By Erin Hitchcock –
I can’t remember when I first learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but I remember the sheer shock and disbelief at how so much plastic could end up in the ocean. Why had no one done anything about it?
While attempts are being made to do that, successful results remain to be seen. And the plastics keep flowing in. A dump truck full of plastic is released into the oceans each minute, according to a study from the World Economic Forum.
Mistaking plastics for food, deceased whales and turtles continue to wash up on the shore, with their stomachs full of grocery bags, drink bottles, straws, containers, and Styrofoam.
Birds pick up plastics and feed them to their chicks. Canadian Wildlife Service researchers have even found seabird eggs in the High Arctic containing plastic contaminants, as well as plastic-making chemicals in the eggs of Northern fulmars in the Canadian Arctic.
From the Mariana Trench to the summit of Mount Everest, plastic can be found.
However, collective change has begun and that includes the absolute necessity of refusing these plastics to begin with. Last year for World Environment Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for a rejection of single-use plastic and a refusal for what can’t be reused. The European Union will see a single-use plastics ban come into force by 2021 and will include everything from checkout bags to cutlery, straws, and stirrers.
In July 2018, Victoria became the first BC community to ban plastic shopping bags after winning a BC Supreme Court battle with the Canadian Plastic Bag Association. The court ruled municipalities can implement single-use plastic bylaws because they have the power to regulate business transactions and are responsible for managing waste. Following the court decision, many other BC communities have signed onto a single-use plastics ban in some form. It’s difficult to keep track of the growing momentum but some municipalities include Vancouver, Surrey, Kamloops, Tofino, Ucluelet, Qualicum Beach, Saanich, and Salmon Arm.
In the US, numerous cities now have single-use plastic bans, and Maine recently became the first state to ban Styrofoam cups and containers. The BC government itself recently gave first reading to a bill to ban the bag across the province.
Knowing that it is possible for our community to do our part, in April I started a petition to Williams Lake City Council to ban single-use plastics. At the time of writing this, I have gathered almost 750 online signatures, plus an estimated 200 on paper copies. Williams Lake City Counsellor Craig Smith has expressed his support for a ban. While working on his MBA, he learned much about the plastic crisis and how the majority of plastic in the world isn’t recycled, instead ending up in landfills, in the ocean, and on the landscape.
On Tuesday, July 9, together we expect to present information to his colleagues at a Williams Lake Committee of the Whole meeting and stress the need for our community to help address the global plastic crisis by banning single-use plastics. It is my hope–and that of the nearly 1,000 petition signers–that council will later agree to a ban that includes more than just bags but other single-use plastics, even if they can’t all be regulated at once. Understandably, businesses and residents would need to be given suitable time to choose alternatives, which do exist.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when plastic started to become widely used. It might take a bit of learning for everyone to remember to bring in their own bags, reusable containers, travel cups, and reusable straws but it’s a small hassle compared to the disaster plastics are causing. Other alternatives can include edible cutlery and containers and those that can truly be composted in household systems.
Humans are responsible for the plague plastics have inflicted on our natural world, but we have the capabilities and the responsibility to do something about it.
The Plastic Bag • A Brief History
1933, polyethylene is created by accident at an English chemical plant and is initially used in secret by the British military during World War II.
1965, a Swedish company patents the polyethylene bag that quickly begins to replace cloth. Fourteen years later, it controls 80 per cent of the bag market in Europe and becomes widely introduced in the US.
1982, Safeway and Kroger switch to plastics bags, with more stores doing the same—by the end of the decade almost all paper bags are replaced.
1997, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is discovered by sailor and researcher Charles Moore.
2002, Bangladesh becomes the first country to implement a ban on thin plastic bags after realizing they were clogging drainage systems.
2011, one million bags are consumed every minute globally.
2017, Kenya bans plastic bags
2018, #BeatPlasticPollution is chosen as the theme of World Environment Day—companies and governments around the word continue to announce pledges to tackle plastic waste.
Summarized from the United Nations
Erin Hitchcock is a stay-at-home mom with a journalism diploma and 15 years of related experience. She is passionate about organic and plant-based diets, spirituality and reiki, and creating a better future for the Earth.