Evan Saugstad: Plastics or politicians — which would you ban?


On June 10, the headlines blared: Canada to ban single use plastics. The story then explained the feds were only commissioning a report on what, how, and when we do what with single-use plastics, and that this wouldn’t be completed before 2021. It was another “mom and apple pie” headline — the story makes you feel good, but then you're still looking for more in an hour or two.

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The reality behind achieving such a ban is much more complicated than we think, and will involve all of us (ie. voters) doing our part. And in my flat world reality, it would likely be easier to ban some of these dumb politics than it would be to ban those annoying plastics.

Although this announcement was pure politics and designed to have you to read the headline so you can remember to vote for an unpopular leader and government this fall, it's an important and pressing issue when viewed at the world scale. Rather than the bluster, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have simply stated that they are beginning a two-year process to determine just how we can reduce our use of plastics (and not just single use), stop most all from being discarded willy nilly into our environment, and, have most, if not all, recycled.

Instead, our PM tried to focus on finding someone to blame (producers who react to our needs, our demands, and our government’s regulations), job creation (somehow 45,000 jobs will magically appear), and then when this happens, our costs will go down. My simple sense says just about the opposite will happen.

We aren’t the first country to head down this path, so at least we can say we won’t be alone, like our economic assassination plan so commonly labelled as "climate action". The European Union is moving in this direction, and that is good. Problem is, most of the issues are created in countries that have not committed to follow this same type of direction.

Although I don’t agree with a lot of what the National Geographic publishes, I did agree with most of what they wrote in their June 2018 edition, Planet of Plastics. To bring a sense of reality in what they are trying to say, I read this issue while travelling in Africa. Drive and boat around Egypt and the magnitude of our plastic problem is driven home. I could also say the same about the southeast Asian countries I visited a couple of years ago, or Central America, or parts of South America.

National Geographic reports that most plastics are entering our waterways and accumulating in our oceans from rivers flowing from Third World countries, and not countries like ours, the U.S., or Europe. Discarded plastics are coming from places that have limited or no waste management or recycling systems, no educational programs about the local and world environment, and what impacts our careless use of plastics may have.

This this were the real problem exists. Not Canada, not B.C., and certainly not here in Northeast BC, a few thousand river miles from our oceans.

Yes, we can all do better and ensure that we properly dispose of all our trash, which most people do. Yes, we can use less, but that is a different issue. And yes, we can use alternatives to plastics, like pulp and paper products sourced from our sustainably managed forests — but, OMG, we may have to cut down some more trees to do this — and we could put our collective wisdoms together and solve the problems around recycling plastics into reusable products.

As to the European Union, most of what they plan on banning relates to the food and beverage industry, as their research says that 70% of what ends up in the oceans comes from these types of single use plastic items.

OK, I can agree to that, as I grew up without the benefit of these, and could easily go back.

Remember what “take out food” meant? Mom, Grandma (OK, very occasionally a dad or grandfather) making lunch, wrapping it in paper (newspaper worked), liquids in a glass or steel bottle (unless you just went to the nearest creek or lake with your cup), ceramic or melamine plates and steel cutlery, all placed in a basket or cardboard box with cloth napkins. At the end of the meal, all paper was burned in the fire and the rest went back home to be washed and reused.

I also grew up in a time where we didn’t just throw everything away after it was used. We can go back there too, if we so wish, but it will take more than laws to accomplish this. It will take some common sense from all of us and not some political edict from our eco-centric politicians trying to buy a few more votes.

There are some simple solutions, but some may require changes to regulations. For example, can we take your own packaging into the takeout restaurants the kitchen to be filled? Can we take our own containers to the grocery and hardware stores and fill them? Can we go back to a society that stops throwing everything away?

After all, in my hunting camp, I have been known to reuse plastic cups, plastic cutlery, and plastic plates. And when done, they all make great fire starter.

Simply put, plastics that are entering our water systems are a good place to begin our focus. But alas, just like our worldwide contributions to carbon dioxide levels, our contributions of plastics into aquatic environments pale in comparison to what is happening in the rest of the world. Just look at pages 55 to 57 of the June 2018 National Geographic and you will get my meaning. Our contributions are down in the “hard to measure” department.

Money may be better spend on developing processes to recycle plastics.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John. 

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