead of going to waste.
“Canada on average, contributes less than 0.01 MT (millions of metric tonnes) of mismanaged plastic waste”
According to Science Magazine's “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean,” article, Canada is responsible for less than 0.01 million metric tonnes worth of plastic waste. Despite the low impact number in comparison to other countries, provinces are independent of regulations or policies that govern plastic waste management, landfills, etc. As every city is coming up with its own plastic management system - it’s costly, time consuming and in-cohesive.
Not all global cities are on the same page to trail-blaze plastic reduction solutions. And there are no formal financial or legal policies governing this. Recycling and collecting plastic can be expensive, making plastic products from fossil resources is inexpensive and polluting oceans and lakes with plastic is easy. The most impactful plastic reduction solutions come from global movements. That sense of community, togetherness paired with education - drives everyone to genuinely care about what they are passionate about and do something about it. And these ideas are achievable.
More responsibility and legislation (EPR)
There’s no need for compromise or giving up one issue for the other. EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) legislation is a solution in the works for holding producers and businesses responsible for collecting and recycling the materials they create. I know. It sounds taxing and time consuming, but it directs our economy into that circular principle of no waste - just simple reuse.
Collection processes and high taxes are EPR consequences that would encourage businesses to create recycling processes, programs, improve packaging and manufacturing. If businesses have a responsible environmental framework to operate within - imagine the variety and benefits of such sustainable products! EPR work is already being implemented. The Beer Store functions within this framework as consumers pay a small fee included in their bottle or can be purchased that is refunded when you return it to the store. These bottles and cans are organized by the store and sent back to their manufacturers for reuse. Approximately 95% of the company’s purchases is acquired and reused.
So what’s happening?
The average life cycle of the plastic bag you have last used was 12 minutes. A product that lasts 12 minutes but takes more than 500 years to decompose has got to go. Luckily more is being done now than ever. Like Canada, UK is banning single-use plastic products. Kenya has implemented a rigorous plastic bag ban. The European Commission has established bans against 10 popular plastic items. And Reports from UN Environment and World Resources Institute (WRI) reveal that at least 127 of all 192 countries assessed have implemented some sort of plastic bag bans or legislation.
Changes are being made. On a global scale, they may be harder to implement but right here at home, things can be easy. Mark your calendars for July 30, 2020 to act against plastic and raise awareness. Or start with something today, right now, and show that you genuinely care about the environment and its future.
Rasha Rehman"Communication lead by day and media entrepreneur by night; Rasha is a passionate Toronto-based journalist. Adopting nutrition and fitness habits and striving to make a positive impact on the envrionment keeps Rasha going."Aug-21-2019