By Sydney Morgan, Youth Advisory Member 2020-2021
Youth Advisory Board Member, Sydney Morgan is currently a radio operator for the forest fire and aviation division of the Ministry of Natural Resources. After receiving a diploma in Forestry and Wildlife at College Boreal, she has found that she is passionate about conservation and sustainability in particular.
This year, Canada is on track to ban six single-use plastic items most of us use (or used) in our daily lives. These items, and microplastics that break down from these and other plastic items, have significant impacts on Canadian waterways- and are found anywhere from the Arctic to the Great Lakes. By the end of 2021, this new directive will be finalized and then hopefully implemented shortly after. The six items in question are:
Food ware (specifically those made out of plastic that is difficult to recycle)
and Six-pack rings
This initiative will help keep plastic and microplastics out of our Canadian lakes, rivers, and coasts… and ultimately keep it out of the earth’s oceans, protecting wildlife and humans worldwide. To help you transition smoothly from using single use plastics, I’ve created a guide for finding alternatives.
First, why is plastic and microplastic bad for our waterways?
Plastic doesn’t degrade. It can, however, break down into microplastic. Microplastics are categorized as pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm, and wildlife frequently digest microplastics which are known to contain toxins. Microplastics can also end up in the water we drink. The toxins from plastic can cause multiple health issues for both wildlife and humans. Larger pieces of plastic can get stuck inside an animal’s digestive tract or tangled around them, which can be fatal.
Basically, every piece of plastic ever made is still on the earth somewhere. It doesn’t magically disappear when you throw it in the trash- it goes to a landfill or can end up in our waterways and oceans when we don’t properly dispose of it. Microplastics also come off of synthetic materials when we wash them in the laundry, and in turn find their way into our waterways.
According to canada.ca, it is estimated over 29,000 tonnes of plastic makes its way into our waterways and surrounding environment every year. Back in 2015, microplastics were found in every single sample of water from the Great Lakes by Lisa Erdle, a biologist, and her team. Read more on that here: Microplastics at ‘alarming levels’ in Canadian lakes and rivers.
Another study in the Canadian Arctic had a similar result: Researchers find microplastics in nearly every sample taken in the Eastern Canadian Arctic.
Action needs to be taken by governments, corporations, and individuals worldwide. Microplastics have been and will continue to be found in our drinking water and our food chains, harming us and the Earth’s wildlife.
Here are some solutions for replacing these single-use items in our daily lives:
Any bag that is durable enough to be reused can be swapped for the plastic single use bags you get at retailers. Some places may even offer paper bags in lieu, or may sell reusable bags for your convenience. You may want to consider natural materials if you wish to bring your own bags for shopping, like hemp and cotton. These materials won’t break down into microplastics when you wash them, whereas a synthetic fiber would.
Many retailers are now carrying straws made of metal, glass, and silicone- you can find them at your local bulk store or even at big retailers like Canadian Tire. Some chains, such as A&W, have replaced plastic straws with single-use paper straws.
In this case, I encourage you to bring your own takeout containers to restaurants. I personally bring a bento box or glass lunch container from home, but you may have tupperware or even glass jars to use. This contributes to less waste overall, and makes it easier to put in your lunch the next day if you are attending work or school! Paper bags and cardboard boxes are good options as well, depending on the type of food you are taking home.
Cutlery made from plastic and destined for one use can be easily replaced by so many other types of cutlery. The main issue here will be finding alternatives when you are out and about, like when you get takeout or have a picnic. You can easily throw together a homemade to-go cutlery kit from home, by placing one of each utensil (maybe even throw in a reusable straw) in your takeout containers, or perhaps even wrapped in fabric.
This one can easily be replaced by a spoon, especially if you are already at home. Or, since you might now decide to start carrying around your own reusable cutlery, perhaps you can use a spoon or chopstick to stir your beverage. Other sustainable options that some places have adopted include things like wooden stir sticks, reusable silicone stir sticks, and even spaghetti noodles, like at The McIntyre Coffee Shop, a coffee shop in Timmins, Ontario.
This is one option that is mainly up to corporations to eliminate and find solutions for. However, if you’d like to stop contributing to plastic in our waterways before that happens, you might choose to buy canned beverages sold in cardboard boxes over six-packs with rings on them. The brand Twisted Tea has recently made the switch from six pack rings to six packs in cardboard boxes, so it’s easily adaptable to any company selling beverages in cans. Biodegradable rings do exist as well, it’s just a matter of corporations making the switch.
Canada is taking a huge step in the right direction and I hope they continue to study the effects of plastic on our natural world and continue to make big changes to help everybody be more eco-conscious. These six items are just the beginning, and I hope you can find other ways to reduce plastic waste in your day-to-day life! If you’d like to continue learning about plastic in our oceans worldwide, Netflix Canada has a documentary film called A Plastic Ocean that is very informative.
Sydney is proudly bilingual and loved to read and write stories as a child- and is now excited to take part in hearing and writing stories in both official Canadian languages for the Young Water Speaks contest.