The War on Plastic

Part II: Fighting Back

By: Katie Zugic, Media Assistant

Plastic outlives the generations who use it. Piling up in landfills, ending up in waterways, and bioaccumulating in the food chain, most plastic products are used for less than an hour, yet take hundreds of years (or more) to break down. This has fostered an unsustainable petroculture encouraging consumption of single-use products such as bottled water, plastic bags, and polystyrene cups.

Single use items, such as bottled water, are a marketing gimmick – consumers have been convinced that tap water sources are inferior to those found in plastic casing, and that they should pay for a resource that is available for free, with no scientific justification of its superiority. Despite this seemingly straightforward logic, every minute 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world – and this number is increasing every day. When you take into account the associated carbon footprint of shipping bottled water from places like Fiji or Europe, it becomes very difficult to find a reason to support the industry – the environmental footprint is astronomical.

A study published earlier this month by Dr. Nicolas Weithmann and colleagues from the University of Bayreuth found that microplastics are so prevalent in day to day life that they are even found in organic fertilizers (i.e., compost), and are leaching into bodies of freshwater around the world. Whereas plastic pollution was once a localized phenomenon. it is now found from the high Arctic to the South Pole, where plastics were recently found for the first time in January 2018.

Sustainability initiatives at McGill University, University of Guelph, and University of British Columbia, have been at the forefront of the war against plastic, vowing to ban single use plastics on campus over the course of the next year. For a university like McGill, this means a cutback of more than 85 000 bottles of water used in the cafeteria, for on-campus events, and during student orientations.

The University of Guelph is opting for biodegradable bags and paper straws to eliminate the use of their plastic counterparts by the fall of 2018. This will account for a reduction in hundreds of thousands of plastic bags used on campus. For a sense of perspective, U of G’s bookstore uses more than 155,000 plastic bags each academic year alone. UBC has also started a petition to ban single-use plastic on campus, which would eradicate plastic straws, bags, coffee cups, utensils, and water bottles from on-campus retailers.

Many local retailers in Thunder Bay have joined the movement and are cutting back on their environmental footprint, such as providing paper or metal straws in lieu of plastics for their patrons. Vendors at the local farmers markets are also providing sustainable alternatives to plastic products, providing the option to bring your own container and buy in bulk, or offering products such as beeswax wraps which eliminate the need for single use plastics in your lunch.

It seems that there are a million articles telling us how pervasive our lifestyles are for the planet, although very few provide actionable solutions. Here are 11 ways you can be on the forefront of the war on plastic and cut back on your environmental footprint:

1. Buy in Bulk: Learn to Love Mason Jars

It is incredible how much you can do with a couple mason jars. Most bulk food stores will weigh your jar (and give you a discount) when you bring your own containers to purchase foods. Not only does this allow you to take exactly as much as you need (cutting back on food waste) but it’s also incredibly satisfying once you get home and stack up your reusable containers.

2. Cloth Produce Bags

It’s no secret: I’m obsessed with my Simply Ecology produce bags. These things are made of sustainably farmed cotton (no polyester or plastic by-products!)and keep your veggies nice and fresh while eliminating the need for plastic. It’s well-known that a plant-based diet is better for the planet, but when that diet comes at the expense of 10 – 15 plastic bags a week it becomes somewhat counterintuitive. Reusable bags are cheap, easy to clean, and come in a range of sizes, allowing you to load up on all the good stuff – plus they even make this type of bag for bulk goods like flour!

3. Reusable Grocery Bags

This one kind of goes without saying but it felt wrong not to mention how important these are – I still cringe whenever I see people double and triple-bagging their groceries.

4. Say No to Straws

Please, for goodness’ sake, just sip from the rim. These things take years to break down. Years as in longer than your great-great-grandchildren’s lifetime. All of that pollution just so you can have a drink for 10 minutes? Opt instead for metal, paper, or better yet—none at all.

5. Reusable Water Bottle

Find one you love and stick to it like glue. The planet – and your body, will thank you.

6. Reusable Coffee Cups

We drink a lot of different things over the course of a day. Your daily cup of coffee takes all of 15 minutes to consume, and more than 100 years to break down.

7. Adjust Your Diet

This one is a biggie – for a number of reasons. Animal products- especially cattle and pork, consume a ton of resources just to make it from the farm to the store. We’re talking water for animal feed, water to nourish the animal, carbon emissions associated with cow farts (methane is no joke), transportation emissions, plastic packaging, etc. When you begin to take a step back and look at what your grocery cart contains, you’ll be shocked as to how many of your products involve plastic. In a community as isolated as Thunder Bay, it is nearly inevitable that you will encounter plastic packaging, although it is absolutely possible to adjust your intake accordingly.

8. Farmer’s Market

Not only does buying goods at the market support your local economy, it also cuts back on the unnecessary plastic packaging on pretty much all of your essential items. Plus, there’s always live music, incredible food, and plenty of smiles whenever you go.

9. Beeswax Wraps

A super cool way to eliminate plastic wrap: these things are reusable, antimicrobial, and warm up to the heat of your hand, allowing you to mold them to whatever snack you’re taking on the road for the day.

10. Cloth Towels

Using one cloth towel replaces the need for 7300 paper towels – this drastically

reduces the amount of garbage you need to bag each week.

11. Bamboo Toothbrush

These things will outlive an average of four plastic toothbrushes, though be careful – a lot of manufacturers produce these using other petroleum products, and that’s just no fun for anyone.

These changes are small, but cumulatively, you can eradicate more than 1400 kg of unnecessary plastic waste from your life each year. Adapting to a more eco-friendly lifestyle takes time, but with good habits, it becomes easier and easier each day. Are you up for the challenge?