Plastic. It’s everywhere. Try recycling it and you’re still throwing large amounts of it into your trash bin. While most household plastic packaging can be easily recycled, plastic packaging for a huge amount of products, from meat to cheese to toys to electronics, that does not boast the standard recycling symbols gets chucked even by the most dedicated recycling addicts.
Since 1955, when Life Magazine introduced “throwaways” (plastic utensils, plates, etc.) that freed housewives from the drudgery of dishes, human plastic use has spiralled out of control.
If you’re not already familiar with a few of the plastic atrocities choking Planet Earth, here’s a quick overview:
• The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex. Discovered in 1997, it’s the world’s largest landfill with millions of pieces of plastic, from microscopic to large, floating over an area of the Pacific Ocean one and a half times the size of the U.S. (The Observer)
• Plastic constitutes 90 percent of all trash floating in the world’s oceans (The Observer), and it has been estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement. (Greenpeace)
• The accumulation of tiny plastic particles in all of Canada’s Great Lakes are posing a threat to the natural ecosystem as well as the humans who use the lakes for their drinking water supply. (CBC)
• Canadians use nine to 15 billion plastic shopping bags each year (if nine billion bags were tied together, they would circle the earth 55 times). While a bag is used for five minutes to transport your groceries home, it takes 1,000 years to break down. However, they don’t biodegrade — they photodegrade, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic that eventually enter the food chain when they get ingested. (Greener Footprints)
Despite all the leaps and bounds in recycling technology over the last decade, there are still those who choose to ignore all these recycling streams and continue to lump all sorts of materials (tin, aluminum, glass and, of course, plastic) into their garbage bins, ultimately contributing to a global epidemic of plastic accumulation that is putting the health of many species, including humans, at risk.
Hopefully, as plastic awareness grows, recycling will become as commonplace as filling up your gas tank; and neglecting to recycle will become as socially unacceptable as smoking in a schoolyard.
During a trip to Kauai, Hawaii two years ago, I was astounded at the recycling awareness that permeates local culture as much as the sun and surf. Necessitated by a serious lack of space, instead of petroleum-based plastic containers, corn-based plastic products are the norm on this small island, from utensils to packaging. I left Kauai more aware of the possible solutions (and with a few forks in my pocket). Wouldn’t it be great if we could use Kauai as a model for here in the valley?
I recently bought a package of computer paper at a local store. I went with recycled paper, which cost twice as much. The cashier, in a very customer-friendly fashion, inquired: “Are you sure you want that? We have cheaper paper.” She look surprised when I told her I was happy to pay more for the recycled option.
Instead of cashiers automatically reaching for a plastic bag, wouldn’t it be great if local habits changed so plastic bags were only available to those who specifically ask for them. Or if local food businesses banded together to order corn-based plastic containers en masse in order to ditch the petroleum-based and styrofoam containers. Or if friends and neighbours held each other personally accountable for what they are throwing out each week.
A great resource for garbage reduction is the hilarious award-winning Clean Bin Documentary produced by a Vancouver couple in their 30s who compete with each other to produce the least amount of garbage over the course of a year. If you haven’t already seen it, visit www.cleanbinproject.com. Before you know it, you’ll be bringing your own reusable packaging to the grocery store and handwashing plastic bags. If people call you crazy, tell them to get with the times.
Nicole Trigg is The Echo’s Associate Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.