Everything has changed. The way we interact with each other, and the planet, is much different than it was two months ago.
But one thing persists unchanged. Plastic. It is everywhere and in almost everything, and it never goes away. Instead, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, which act as magnets for harmful pollutants. Those chemical-laden microplastics can work their way up the food chain and into the food we eat. That’s not good. It’s not good for our health, and it’s not good for the health of the ocean and all the creatures that call it home. An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year.
So, while we rethink the way that we go about our normal, weekly activities like going to the grocery store, is it time to rethink plastic use in society?
The good news is that over the last few years we have already been seeing positive changes all around the world as to how we use plastic – particularly, single-use plastics like packaging, bags and straws. Municipalities and grocery stores are banning plastic bags, while some restaurants have stopped using straws. Many of you likely had already been bringing reusable bags to the store. And, the federal government has promised to ban harmful plastics by next year.
The bad news is that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments are now holding off on legislating single-use plastic bans, as we are seeing all over the U.S., and recently here in Newfoundland. We’ve even seen some stories about shops that aren’t allowing reusable bags. Your first concern, of course, must be to keep yourself and others safe, especially while out and about. Thankfully, you can still be a conscientious consumer while staying safe – the science says so!
We want to help Canadians break free from plastic and stop the flow of plastics that are polluting our oceans and harming marine life. Here are some facts to help you stay safe, while saving the environment.
Myth: Virgin materials like single-use plastic shopping bags are less likely to carry and hold the virus.
Fact: A new study in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus lives longer on plastic than other materials such as carboard and steel. Single-use disposable items are not safer than properly washed reusables, as plastics can harbour viruses and pathogenic bacteria, including exposure during the manufacture, transport and storage processes leading up to eventual use.
Myth: Reusable bags spread the virus.
Fact: Clean reusable bags will not spread the virus more than other surfaces. Medical experts advise that soap and hot water are effective at killing coronavirus on reusable items. So, don’t forget to launder your reusable bags (and wash your hands!) – soap and water can kill the virus.
Myth: My local grocer said it is illegal to bring my reusable bags to shop – so now what do I do?
Fact: Look to public health authorities for advice on how to shop and which bags to use in your area. Some cities like Montreal, and some provinces, like PEI, have already banned plastic bags – and the Sobeys grocery chain banned plastic bags in its stores and encourages people to bring reusable bags.
At a time when communities are working hard to look after one another, businesses can do the same through responsible practices that support the most vulnerable communities, while protecting our environment. Most of all, it’s important to consult health experts and science for information on what is safe during this public health emergency.
Myth: Plastic pollution in the ocean is not a Canadian issue.
Fact: Our oceans are drowning in plastic pollution. Canada is greatly contributing to the worldwide problem of plastic pollution. Canada produces an estimated 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste per year – and only nine per cent of that is recycled. Canadians use almost 15 billion plastic bags every year – often because plastic-free alternatives are not offered. Canada ships about 12 per cent of its plastic waste overseas, and many countries, like China, no longer want our waste. Canada is a big contributor to the global plastic problem.
Myth: It’s too late. We can’t do anything to save the oceans.
Fact: It is not too late! New international research (conducted by a team that includes two professors from Dalhousie University: Oceana Canada science advisor, Boris Worm, and colleague Heike Lotze) shows that the oceans can be restored by 2050 if we invest in making that happen now. Working to reduce plastic pollution is part of the solution.
The Canadian government’s pledge to ban harmful single-use plastics and hold companies responsible for plastic waste could be implemented as early as 2021.
Let’s make sure government policy supports what Canadians want. Canadians want plastic-free choices.