By Andrea Tomkins
There’s been a lot of press about plastic drinking straws in the news lately (you can read a previous blog post about it right here, which includes some great alternatives if you happen to be looking for some) but the reality is that this represents only a fraction of the single-use food-related items people throw away every day.
Part of the challenge is that more and more we’re finding ourselves in a “throwaway” culture and in many cases the emphasis is on convenience and not the environment. This model is not sustainable.
One bit of positive news that for me, signifies that change is possible, came out of Toronto recently. The food court at Yorkdale Shopping Centre used to generate 120 bags of garbage a day but since it switched over to reusable plates and cutlery it now produces just three — despite the fact that it serves up food to 24,000 customers every day. That’s progress! (You can read the full story right here.)
Prepackaged foods generate a lot of waste, including paper wrapping, cardboard sleeves, Styrofoam, and non-recyclable plastic film (think: bagged bread). Recycling is the solution that springs to mind. When we throw a plastic pop bottle in the blue bin we assume that it’s actually going to be recycled. Most of us stop thinking about it as soon as we hear that bottle hit the pile but recent news reports (like this one from the CBC about how Canadian municipalities are struggling with their recyclables now that China has restricted foreign waste) leave me wondering. How do we know our bottle won’t just end up in the garbage? (The short answer is that we don’t.)
I think recycling is one of the three R’s we spend the most time talking about, but it should actually be the other two: reusing and reducing.
According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since it was introduced in the 1950’s. 91% of plastic waste isn’t recycled. And here’s the kicker: nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today.
There is a silver lining here: There are people who are paying attention and taking action. According to this article from CBC, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada “aim to make 100 per cent of plastic packaging recyclable or "recoverable" — divertable from landfills for use in products like chemical feedstocks, fuel and lubricants — by 2030.”
There are, of course, a few products we can eliminate from our daily use without too much effort on our part right now. Here are three that are really easy to ditch.
Squeeze pouches are a fairly recent invention. They were designed to be an easy and mess free way for kids to snack on the go. They’re handy, sure, but they are not recyclable due to foil/plastic layers that are incorporated into each package.
It’s just as easy to put Cheerios in a little container to go. Or yogurt. Or pudding. Or applesauce. All of these things can quickly be transferred from a large container to a smaller one. There’s a wide selection of containers on the terra20 website. All shapes and sizes too, for “dry” goods like cereal and crackers to “wet” ones like pudding and applesauce.
Coffee pods are another recent innovation, which, on the surface seems useful, but is really just adding a lot of new waste to the growing pile. In fact, a recent study by the City of Toronto revealed that residents throw out about 1,300 tonnes of coffee pods a year, with about 14 per cent ending up in a blue recycle bin or green compost bin, even though the city doesn't accept them.
Drip coffee, coffee made in a press or coffee maker and poured in a reusable mug is by far the best for the environment. And it’s much cheaper as well!
Single use coffee cups
It’s a common misconception that your Starbucks or Timmie’s cup is recyclable. It’s not. They’re made out of paper and have a plastic lining, which is great at preventing leaks but not so great when it comes to recycling. Here’s another thing: even though the lid might have a recycling symbol on it, it’s not actually recyclable in every municipality, such as Winnipeg for example. Some cities can’t recycle dark plastics because they’re not easily recognized by the sorting machines. Again, it’s cheap and easy to make your tea or coffee at home. Bring it along in an insulated mug or thermos. There are so many great designs to choose from today!
Some people don’t believe that making small changes at home can amount to anything, but I do. It’s important to remember that every journey begins with one step, and that we’re not making the journey alone.