This is part of a series on How To Reduce Your Use of Plastic in the Home
Aug. 25, 2020 Deborah Esplin
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Why you should get plastic out of the kitchen
Wake Up Canada. We have a plastic waste crisis and we need to get disposable plastic out of our kitchens.
We produce more waste per capita than any other country
This blog looks at the quantity of waste we produce, why so little plastic gets recycled and gives you 5 Tips to Reduce Your Use of Disposable Plastic.
We need to get disposable plastic out of our kitchens
This is the first in a series of videos on reducing our waste and alternatives to single-use plastic in the kitchen and in your life.
More waste to landfill per capita than any other country
Are you ready people of Canada? This is not good. We produce the most waste to landfill per capita of any country in the world. As a Canadian, I am not proud of that.
3.3 million tons of plastic waste is produced in Canada according to Oceana Canada study released on Oct. 25, 2019.
2.8 million tons of plastic waste goes to landfill. That is 86% goes to landfill, while 9% is recycled, and 5% is incinerated. That is a very low recycling rate, but we are right in line with the rest of the world.
According to National Geographic in 2018, the world average is that 91% of plastic waste is not recycled. So we do not need to feel so bad, Canada, as we are not alone in having a very low recycling rate for plastic, but we still need to fix this problem. We are in a plastic waste crisis. See the two examples below as examples of types of plastic waste.
57 million plastic straws per day
In Canada, we use 57 million plastic straws every day, according to the Oceana Canada study. Most of this plastic is single-use and it can not be recycled. The Trudeau government is planning to ban the use of plastic straws among other items, but the implementation has been delayed because of the pandemic.
According to Worldometer, our population is just about 38 million. That means more than 1 straw per day per person is being used. This makes me wonder if this statistic is right? Oceana Canada is a very reputable non-profit group and I trust their information. However, there is another article that looks into the origin of this figure and questions if it is not too high. Even if we use less than 57 million straws per day, our use of disposable plastic straws, that can not be recycled, is too high.
15 billion plastic bags per year
According to the Oceana Canada study, we send 15 billion plastic bags per year to waste. The sad fact is that many of these plastic bags can be recycled, but they are going to waste.
Why does most plastic go to landfill?
Why is only 9% of plastic waste recycled? Even though most major cities in Canada have municipal recycling, that includes various types and amounts of plastic (it varies across the country), most of the plastic goes to landfill. I know in my area, Montreal, grocery bags can be put into the municipal recycling programs. But?
Dirty plastic can’t be recycled
For one thing, not all plastic can be recycled. Dirty plastic can not be recycled. (Check out the previous link for more information.) If there is any kind of food waste or residue on the plastic, it can’t be recycled.
Composite plastic can not be recycled
What is composite plastic? It is plastic layered and bonded with any other material like paper, metal, wax, or cardboard. Many of our common and useful items are made from composite plastic. For example, potato chip bags are made of layers of metal and plastic and can not be recycled in normal recycling programs. Disposable coffee cups are also made of composite materials and can not be recycled. Many food take-out containers, frozen-food containers, and other types of containers are made of composite materials and can not be recycled.
There are ways to recycle composite materials, but specialized machines are required according to a National Geographic article.
Inks and Glues contaminate plastic
The inks and glues that are used in many products to make them look attractive and to bond the layers of material together also contaminate the plastic making it harder for the plastic to be recycled.
There must be a market for recycled plastic
There has to be a market for recycled plastic. Recycling companies are businesses and they need to make a profit. They need to be able to sell their recycling material output. If there are not enough businesses that need the resin or materials produced through recycling, then the recycling companies will not recycle. This is one of the big reasons why so little plastic waste is recycled.
Plastic can only be recycled 2 or 3 times
The National Geographic article from April 4, 2018, describes why plastic has limitations in terms of recycling. What makes plastic plyable is that it is made of long-chain polymers. Each time plastic is recycled, the chains get shorter. After two or three times, the plastic can no longer be recycled.
This is also another reason why recycled plastic has a limited market. The shorter chains are less useful as a raw material to the companies producing plastic items. If they use recycled plastic, they will only use a small amount. Most of the raw material will be virgin plastic resin because they get a better finished product that way. Using too much of recycled plastic content in a finished product reduces quality and durability.
This article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine describes some of the challenges of recycling. There are uses for recycled plastic, even of lower quality, but the system is market-driven so demand drives supply.
12% of Canada’s plastic waste is shipped overseas
12% of Canada’s plastic waste is shipped overseas for recycling which can mean incineration or sitting in a pile somewhere polluting some other country on the planet. However, the number of countries that will take our waste is decreasing. All countries in the world are facing this problem and some of them no longer want us to export our problem to their land, air, and water. (Check out the Marketplace article on this in the previous link.)
Countries that used to take some of our overflow plastic waste, no longer want it according to this article from The Globe and Mail, May 15, 2019. Our plastic waste is piling up.
More numbers on our waste management
Canada scores 8th in the world for total waste management and the USA scores 12th out of 195 countries in the world. The higher the score, the worse the overall waste management according to the Global Waste Index for 2019. This ranking scores the worst 36 countries in the world.
Plastics are made from fossil fuels
Plastics are made from fossil fuels so they are made from and require the use of non-renewable resources.
8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean annually
According to National Geographic magazine 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year and this is increasing every year. As well, the article states that 80% of this ocean plastic comes from landfills. It was not directly dumped into the ocean.
Even if our plastics go to the landfill, they end up in water, rivers, and eventually in the ocean. In the ocean, they spread around the world, pollute everywhere and sicken our ocean life.
Plastic takes centuries to break down
According to the National Geographic article just referenced above, it can 400 or more years for plastic to break down. We don’t really know how long it takes. Some scientists estimate up to 1000 years. During this time, the plastic is breaking down and leaching chemicals into the soil and the water. These chemicals are poisoning animals, sea life, birds, water, food, and us.
As well, while plastic breaks down, it breaks into little pieces that are eaten by marine life, animals, and birds. This plastic material makes these animals sick. We are poisoning our planet with plastic. We are polluting our land, our water, the oceans, the animals, bird, sea life, and ourselves.
Hormone disrupters and carcinogens
Some of the chemicals in plastics are hormone disrupters and carcinogenic. This medical journal, The Journal of Carcinogenesis, discusses the carcinogenic potential of PVC, polyvinyl chloride, to cause cancer. PVC is a known carcinogen and is one of the most common plastics manufactured today.
As well, some of the chemicals in some plastics are hormone disrupters. Hormone disrupters cause havoc with our endocrine system and are linked to health problems. One of the hormone-disrupting chemicals is BPA and that is why many plastics, especially those we use to hold food or water, say they are BPA-free. And it is an important piece of information to look for when you are buying plastic products for food or water. There are serious health effects linked to the chemicals in plastic. BPA is just one of several. Check out this link to see more. We are polluting our food and ourselves. It has to stop.
Clearly recycling isn’t the sole answer
I can hear the shouting from across the country. I have reusable shopping bags, I reuse the produce bags from the store, I recycle my bags when I’m done with them. I know. In my area, plastic stretch wrap is not accepted, while grocery bags are. We are all trying, but it is not enough. With 9% of plastic waste being recycled, it’s clear that recycling is not the only answer. It is part of the solution, but it is not enough.
We have to turn off the tap
How do we do that? By cutting our purchase and use of single-use, disposable plastic. We need to find alternatives to this plastic and stop using it. That is not an easy request as disposable plastic is so useful and convenient. But we have to try. Together. We have to do this together and here are 5 tips to start from various sources but mainly from the Green Education Foundation.
TIP 1 – Some restaurants are starting to allow people to bring their own reusable, washable coffee cups. Invest in an unbreakable coffee cup with lid and take it with you. Here are three suggestions for insulated coffee mugs from Amazon. (Please see my affiliate disclosure in the legal link at the bottom of this page. Please also note that these links are to Amazon Canada.)
TIP 2 – Bring your own reusable, washable straw with you and put it in your lunchbox. Get one for every member of your family and always have it with you. There are three kinds of reusable straws: silicone, stainless steel, and glass. Some people do not like silicone straws, but they have the advantage of being flexible, inert, and will not transfer heat or cold. If you do buy silicone make sure that it is food or medical grade silicone. Metal straws are good, but not for hot or really cold drinks as they get very hot or cold to the touch. The glass straws are made of unbreakable glass so they are a good option as well. Glass straws will transfer some heat or cold, but less than metal. Here are some products from Amazon of each kind of straws that I feel are good value for the money.
TIP 3 – Give up gum. It is made of plastic. Yes, according to this article from the UK, most gum contains plastic or other surprising materials and these materials are approved by the FDA. Whether the gum goes into your gut or into landfills from your garbage, it is more plastic entering our bodies and our landfills.
- TIP 4 – Buy products in boxes instead of plastic bottles. This is a hard one as so many of the products that we buy are packed in plastic containers. As much as possible, try to buy your products in cardboard, glass or metal packaging.
TIP 5 – Buy in bulk. This way you are avoiding any kind of packaging especially if you bring your own containers from home.
In the next blog post, I will look at silicone. What is it? Is it a good option for food storage? This series will continue for a few blog posts, looking at other options that you can use for storing your food instead of plastic wrap and disposable plastic bags.
I need your help, Together we can do this
Are you ready to take action? Join my Facebook group, Reduce Plastic Use Challenge, where we share information and the success and frustrations of trying to cut the use of disposable plastic in the home. Together we can do this but alone we can not.
Go to my Blog page to see my list of blog posts. There may be other articles that you want to read listed on the page.
Here is the video companion to this article. Check it out.
Check out posts on other topics here: Blog Table of Contents.
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Comments are welcome. I would love to know what you think.