Convenient plastic is no bargain - Keith Roulston editorial
When Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government contemplates banning single-use plastic items like straws, bags and wrappers, you know we’ve got a plastics problem.
Premier Ford is not normally the sort of politician who likes restrictions, and his supporters are usually averse to extra costs, such as a possible deposit fee when you buy a drink in a plastic bottle, to be returned if the bottle is returned.
But the amount of plastic going into our landfills is driving up municipal costs across the province. Just the other day at our house, as we realized we needed to buy another sheet of garbage bag tags, we recalled when tags first came in they cost $1 a tag. Today they’re $2.50 in our area. What’s more, we’re using more of them. It used to be bread bags and other plastic bags went into
the recycling container. A year or so ago, China, which had been accepting North American recycled plastic, realized it was being buried in plastic and stopped accepting ours. Now the bags have nowhere to go but into the dump.
In the discussion paper released by Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips, it was estimated that each person in the province generates a tonne of waste per year. If that waste can’t be recycled or composted, it fills up landfills very quickly.
I see Morris-Turnberry is looking at having to open up a new area of its landfill. I used to cover Morris-Turnberry Council and it seems only a few years ago they thought they had their landfill issues solved for the foreseeable future. And if a municipality has to find a suitable site for a new landfill, it
gets really pricey. Remember when Huron County spent millions seeking a new county site and finally gave up?
What’s worse, much of this junk never makes it to either recycling or a landfill. It’s been estimated that almost 10,000 tonnes of plastic debris enters the Great Lakes each year, the discussion paper says.
Our family has been trying to reduce plastic garbage for years through the use of things like reusable shopping bags. But as you look at what’s being packed into those bags at the checkout, it’s depressing how much plastic we still use. Meat comes in styrofoam trays topped with plastic cling-wrap. Fruit and vegetables are sold in plastic bags. Margarine comes in plastic tubs and sauces like ketchup in plastic bottles. On and on it goes – and we don’t even buy bottled water.
I’ve heard for years that plastic takes 1,000 years to break down but I read an article recently that’s even scarier. Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, leading experts on the health effects of toxic chemicals, have written a book: Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How Toxicity of Everyday Life Affects Our Health. In an article excerpted from that book they say that recently it’s been discovered plastic never really disappears. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits from degradation in sunlight, the actions of waves in water, or just the passage of time. These microscopic particles then enter the air, soil and food chain.
In the past few years scientists have started finding them in food products such as table salt, honey, shellfish and beer. Virtually all
tap water, they say, contains plastic microparticles. A recent study found plastic particles in the feces of every one of the people tested.
So whether it’s for the health of the population or reducing government costs, it’s easy to see why the provincial government is willing to look at the plastics problem. It’s one of those ways municipal governments have been subsidizing big business. Businesses have no incentive to reduce the use of plastic because it’s cheap for them and the municipality picks up disposal costs. Consumers throw the plastic straws, cutlery and takeout coffeecup lids into the garbage bag and never really think about it – until the municipality needs a new landfill that will cost millions.
Emergencies like the seven deaths from the Walkerton water pollution scandal helped create a new plastic monster – bottled water. Now municipalities must deal with millions of plastic bottles while major drink companies make fortunes selling water we used to get from our taps.
Who knows if the provincial government will carry through on its crackdown on plastics once all the companies that have something to lose start fighting back. In a way, it’s one of those “You can pay me now or pay me later” situations. I’m hoping my grandchildren won’t have more illnesses
and shorter lives because of all the toxic plastic particles they’ll ingest in their lifetimes. The convenience of plastic packaging won’t seem so convenient if our health care costs soar because plastic is making people sick.