COLUMN: Drowning in a sea of disposable plastic

On my less-organized days when I need to grab lunch on the fly, it usually involves a walk to a nearby grocery store.

While convenient and fairly economical, buying a sandwich and a bit of fresh fruit to tide me over often leaves me feeling like no friend to the environment.

Last Thursday’s midday meal was a case in point, including two plastic clam-shell containers – for the aforementioned sandwich and fruit – and a plastic bag of baby carrots.

I decided not to add to my shame and skipped the plastic shopping bag, opting instead to carefully balance my modest bounty as I strolled back to the office.

Once empty, the containers went into the recycling bin and from there, well, who really knows?

I trust they will be re-purposed into something useful and not end up in a landfill – or worse.

But with less than 10 per cent of single-use plastics being recycled at the moment in Canada – and figures that are no doubt similar or far worse in other parts of the world – my responsibly recycled (though still wasteful) lunch containers represent only a small drop in a large – and badly polluted – ocean.

In fact, with the recent marking of Oceans Week we learned that more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste is being dumped into the ol’ salt chuck every year.

Much of it has simply been carelessly discarded. Even placed in the garbage, light plastics can be blown out of a landfill and into nearby creeks and rivers, eventually making their way to the sea.

Also during Oceans Week the prime minister indicated Canada will announce the elimination of single-use plastics – shopping bags, straws, stir sticks and the like – as early as 2021.

These are some of the items most likely to end up floating in garbage islands or be cut out of the bellies of dead marine mammals.

Some have already dismissed the announcement as a meaningless gesture. Within the larger context of our planet, where a handful of developing countries have been singled out as the worst offenders, that sense of futility is understandable.

But it doesn’t mean that 37 million people can’t make some difference. At the moment, Canadians are reportedly tossing away three million tons of plastic annually and one third of plastics used here are single-use items, including 15 million plastic bags and 50 million straws per day. (I got a lot of email during Oceans Week).

True, we represent just under half a per cent of the world’s population, but at the moment we are also one of the most respected nations on Earth (Forbes currently puts us at number 7), and that comes with the responsibility to lead by example.

So far, we’re doing a pretty poor job.

A ban seems to me like a good place to start. In theory, at least.

It’s the execution that concerns me.

Ditching drinking straws, party balloons and water bottles is an obvious first step. Opting for the more environmentally friendly option whenever possible – also doable. It may – as it has been pointed out – take more energy to make a reusable cloth bag than it does scores of plastic bags. The difference is, that cloth bag will eventually decompose.

Other solutions are less easy to execute.

One Oceans Week release advised, among other steps, choosing not to purchase items that come wrapped in plastic. I’m still trying to decide if the person who wrote it has ever stepped inside a grocery store.

In addition to pre-made sandwiches and melon chunks, pretty much everything we eat, from soup to nuts, comes wrapped in some form of plastic – sometimes layers of it when individual portions are involved. Even the bulk food produce sections offer rolls of plastic bags for shoppers’ convenience.

Plastic is durable, it’s leak-proof, sanitary, convenient and familiar. So it’s no wonder we use it for pretty much everything.

With what I think can be accurately described as humanity’s addiction to plastic, can we manage to put the genie back in the (disposable) bottle?

Possibly. But not without serious effort, including major incentives for both producers and consumers, and a level of personal and political will the world has not yet seen.

None of this means we shouldn’t try, but for now, at least, it’s far from in the bag.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The peninsula’s Community Christmas Day Dinner at White Rock Baptist Church – seen here in 2019 – has been cancelled for 2020, because of pandemic-inspired limitations on gatherings. (File photo)
Annual Community Christmas dinner ‘just not possible’ this year

Organizers vow that 40 years-plus Semiahmoo Peninsula tradition will return, post-COVID

Sources volunteers face off at the organization’s ‘Enchanted’ gala – one as a fairy and the other as her magic-mirror reflection – held in 2019. (Tiffany Kwong photo)
‘Rising infections’ prompts move to virtual Sources gala

Silent auction, raffle opens to public at 9 a.m. Oct. 30

This year’s annual Lighted Boat Parade has been cancelled. (File photo)
White Rock’s annual Lighted Boat Parade cancelled

COVID-19 cited as main reason for cancellation of popular winter tradition

Strawberry Hill Hall is being renovated and moved to another location on its existing corner lot in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey’s historic Strawberry Hill Hall being moved a few metres in $1.2M reno project

Childcare spaces coming to corner lot where hall has stood for 111 years

A surveillance camera in a photo posted to the Project Iris page on
Quality surveillance video helps catch crooks, Surrey Mounties say

Charges laid in connection to break-and-enter in Guildford area

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks Thursday (Oct. 29) during a news conference held at Fraser Health office, in video posted to Facebook. (Photo: Government of British Columbai/Facebook)
COVID-19 ‘disproportionately’ affecting Fraser Health: Henry

Health region has about 75 per cent of B.C.’s active cases

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Most Read