EDITORIAL: Difficult to give up plastic
Members of the Geography Environment Club and the Social Justice Club at London’s Catholic Central High School collected over 700 water bottles from school blue boxes during a one-month period in 2011. They did so to demonstrate to fellow students just how much plastic is used and how much money is wasted because they have several water fountains throughout the school. The group was selling re-usable water bottles during the period of Lent. Proceeds would help sponsor a well in Africa. File photo/Postmedia Network
During the recent period of Lent, when some Christians choose to reduce their consumption – whether food, alcohol or something else – we heard some were also attempting to give up their use of plastic … although giving up food for a day or two would probably have been easier.
Plastic in its various forms and uses has become such a ubiquitous part of our lives that it’s difficult to comprehend living without it. But it’s becoming abundantly clear that we’re using far too much of it, given the amount that’s being found in our oceans, and given the fact we’re increasingly finding it difficult to recycle all of the discarded material.
China has been accepting half of the planet’s recyclables – and much of that has been in plastic form – but decided last year to reduce that acceptance of foreign waste. That’s creating some challenge for municipalities that have always looked to China to take their recyclables. Now, some don’t know what to do with the recyclables they’re stockpiling (much of it plastic), and at least one municipality in Eastern Ontario has been forced to take some of their collected recyclables to the landfill.
That’s an incredible environmental tragedy.
If ever there was a time to ban some types of plastic use in Ontario, it’s now … and the most obvious and immediate candidate ought to be bottled water. It’s ridiculous that people continue to buy water in plastic bottles when municipal tap water is plentiful and clean. And it’s highly ironic that some bottled water has been found to contain plastic micro-beads, further evidence that we’re drowning in too much plastic. But the empty bottles represent an enormous burden on the environment; their outright ban would provide some relief in Ontario’s municipal recycling operations, especially in light of China’s refusal to accept as much waste as it has in the past.
Some institutions are already moving in this direction. At Montreal’s McGill, the university will begin phasing out the sale of single-use plastic water bottles from all of its campus food locations, with the goal of completely removing them by May 2019.
According to McGill’s sustainability director, approximately 85,000 plastic bottles are sold on campus every year, and that doesn’t include bottles distributed by student clubs or associations. He further notes it takes at least 450 years for a plastic water bottle to degrade.
McGill is not the only Canadian university to make the move. The University of Winnipeg banned plastic water bottles from its campus in 2009. Since then, 11 major educational institutions have followed, including the University of Toronto and Concordia.
If university campuses can make this move, so should the province.
– Peter Epp