60 cities and coun­tries are go­ing plas­tic-free

Toronto should fol­low Van­cou­ver’s lead

Thornhill Post - - Currents - DAVID SUZUKI David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy (with files from Ian Han­ing­ton).

Peo­ple in Canada dis­card about 57 mil­lion plas­tic drink­ing straws ev­ery day. In my home­town of Van­cou­ver, we toss out 2.6 mil­lion dis­pos­able cups ev­ery week.

It’s a global prob­lem. Plas­tic prod­ucts are chok­ing landfills and wa­ter­ways and caus­ing dev­as­ta­tion in the oceans.

In 2014, sci­en­tists even found a new kind of stone in Hawaii, made of sand, shells, coral, vol­canic rock and plas­tic.

Only about nine per cent gets re­cy­cled; al­though, the fig­ure is higher in coun­tries like China, which pro­duces the most plas­tic but re­cy­cles about 25 per cent.

That’s why Van­cou­ver is set to join cities and coun­tries world­wide in ban­ning sin­gle-use items made from plas­tic and other ma­te­ri­als.

The ban, which will be­gin to take ef­fect in the fall, will cover plas­tic and pa­per shop­ping bags, poly­styrene foam cups and take­out con­tain­ers, dis­pos­able hot and cold drink cups, take­out food con­tain­ers and dis­pos­able straws and uten­sils from all city-li­censed restau­rants and ven­dors.

The city says it costs about $2.5 mil­lion a year to col­lect sin­gle-use items from pub­lic waste bins and parks, streets and green spa­ces.

Plas­tics are durable, which is both a ben­e­fit and a prob­lem. Prod­ucts made from plas­tics can last a long time but most are dis­carded af­ter a short time — very short in the case of sin­gle-use items — and take a long time to break down.

When they do break down, they don’t biode­grade; rather, they break into in­creas­ingly smaller pieces, many of which end up in the oceans as mi­croplas­tics that harm aquatic life and birds.

From man­u­fac­ture to dis­posal and be­yond, these items wreak havoc on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Al­most all plas­tic prod­ucts

“Exxon is both the gas in your car and the plas­tic in your wa­ter bot­tle.”

are made from chem­i­cals sourced from fos­sil fuels. Pro­duc­ing them re­quires a sig­nif­i­cant amount of re­sources and pol­lutes air and wa­ter with toxic chem­i­cals.

When they’re thrown away, they lit­ter land­scapes and clog landfills.

Of­ten they’re car­ried by wind and wa­ter­ways to the oceans, where they can be found ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing in mas­sive swirling gyres and in most of the an­i­mals that live in or on the seas.

Ad­di­tives in plas­tics can also leach into food and bev­er­ages, harm­ing hu­man health.

Plas­tics haven’t been around long, and their use only took off af­ter the Sec­ond World War, mir­ror­ing the boom in fos­sil fuel use.

Peo­ple have pro­duced more than nine bil­lion tonnes of plas­tic in less than 70 years, more than half of it over the past 13 years, ac­cord­ing to a study in Science Ad­vances.

We’re show­ing no signs of slow­ing down.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by the U.S.-based Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Law, the boom in cheap shale gas pro­duc­tion is fu­elling “a mas­sive wave of new in­vest­ments in plas­tics in­fra­struc­ture in the US and abroad, with $164 bil­lion planned for 264 new fa­cil­i­ties or ex­pan­sion pro­jects in the US alone, and spurring fur­ther in­vest­ment in Europe and be­yond.”

Com­pa­nies are mar­ket­ing plas­tic pack­ag­ing and other prod­ucts to coun­tries that haven’t been as re­liant on them and are not al­ways as aware of the prob­lems. That could drive pro­duc­tion up by a third.

Cen­ter staff at­tor­ney Steven Feit notes, “Fos­sil fuels and plas­tics are not only made from the same ma­te­ri­als, they are made by the same com­pa­nies. Exxon is both the gas in your car and the plas­tic in your wa­ter bot­tle.”

He noted that plas­tics will ac­count for 20 per cent of to­tal oil con­sump­tion by 2050 if con­sumer and pro­duc­tion trends con­tinue.

Plas­tic can and has been made from other sources, in­clud­ing plant-de­rived mol­e­cules, fi­bres and starches, but fos­sil fuels are still rel­a­tively plen­ti­ful and in­ex­pen­sive, and plant-based prod­ucts also come with en­vi­ron­men­tal bag­gage.

The best way to avoid the mas­sive dam­age that comes with plas­tics and fos­sil fuels is to stop us­ing so many.

We can avoid over­pack­aged prod­ucts, bring re­us­able bags and con­tain­ers to stores and cof­fee shops and use al­ter­na­tives.

For ex­am­ple, peo­ple who need to use straws be­cause of dis­abil­i­ties can carry straws made from biodegrad­able pa­per or re­us­able metal, bam­boo or glass.

Cities like Van­cou­ver and the 60 coun­tries mov­ing to ban or im­pose levies on sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts are tak­ing a step in the right di­rec­tion.

The plas­tiglom­er­ate stone, dis­cov­ered in Hawaii, is partly made of plas­tic

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.