My first response to Justin Trudeau’s announcement about a ban on single-use plastics was an enthusiastic “Hurrah!” This is something we need to do; it has been clear for years that we are putting far too much plastic into the environment. We should know by now, from long experience with lead and mercury, and other toxins, that what we put into the environment will always come back to us in bad ways.
There will be challenges, of course. Defining the scope of the ban in terms of what products are banned and what aren’t. The time frame allowed to find suitable replacements, and the time it takes to gear up whatever supply chain is required all has to be given some thought.
But it is long overdue. We first widely heard about microplastics in skin products some seven to ten years ago. That should have been the end of the line for single use plastics because it was clear, or should have been, that the things we dispose of break down and get into natural systems.
Shortly after the announcement hit social media the wave of denial set in. That sniggering comment that accompanies almost any move away from oil-consumption “well, I guess you’ll have to live without (insert fork, straw, car, coffee cup, plate, cell phone, heat, etc)?”
The reality is there are alternatives. Myself, I’ve carried a set of steel cutlery, a stainless steel straw, and a pair of durable steel and wood chopsticks. I use re-usable handkerchiefs and always take a thermos cup or steel water bottle with me. Those cups look ragged and worn but that mileage is an important sign of reduced waste.
I just recently got a bamboo set too! Helpful hint; you can take them on domestic air flights if the knife is small enough. Helpful hint 2: not to the USA though. Is there anything more wasteful than air travel?
Which reminds me. A certain popular Canadian coffee franchise is very resistant to putting their iced beverage into a reusable cup. That’s the kind of thinking legislation like this can change. Corporations are simply moving too slow. Governments only have two choices to change public policy; taxation or legislation. In this case, banning plastic will push those corporations, and their customers, to find alternatives.
Most importantly, I know that alternatives only come when a demand for them is created. Single use plastics are simply too easy to create and too easy to make disappear (temporarily, anyway).
What about Recycling?
We’ve tried that. Our landfills are full of recyclable plastics. They litter our ditches and waterways. You don’t have to do much grocery shopping to find some sort of container that doesn’t have the recycling Mobius on it.
Does anyone else find it absolutely infuriating when organics are sold in plastic packaging? And, even worse when there’s no recycling information on it? What kind of “organic” food supply thinks adding plastic waste to our environment is good stewardship?
Recycling first gained traction sometime in the 1980s and it was grouped with the three R’s.
We’re supposed to Reduce first then Reuse then, as a last resort, recycle. It is well past time to reintroduce this idea to people and reset the story.
About that Promise
I really want to be excited about this bit of legislation. But, in this moment, six months away from an election, with a summer recess in between there is no time to implement it. In fact, the whole thing feels rather familiar.
Trudeau made a very clear promise before the 2015 election that it would be “the last unfair election”. They did the right thing forming the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform (the ERRE). When the report was published it was clear the Liberals, as a bloc, were against it. Trudeau had changed his position to supporting Ranked Ballot; a system worse than FPTP for proportionality (didn’t he read the report?). And the promise evaporated with some nonsense about how Canadians had figured out how to work within FPTP.
Many progressives switched their votes from the Greens and the NDP on the power of that promise. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake again. Handing the Liberals another majority on this promise only to have whatever power pulls the levers behind the PMO abandon it would set yet another important piece of public policy back four more years.
Unlike Liberal policy, which seems to come in response to social trends and then becomes meaningless, Green Policy is well planned, clearly articulated, and built for sustainability.