by Patricia Plackett
On 26 October 2017 a salon organized by the Suzuki Elders examined the growing concern surrounding plastic in our oceans. The durability of plastic means that it never disappears, although it can break down into smaller and smaller micro-sized and nano-sized pieces. Of the plastic discarded on land, a surprisingly large amount makes its way into oceans where it is mistaken for a food source by both marine plants and animals, bringing us to the central question posed in the salon – what’s in your sushi? Researchers are currently trying to determine precisely how significantly plastic affects food safety and food security for human beings.
At the conclusion of the October 2017 salon participants offered ten valuable suggestions intended to make it as easy as possible for us, as consumers with an awareness of the issues and their consequences, to use less plastic and to use more efficiently any plastic that we do use. These are presented below.
- The value of having memorable and actionable guidelines, g. The 5 Rs of Sustainable Plastic Use provide a simple, easy-to-remember and implementable reminder that we should first REFUSE plastic whenever possible and then we should REDUCE its use to the greatest extent possible, REUSE plastic when feasible and otherwise REPURPOSE it and RECYCLE it as final options.
- The value of changing language associated with plastic use, e.g., shopkeepers could ask, “Do you have a bag?” instead of “Do you need a bag?” in order to provide a reminder that bringing your own bag is becoming a standard practice.
- The value of creating competitions as a way to stimulate action, e.g., neighbourhoods could set specific targets and challenge other neighbourhoods to meet or exceed these targets with the competitive situation spurring performance. Finding inspiring stories can also help to energize communities around recycling, reuse and repurposing initiatives.
- The value of making single-use plastic bags costlier and socially unacceptable,g., charging a high enough fee for purchase of plastic bags in stores that it creates an effective incentive to motivate consumers to bring their own bags. It was suggested that the string bags popular some years ago could be reintroduced to consumers.
- The value of fix-it repair shops to reduce plastic waste,g., for small plastic electronic devices and appliances that tend to be discarded as soon as they start to malfunction rather than repaired.
- The value of conferences to raise awareness of strategies to reduce plastic waste, e.g. zero waste conferences that provide practical tips on plastic management to participants.
- The value of raising public awareness through campaigns,g., campaigns about the perils of microbeads in local wastewater such as those mounted by the Upcycle the Gyres Society, a not-for-profit Vancouver-based organization that works to prevent harmful plastic from reaching the oceans.
- The value of creating networks to support individuals wanting to reduce their plastic use,g., getting a network going could make it more fun to reduce plastic use and may even help people to save money.
- The value of remembering the words of inspirationalists. Margaret Mead said that “life is filled with opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems”. Individuals and groups can work to change mindsets using their own actions to model the behaviour change that they wish to see around plastic use based on the Be the Change movements inspired by the words of Mahatma Gandhi – “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Each week a new action could be set and reporting back arrangements put into place to set benchmarks for measuring performance and for encouraging accountability.
- The value of inspiring individuals to take action. David Clayton, one of the organizers of this salon and a lifelong fly fisher, decided to investigate what happened to old fishing line in BC and found that there was no recycling readily available. He was inspired to take action as told in his own words.
As this story shows us, the efforts of individuals can contribute to reducing the amount of plastic in our oceans. Making change happen to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans will benefit from each of the ten suggestions that individuals can undertake as well as others that emerge as we learn more about the impacts of oceanic plastic.
To fully understand the consequences of microplastics on the wellbeing of marine life and on human health will require further research. However, as consumers we can affect outcomes through our purchasing decisions and we can also urge all levels of government to focus on this issue that may be affecting both the safety of our food supply today and its security for future generations.
Awareness brings change. Please share these suggestions about managing plastic for the health of the oceans and the health of the world’s inhabitants who consume marine-derived food products. Let us never forget the words of Nelson Mandela: “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in our hands to make a difference.”
- The Zero Waste Canada organization offers a useful guide on the problems associated with plastic use and steps that can be taken to reduce reliance on plastics.
- Research on microplastics in shellfish in the Pacific Northwest is continuing and two informative video clips are listed below:
- A recent BBC posting entitled Cracking new ways to fight plastic waste presents some exciting options such as an Israeli company that makes compostable plastic packaging featuring a multi-layer film made from plant-based polymers that disintegrates in the heat and humidity of home composting systems and a British firm that has built a machine to convert all flexible plastics, including old toothpaste tubes, into crude oil. And because the mixing of colours of waste plastic in recycling produces low-grade plastic that has relatively few applications, a Belgian producer of household cleaning products uses only white or transparent plastic for its products to facilitate repeated recycling.