Salt Springers take action on single use plastics
“Plastics, like diamonds, are forever” is a favourite phrase for Charles Moore who, in 1997, discovered the Pacific Trash Vortex, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The ‘wake-up’ discovery led Capt. Moore to establish Algalita, one of the leading U.S. organizations doing research and education on ocean plastic. It also served as a wake-up call to the world on how much plastic is entering our oceans
According to a 2017 study, 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic have been produced since 1950, equivalent in weight to 18 times the entire human population, with half of that made since 2004. Over three quarters has already become waste and only 9% of that was recycled. Since plastic does not biodegrade and, at best, only degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, this waste is still somewhere in our environment. The amount entering our oceans has risen to over eight million tonnes per year, the equivalent of one large garbage truck full of plastic debris being dumped in every minute, wreaking havoc on marine life.
Today, over half of plastic waste comes from plastic that humans use only once and discard. And plastic production is increasing, with $180 billion invested since 2010.
Plastic use in Canada
According to CBC News, despite a rise in recycling and composting in municipalities, 25 million tonnes of Canadians’ waste ends up in landfills. This translates to 720 kilos per capita of waste annually, the highest per capita rate in the developed world! Greenpeace estimates that about 3.25 million tonnes of Canada’s waste is plastic.
Federally, a first positive step was taken in 2017, when Canada passed a ban on microbeads in toiletries, echoing a similar ban passed earlier in the U.S. It was fully implemented this July. Microplastics make up a huge amount of ocean plastic (estimated at 92%) yet microbeads still haven’t been banned in household and industrial cleaning products.
In June, at the G7 summit, Canada and four European countries agreed to a plastics charter to deal with the pollution created by single-use plastics. The Liberals have since launched an Ocean Plastics Education Kit for Canadian students and have promised funding for research and to help developing countries. But no concrete reduction measures have been taken thus far. In fact, four months before the summit, the Liberal government gave $35 million to Nova Chemicals, a company that makes plastic resins.
What are we doing on Salt Spring Island?
A small group of Salt Springers have recently formed a task force to foster single-use plastic elimination and recycling (SUPER). Their main goals are research, education, collaboration, and outreach. To date SUPER has assessed our local situation, including which plastics are recyclable, and begun sourcing alternative materials and researching life-cycle analysis on these.
SUPER aims to work with local retailers and the public to reduce the purchase, sale, and use of single-use plastics. Other future plans include educational presentations, articles and tips in the Driftwood, and possibly reaching out beyond Salt Spring to have an even larger impact.
SUPER’s first recommendation: While the Liberals work out how they might effectively deal with single-use plastics, supporting the following is well worth considering –
In November, 2017, Gord Johns, NDP MP for Courtney-Port Alberni, put forward motion M-151, a national strategy to combat plastic pollution, which aims to:
. Create a permanent, dedicated, and annual funding for community led clean-up projects
. Reduce consumer and industrial use of ‘single-use’ plastics
. Create a plan to clean-up derelict fishing gear
. Promote education and outreach campaigns on the root causes and negative environmental effects of plastic pollution
M-151 is intended to be a platform from which to call for substantive measures from the federal government. It will be debated in the House of Commons during two one-hour sessions on October 29 and in late November. So, there is an immediate push to have people writing to Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as other MPs. (Postage is free.)
There is more information, an online petition, and a link to download the paper petition and obtain signatures at http://gordjohns.ndp.ca/oceanplastics. With the signed signature pages, Johns can rise in the House of Commons and present the petitions.
What our oceans really need is for all countries to set their efforts as high as Costa Rica’s. In June 2017 this country announced its intention to ban all single-use plastic by 2021. In the meantime, M-151 appears to be a step in the right direction.
Footnote: Michelle Mech, Anne Parkinson, Susan Hannon, Martin Adams, and Tom Mitchell are the current member of the SUPER task force, with Peter Grant, manager of Salt Spring Island Recycling Depot as an advisor/consultant.
Michelle Mech, October 22, 2018
Feature image courtesy www.blue-growth.org
Motion M151 was passed unanimously in Parliament on December 22, 2018 by a vote of 288 to 0. The full text of the motion:
Text of Motion M151
—That, in the opinion of the House, the government should work with the provinces, municipalities, and indigenous communities to develop a national strategy to combat plastic pollution in and around aquatic environments, which would include the following measures:
(a) regulations aimed at reducing
(i) plastic debris discharge from stormwater outfalls,
(ii) industrial use of micro-plastics including, but not limited to, microbeads, nurdles, fibrous microplastics and fragments,
(iii) consumer and industrial use of single use plastics, including, but not limited to, plastic bags, bottles, straws, tableware, polystyrene (foam), cigarette filters, and beverage containers; and
(b) permanent, dedicated, and annual funding for the
(i) cleanup of derelict fishing gear,
(ii) community-led projects to clean up plastics and debris on shores, banks, beaches and other aquatic peripheries,
(iii) education and outreach campaigns on the root causes and negative environmental effects of plastic pollution in and around all bodies of water.