Canada is a nation rich in beauty and abundant natural resources. The ever-increasing demand for these resources is taking its toll, however, and recent reports suggest that action and innovation are essential if we are to continue to enjoy our environment. While the problem might seem overwhelming, increased awareness has prompted a global call to action—one that individuals nationwide are responding to with enthusiasm. Reducing the consumption of single-use plastics is one of the newest, most effective ways that Canadians can combat climate change and pollution.
Single-use plastics are problematic primarily due to their long life span. It’s estimated that a plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to break down, and plastic water bottles take 450 years. Waste disposal is also a complex challenge; as the world’s garbage mounts, landfills and recycling facilities are becoming increasingly overloaded.
Unfortunately, a staggering amount of plastic can now be found floating in the ocean, threatening marine and plant life. Sea turtles and seabird populations are declining due to more numbers of them ingesting or choking on this debris. In fact, a whale with up to 80 plastic bags in its stomach was recently discovered in Thailand.
Researchers estimate that 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans each year. This also has a detrimental effect on the tourism industry, with some of the world’s most popular beaches now closed because of pollution. It also presents a health concern to humans, since plastic particles in the ocean can end up in our seafood — or eliminate it as a food source altogether.
These devastating findings have Canadians wondering what we can do to help. Fortunately, simple, daily efforts can make a big difference. Important steps include conscientious recycling and reuse of items, as well as decreasing overall consumption.
In order to create real change, it’s necessary to understand which materials cause the greatest environmental impact; some of the most damaging are also the most common. Luckily, these materials can be easily replaced—or even removed—from our daily lives.
Common Single-Use Plastic Items
Knowing which items to avoid is an important first step.
- Straws: Straws cannot be recycled. When they break down, they degrade into tiny plastic particles that get swallowed or inhaled by animals like fish and sea turtles, causing unnecessary suffering or death. Aquatic animals are drawn to small plastic pieces, mistaking them for food
- Plastic bags: It’s estimated that 95% of our plastic bags end up in landfills, rather than recycling facilities. When a bag breaks down, it releases dangerous chemicals into the soil and nearby water sources. As with straws, plastic bags are mistaken by food once they end up in the ocean, harming fish and marine animals. The lightweight structure of plastic bags means they’re susceptible to being blown into waterways and sewers, creating major blockages before eventually making their way to the ocean.
- Water bottles: As with other plastics, these items contain toxins that can leach into soil and water. Their manufacturing requires a huge quantity of water and fossil fuels, and their transport across the globe leaves a considerable carbon footprint. Despite recycling initiatives, the majority of water bottles still end up in landfills.
- Take-out containers: Not all take-out boxes are recyclable. Though styrofoam is recyclable in the city of Toronto, it still clogs landfills. Styrofoam is also a danger to our health, since chemicals from this type of plastic can easily be released into hot foods and drinks. Hard black plastics cannot be recycled, and end up in landfills as well.
How To Reduce Usage
Many plastic items can be replaced with reusable materials.
- Cloth Bags: Use cloth bags at the grocery store in lieu of plastics. Bring a variety of sizes; produce can easily be transported in smaller sacks.
- Steel or Bamboo Straws: Trendy, hygienic, and portable, these can be washed and stashed in a purse or pocket for convenience.
- Bulk Suppliers: By bringing your own containers to bulk stores, you can reduce the use of plastic bags. This also spares you the waste and weight of packaging, including tin cans or plastic jars.
- Reusable Takeout Containers: Styrofoam and plastic packaging clogs landfills and recycling bins. Refillable, washable food containers are an easy alternative. Steel containers are one of the safest options (from an environmental perspective); they’re also free of toxins that can leach into food.
- Reusable Water Bottles: Use water fountains or bottle-filling stations, which are increasingly available in airports and other facilities — globally and throughout Canada.
- Reusable Coffee Mugs: Many disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic to prevent leaks and are not recyclable. Avoid waste by carrying your own mug or insulated bottle every day.
- Reusable Cutlery: When ordering takeout, forego the plastic cutlery. When dining al fresco, carry wood, steel, or bamboo eating utensils. Trendy and attractive, many of these items can be purchased with their own carrying case.
Recycling and composting are important steps in waste reduction, but a general decrease in plastic use is essential. Responsible recycling is also key; be sure to check your municipality’s recycling guidelines. Recycling procedures require energy and water, and soiled or incorrectly recycled items increase overall waste.
Electronics are particularly problematic because they contain harmful substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium, all of which can seep into groundwater. If not disposed of correctly (or recycled), machines and old electronics can pose a heightened threat to the environment.
Individuals can make a difference by avoiding or decreasing their use of the products listed above, and by recycling plastics whenever possible. However, for real progress to occur, larger organizations and institutions must lead the charge. In Canada, several cities have already banned the use of certain single-use plastics, as have cultural destinations such as museums, zoos, and science centres.
Most hospitals have installed water bottle filling stations. Even the federal government is getting on board, banning the use of single-use plastics in their workplaces and at federally-funded events. Business owners and suppliers have quickly followed suit, with reduction practices popping up all over the Greater Toronto Area.
The restaurant industry, in particular, has responded readily to the changing times. Plastic use is being reduced, and damaged electronic sales hardware is being repaired (rather than trashed) or responsibly recycled. With a few key steps, business owners can make an environmental impact in their communities and worldwide.
- Banning Straws: Offer paper straws, or allow them only upon request in special circumstances.
- Compostable Take-Out Containers: Paper boxes made of recycled paperboard will decompose quickly and harmlessly. Avoid using boxes that have been coated in a fluorinated chemical, as this can leach into food. Once discarded, these chemicals can then contaminate soil and waterways. New “bioplastic” containers are also completely compostable and are sturdier than paper.
- Compostable Cutlery: All plastic cutlery can now be replaced with biodegradable materials, many of which are constructed using all-natural plant matter (such as corn).
- Compostable Coffee Cups: Biodegradable coffee cups are now available to restaurants throughout Canada.
- Reducing E-Waste: Improper disposal of electronics threatens our soil and water. To learn how to recycle specialized hardware such as POS systems or security system parts, contact an experienced equipment solution provider.
Working together, individuals and business owners can make a difference by reducing single-use plastics in Canada. Recycling responsibly is an important first step, and understanding local guidelines is essential. For restaurant owners and retailers who are committed to reducing electronic waste in Toronto and the GTA, contact the experts at Point Of Sale Remarketing Group at (905) 332-8809. Our certified point-of-sale providers are ready to walk you through a range of responsible options.