It is 2017 and plastic is all around us — in our toothbrushes, phones, and children’s toys. We use it to store our food and bottle our water. We put our plastic purchases in plastic bags to bring home.
Many plastic bags will get used only once. They might get recycled. They might get thrown in the garbage, or they might get picked up by the wind, and blown into the Yukon River.
Canadians use between nine and 15-billion bags every year — a lot of them end up in our oceans and natural areas.
Plastic didn’t find its way into homes until after the Second World War, but now it’s everywhere. It will outlive us and our great-grandkids. But it isn’t good for us, and it definitely isn’t good for our environment.
To make plastic, we need fossil fuels and often some nasty chemicals. Over time, it breaks down into tiny particles called microplastic. Plastic fibres are even in our drinking water: 80 per cent of tap water samples on five continents contained plastic fibers.
Every year, 100,000 marine animals die from entanglement or ingestion of plastic. Sadly, scientists predict that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than animals.
There is even a giant garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific that is somewhere between the size of Alberta and 1.5 times the size of Canada. And this plastic island is just one of five.
In Whitehorse, plastic that makes it to the recycling depot gets trucked south or overseas for processing. Recycling plastic is good, since it uses far less energy and resources than making new plastic, but reducing the amount of plastic you use is even better.
Unfortunately, a lot of plastic never makes it to the recycling depot. The City of Whitehorse doesn’t even have a city-wide recycling program. During the last waste audit, conducted in 2010, nine per cent 9% of waste in the Whitehorse Landfill was plastic.
I felt a little queasy after learning these facts, and decided to ask Grandma Google what I could do to help:
BYO. Bring your own water bottle, coffee cup, cutlery, reusable straw or takeout container. Many coffee shops offer discounts for using your own cup.
Bring your own shopping bags or bins. Most plastic bags are used just once, but take 1,000 years to degrade, which begs the question — do we need even need plastic bags?
Some communities have banned plastic bags altogether. Is this an option for Whitehorse? It would help us to achieve our target of goal of 50 per cent waste diversion by 2040.
Line your bins with newspaper. Instead of using plastic bags, line your garbage and compost bins with newspaper.
Refuse anything unnecessary. Even if something is cheap – or free – ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
Choose products without plastic packaging. Choose paper, cardboard, glass or metal packaging, or no packaging at all.
Buy loose produce and put it into your own reusable produce bags. I purchased my reusable produce bags at Independent Grocer.
Buy bulk. It reduces plastic packaging, especially when you reuse the bags. Farmer Robert’s, Superstore and Save-On-Foods all have bulk sections.
Buy larger quantities. Buy a larger bottle of shampoo. It reduces the amount of overall plastic used for the same volume of product.
Use reusable containers for storing food and packing lunches. Instead of plastic wrap or Ziploc bags, opt for a reusable glass, stainless or even plastic container, waxed food wrap such as Abeego, or reusable snack bag.
Give new life to your plastic containers. Yogurt tubs are great for cranberry picking and freezing soups. Wash Ziploc bags to use again.
Buy Secondhand. Just because someone is done with something, doesn’t mean it’s garbage. Plus, secondhand is more affordable and there’s no packaging.
Even though it might feel like you’re only one person, you can still make a difference. Every bit helps—especially in a community like ours.