The problem with plastic — and why you should try a plastic-free July
Written by Heike Reher.
Plastic as material is convenient but problematic. It has only been around for about a hundred years, but
nearly every piece of plastic ever produced still exists today. That straw I used in summer of 2005 to
slurp a cool beverage? Most likely in a landfill somewhere, or floating in the ocean. And it will probably
take another 100 or 200 years to decompose.
There’s more bad news: Globally, we use about 500 billion plastic bags per year – that’s about a million a
minute. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Plastic has been
found in human waste, and researchers assume that we might be ingesting up to a credit card worth of
plastic per week. Yuck.
We do not have a good grip on stopping the plastic tsunami (and I mean that literally – check out this
video from The Ocean Cleanup: https://youtu.be/4rVTWsQ23Pk). Globally, only about 20% of all thrown
away plastic is actually recycled. Researchers are working on enzymes and bacteria that can degrade
plastic in a matter of days, but we are still very far away from real solutions. At the moment, and for
quite a while to come, the best thing we can do is to avoid plastic in everyday use (and save it for the
important applications, like in the medical field).
The Plastic Free Foundation is an organization based in Australia, that came up with the idea of plastic-
free July. Their website (https://www.plasticfreejuly.org) has lots of information and ideas. They suggest
tackling the top four most prolific single-use plastics first, and replacing them with plastic-free
- plastic bags: as more and more municipalities in BC introduce plastic bag regulations (here is a
full list: https://www.retailcouncil.org/province/bc/bc-single-use-bylaw-updates/) we should all
have had some experience with this by now. My everyday bag is a backpack, and I carry a
scrunched up tote for those impromptu grocery purchases.
- water bottles: reusable metal bottles – easy.
- take-out coffee cups: reusable options exist in metal or glass, with cork sleeves. Or if you’recrafty, use a mason jar and crochet a cozy for it.
- plastic straws: try going without, or get a reusable one made from glass or metal
Once you start looking for avoidable plastic items in your household, you’ll find lots of opportunity: most
of my food storage is now glass or metal, and most of my cleaning products I get as refills. Check
clothing labels to avoid plastic fibres. Buy “naked” groceries at the farmers market. It’s worth a try for a
month – let me know, how it goes.
Links for more information:
- Ideas for a plastic free July: https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/get-involved/what-you-can-do/
- TED-Ed’s 5 minutes “Brief history of plastic”: https://youtu.be/9GMbRG9CZJw
- This 15-minute documentary is from Germany (but in English), and follows the plastic stream from collection to recycled goods: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDFBbxMDi1U
- Netflix series “History 101”, Season 1 Episode 4 is a 20 minute documentary about plastics what happens to the plastic we put into the blue box in the CRD: https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/news/article/2019/01/24/recyclable-materials-from-the-crd-are-still-being-recycled-into-new-products