It’s a plastic world

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series

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By Ginny Colling

Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.

We’ve known for years that plastic is killing marine life.

Cleaning out my parents’ house a couple of years ago, I found my child-sized wooden kitchen cupboard. My dad had kept it to store nails and screws. That got me thinking about the large, all-plastic kitchen and workshop play sets we picked up for our daughter years ago. They will last too, but not in a good way. Long after the wooden set has biodegraded, those plastic play sets will be with us for hundreds more years. And in some form, possibly forever.

Plastic lasts. Items can take up to 1,000 years to break down according to the United Nation’s Environmental Program. And when they do, they just degrade into tinier and tinier bits of plastic — nothing nature recognizes. I’ve read that every piece of plastic manufactured since 1907 is still out there, somewhere.

Where? Studies have found microplastics in air, in ground water, in rainwater, in fish, in our food — even in beer. And it’s turning up in the human body in placentas, in lungs, in blood.

We’ve known for years that plastic is killing marine life. But researchers are just beginning to look at the potential harms to us. The main ingredients of most plastic come from crude oil and natural gas — nothing that belongs in the human body.

We’re going to need some plastics, granted. Medical products, bicycle helmets, some car parts and electronics might be hard to replace with non-plastic equivalents. But in general, we know we must seriously scale it back.

Recycling doesn’t cut it. Nationwide only about nine per cent of plastic is recycled. Canadian government figures show that in 2016 approximately 29 million kg entered our environment as plastic pollution.

So what can we do?

  1. Say no to single-use plastics. Take those reusable bags to the grocery store, take your own coffee mug to the drive-through, pack a “to-go” bag in the car for takeout. Turn down offers of plastic cutlery, containers and straws. Note that a federal ban on these plastics could be in place by the end of 2022.
  1. Shop at stores like Unwrapped in Lindsay or The Green Tree Frog in Bobcaygeon. Both promote waste-free shopping and offer eco-friendly products in refillable containers, as does Country Cupboard Health Food Store in Fenelon Falls. Other stores such as Burns Bulk Food also allow customers to refill their own containers.
  1. Choose non-plastic alternatives. You can buy bamboo toothbrushes and even silk dental floss instead of nylon, which is essentially plastic. When buying a shovel or broom, look for metal or wood with natural fibres for the broom head. When non-plastic alternatives aren’t available, opt for items containing recycled plastic.
  1. Push for strong government plastics policies. In addition to single-use plastic bans, governments could require new plastic products to contain considerable recycled plastic, phase out non-recyclable plastics, and put more onus on manufacturers to reduce and recycle their plastics.

To its credit, Kawartha Lakes has introduced a plastics recycling program for large items such as plastic garbage cans and lawn furniture. But not that large toy kitchen set. At least, not yet.

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