Monday, May 4, 2009

What's the solution to plastic pollution?

With spring weather truly upon most of the country now, and summer just around the corner, there are unlimited options to get outdoors and enjoy ourselves. Living in Ottawa, I look forward to the myriad festivals, fairs and celebrations that run from May through the early fall; however, the waste generated by thousands of people passing through these sites each day of the event does cause me some concern. In the past few years many of these events have initiated environmentally-friendly procedures, largely based around biodegradable plastics. I could feel better with the knowledge that all those disposable plastic cups were being collected so that they wouldn’t end up in a landfill. I learned in a recent news article by the CBC that most of these initiatives haven’t performed as expected, because Ottawa doesn’t have a municipal composting facility capable of handling this waste stream.

The current Nature Canada quick poll asks, “Do you think provincial or state governments should ban the use of plastic bags?” The majority of respondents say yes, getting rid of these bags is essential. In addition to the concerns for wildlife ingesting plastic products or becoming inescapably entangled in them, the visual pollution is an aspect I think we can all relate to: “I am sick of seeing plastic bags hanging in trees, on fences, plugging sewer drains,” writes one subscriber. Another sums it up: “There isn't one positive thing that can be said about plastic bags and bottles!”

Is it true that there are no positive points to plastics? What about those unexpected errands on the way home from work or after eating a meal out? I know that I don’t always carry a canvas shopping bag with me. Even those who might support a plastic bag ban recognize the convenience of the product: “As convenient as I think plastic bags and bottles are, I think we need to move towards more re-usable rather than disposable packaging in general. It's hard to buy groceries without plastic packaging or containers.” There are also those who reuse these products in various ways, such as the member who says, “If the stores stop giving them to me with my purchases, I would be forced to buy them. If their sale were to be outlawed, what the heck would I use to line my garbage cans, carry out my compost and recycling, pick up the dog's poop?”

Are biodegradable products a part of the answer, then? Some members think so: “There are compostable 'plastic' bags that could be used instead for trash. These would allow items in landfills to biodegrade, contributing to solving part of our waste disposal problem.” Another response reads, “They've proven to be problematic, in many ways. Biodegradable plastic and reusable bags are the way to go. If they can't be completely banned, then there should be a recycling program in place.” At first glance, biodegradable plastics seem like a great idea – they contain starch fibres that will break down once they’re disposed. Deeper digging, though, has shown me that not all biodegradable plastics are made equal. Some are made from a combination of petroleum products and plant materials that will only partially decompose. Most require very specific conditions in order to break down; a landfill or home composter won’t work, and the bags will persist in the environment just like any other. Finally, tossing these biodegradable bags in your recycling actually ends up contaminating the recycling stream since they aren’t true plastics!

The best solution to the problem of plastic waste may be the most fundamental: reducing its use. Many respondents choose not to use plastic - “Complete ban, use recycled paper bags instead. Every time I go to the quick shop I refuse plastic bags and always tell the clerk, no thanks save the wildlife, and when they smile or laugh, I tell them why!” - and advocate for reusable containers - “Many plastic bags end up littering the roadside and are an eyesore. Canadians spend far too much money on bottled water instead of carrying their own recyclable stainless steel bottle. Let's reduce the production of unnecessary plastics.” To that end, Loblaws and its affiliated stores have recently started charging consumers for plastic bags, and Ikea Canada will be completely removing plastic shopping bags from their stores later this year.

We should all be able to enjoy the outdoors in whatever way we choose, but we should also be conscious of the impacts our activities have. This summer, I know I’ll be heading out with my stainless steel water bottle, filled from the tap, and my reusable bamboo flatware in tow, hoping to lighten my eco-footprint while following the festival season.


barefootheart said...

When Loblaws opened a Great Canadian Superstore in Milton ON a couple of years ago, they went totally plastic-bag-free. You can bring your own or buy their reuseable bags in the store. As far as I know, they are still in business! If every store did this, it would help consumers get on board.

Max said...

Plastic is a problem. It's clogging our oceans, streams and landfills. We felt that something needed to be done so we developed a biodegradable plastic bottle. Although PET plastic is an environmental problem, it doesn't have BPA's. Our bottles aren't the answer to solving all our plastic's our effort in working toward solving the problem. Don't confuse biodegradable with degradable. Degradable plastic such as Oxo-Degradables PET plastic doesn't biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until it's too small to's still there and polluting. PLA, corn based plastics aren't the complete answer either. They are made from genetically altered corn, increase the use of pesticides, use land that should be used for food grains, and don't biodegrade. The only way to get rid of them is to dispose of them in a commercial composting site....try finding one of those.
Nearly 150 billion plastic bottles are manufactured each year on only 20-30 percent is recycled. Guess where the rest ends up? We felt that the realistic approach to this problem was a biodegradable bottle. The ENSO bottle biodegrades leaving behind biogases and humus. We know our bottle won't solve all plastic pollution problems but it is a step in the right direction. Check out our web site...we have a lot of accurate information on plastics....biodegradable, plastics.

"Bottles for a Healthier Earth"

RecycleBill said...

Sadly, research is proving that nothing biodegrades in a landfill because the oxygen necessary for biodegradation is cut off from the objects in the landfill. Researchers digging through landfills are finding 40 year old newspapers that can still be read and plastics that look like new.

For solutions to the problems of plastic bag pollution I recommend you read my series Return To Gilligan's Island where you'll learn why the plastics industry is against any real solutions to the problems of plastics pollution.

Æthelbera said...

As much of a problem that plastic is, using paper bags could only prove catastrophic as well. There also needs to be a reduction in paper use.
The most serious problem here is the fact that we have over six billion people all vying for subsistence and sustainability with such numbers is a HUGE task to undertake.

suro said...

The Earth has been facing immense pollution from our garbage and consumption. The latest deadly pollution is plastic bags that fill up the landfills. With plastic bags becoming a growing concern, cotton bags has become the new way to help stop the pollution.

With plastic bag pollution being a rising concern, many shoppers need to start using canvas bags in order to stop the pollution.
Plastic bag pollution is very deadly and takes hundreds of years to break down. Even if the component is broken done, the deadly chemicals will go into the ground and water system. By reducing the usage of plastic bag, Earth can recuperate. That's why canvas bags should be used world wide to help reduce the pollution.
It is our generation to stop the pollution and start using canvas bags as the solution. With global warming going out of hand from gas exhaustion, we don't need any more problems especially plastic bags that are harmful when broken down naturally. These broken down elements cause sickness and destruction to the air, soil and water system.

Use cotton bags starting today as a way to stop the plastic pollution that is becoming a major threat to the environment. Our lives are threatened ever more from the growing usage of plastic bags. It is time you bring a cotton bags to shopping the next time you go to a supermarket.
Please learn more at

Also you may want to read this press release.…nding-strategy/

Tony Henderson said...

My friend and I are trying to start our own business. We have spent everything we had testing out our theories. We have come up with an environmentally friendly, local, inexpensive solution to ALL types of plastic. We do not know where to find Government funding for such a concept. If anyone who reads this can help, please feel free to drop me a line. The best part about our idea is not only being able to upcycle plastics; but the jobs that can be created in the process. We can solve all these plastic problems today.

Manhattan Air Conditioners AC Units said...

"No"...that is the only solution to plastics..because they live on and block the outlets that make our lives easy and we breathe.We have to start using biodegradable products and start that today.