Once upon a time, political leaders in Canada took a hard verbal stance against single-use plastics. That was the end – sort of.
In October of 2020, prior to the last election the former Environment Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, made the announcement that the Liberal government would make moves to regulate the plastics industry and ban certain single-use items by the end of 2021.
These items included six single-use plastics that would be banned by the federal government. Grocery bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and food takeout containers made from hard-to-recycle plastics, all made the list and have been designated as ‘toxic’ plastic manufactured items under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
The main reason the stance was taken, according to Wilkinson, is because society simply cannot continue to fill up landfills or worse, lakes, oceans and rivers with unrecyclable or difficult to recycle plastics.
“Everybody knows that we can’t keep sending this amount of plastics into our landfills,” he had said on the topic. “I think we all know it and we all feel guilty about it.”
As we approach the end of the end of 2021 – a lot remains to be seen. Although, the City of Edmonton’s council has proposed a single-use plastics ban to be in full swing by 2023. The public’s feedback is currently being sought.
When it comes to single-use plastic, it really is a mixed bag. There are those who use plastic containers, bags and straws frequently and then toss them in the trash.
But of course, there are also those who use single-use plastics sparingly and will reuse hard shell containers repeatedly to take leftovers to work or to give treats to a friend who has a habit of not remembering to return good containers.
In general, I believe most people wind up with more plastic items than they know what to do with. Take for example, the unopened plastic cutlery package that accompanies nearly every take-out order – even the ones that get delivered straight to your house.
Perhaps I am alone in this, but I think many Canadians could admit to having unused plastic forks, spoons and knives stashed away in the backs of drawers and car consoles or glove compartments.
It is difficult to justify throwing away a perfectly good plastic cutlery set. And yet, I never seem to use them as they sit there endlessly waiting to be needed until eventually the stack grows so large that they have to be disposed of or risk exploding out their hidden compartment.
It is entirely possible that I find this excessive plastic fork situation even more frustrating than the average person, as I am often equipped with a reusable cutlery set to which I have included chopsticks and a reusable straw.
Rarely requiring single-use plastics, I still find myself swimming in plastic items I didn’t ask for and many times specifically requested to not be included.
The last time I went through drive-thru seeking a poutine I asked them to hold the fork and received an ‘Alright ma’am’ response.
When I pulled up to the window, placed elegantly on top of my meal was a pearly white plastic fork.
I gently tapped on the window and cradled it in the stack of napkins I received with my meal – I returned the fork. I am fully aware that they likely took the fork and immediately threw it into the trash. And as I write this, I can imagine the eyerolls I am no doubt receiving.
But the truth is, I’ve been in that position myself, required to ask each and every customer if they would like to ‘make that a combo,’ ‘upsize your meal,’ and even ‘would like to add butter for an extra 50¢.’
The other half of that truth is I am sick of the extra plastic and the unnecessary waste.
If a grocery store attendant can ask if I want to pay extra for a paper bag, why can’t I courteously reject a plastic fork or straw? Better yet, perhaps staff could ask their patrons if they need plastic items.
A 2019 study by Environment and Climate Change Canada estimated that Canadians dispose of about 3.3 million tonnes of plastic every year with the vast majority of it ending up in landfills or in the environment.
That is the equivalent weight of roughly 471,429 fully grown elephants thrown away every single year.