It’s not pretty, but it’s a pretty common sight … plastic bags caught in trees, broken plastic cutlery in the playground sandbox, pieces of styrofoam floating on the shoreline … yuck! Have you ever cursed in frustration at the seeming lack of care that went into this litter? Don’t people know how to use a waste bin?!?

But what if the problem is by design? What if it isn’t downstream in disposal, but upstream in what we make, buy and use? Remember, plastic is made from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas … the villains in the story of Climate Change. What if we stop creating the monster in the first place?

The hierarchy of waste shows the biggest and most effective actions at the top are to refuse what we do not need and reduce what we need. Stopping plastic upstream works well with this idea.

I’m pleased to see we’re turning the tide on these plastics across Canada. Today is the day that part 1 of the single-use-plastics ban comes into effect! Part 1 means no one can make or import some of the plastics on the chopping block: checkout bags, cutlery, stir sticks and “problem food serviceware plastics” like Styrofoam, black plastic and oxo-degradable plastic. In order to give people and businesses a chance to use up their stock (worse than single-use is no-use-direct-to-trash), the ban on selling the stuff doesn’t come into effect until next year.

If you’re wondering what the heck **Oxo-degradable plastic is, it contains bioadditives to degrade but NOT biodegrade or compost. That means it turns into small pieces of plastic (microplastics) pervasive and almost impossible to remove from the environment, land, water, and food supply. Yikes! Even though it sounds “green”, it is considered worse than regular plastic. Oxo-degradable plastics are a great reminder to beware of Greenwashing!

Why these items?

These are the top offenders for plastic pollution found on our shorelines in Canada and around the world. They are hard to recycle, damage the environment and negatively impact human health. 

Several UHN Shoreline Cleanups can vouch for the items we regularly find strewn about.

For those that want to get into the weeds of what this looks like, I’ve made a handy table …

About the straws exception:

If you are a patient that needs them, have no fear. Single-use plastic flexible straws will remain available for medical or accessibility reasons. This exception is for anywhere needed … home, restaurants, hospitals, LTC. We are pleased to say UHN already removed straws from patient trays and provides them upon request only. This strikes a nice balance of allowing those that need them to have them, but no one else.

What else is planned for plastic?

  • A crackdown on which items can use the “chasing arrows” recycling symbol to ensure it is limited to items accepted in at least 80% of people’s available recycling facilities.
  • Target of 50% recycled content in other non-banned plastics by 2030 to boost the market for recycled content over inexpensive virgin plastic. (this is really exciting for the “circular economy”)
Saving “chasing arrows” for stuff that’s actually recyclable

Congratulations Canada! This is a big step in the right direction!

P.S. for a giant leap in the right direction, have a look at the brand spanking new global biodiversity agreement to protect the planet! This was the result of an all-nighter at the COP15 United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal.