Solving plastic problem crucial, Enviro-Cafe attendees say
By Jenn Watt
Published Jan. 17, 2019
Our world is swimming in plastics, but even as people become more aware of the problem, solutions are still hard to find.
At last week’s Enviro-Cafe in Haliburton, attendees watched a few short videos about issues around plastic and potential solutions, and then shared their collective frustration about what to do.
The Enviro-Cafe was run by Environment Haliburton and took place at the Haliburton United Church on Jan. 8.
“What is recyclable? What isn’t? I have no idea. So am I buying the bad stuff or the good stuff? And how do I know?” one attendee asked.
What is accepted in one town or city might not be accepted somewhere else. Adding the wrong items to the Blue Box can make things harder on sorting facilities.
Improper sorting led the City of Toronto to create an educational campaign telling citizens what not to recycle, Ryan Sisson, Environment Haliburton’s board president, said.
“They spent a million dollars to say to their citizens we love that you’re recycling. You’re recycling really [well], but you’re throwing stuff in the bin that can’t actually be recycled,” he said.
Sisson said that beyond the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – there should be a fourth: refuse.
That means finding ways not to use plastics unnecessarily.
Making choices such as bringing your own water bottle or a takeaway container with you to a restaurant for packing up leftovers.
Four videos available on YouTube were shown at the Enviro-Cafe: a clip from the documentary A Plastic Ocean, and TED Talks “Tough truths about plastic pollution,” “The surprising solution to ocean plastic,” and “We can recycle plastic.”
According to the government of Canada, “each year, globally, about eight million tonnes of plastic waste enter the oceans.”
If knowledge of the mounds of plastic on land and oceans wasn’t enough, there are now additional challenges around dealing with the materials in our own landfills.
The market for recyclables is drying up, with China no longer interested in accepting as much waste from North America as it once did.
Sisson also brought up the poor conditions people in developing countries work under when they harvest the recyclables.
“You have these places like … China where our computers end up or our peripheral devices end up. You have children and adults that have no PPE, no personal protective equipment, at all, that are over open fire melting circuit boards to try to recover the raw materials.”
It was generally agreed that the first step in improving the situation was to move away from plastics, and audience members shared their tips: carrying cutlery, bringing your own container, mug or bottle; using water refill stations where they are provided (such as in schools or at some public events); and buying cloth bags not only to carry groceries out of the store, but also to wrap produce rather than a plastic bag.
One audience member had beeswax wrap that she passed around the room.
The wrap can be reused many times and is biodegradable as it’s made of cotton and beeswax.
Environment Haliburton intends on focusing on the topic of plastics in the year to come.