Can we ban plastic?

“Why don’t we ban plastic?”

I’m asked this question regularly when delivering waste diversion workshops to schools, community groups and businesses.

Plastic is seen as a big issue, from taking up space in our Blue Boxes, to causing worldwide situations like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, sea turtles eating plastic bags, or plastic micro-beads in the Great Lakes.

Banning plastic would be a very challenging notion, requiring cooperation of countries around the world. Ontario, and Canada for that matter, doesn’t necessarily have the economic clout to demand such a change.

And what plastic would you ban? Plastic packaging or plastic products?

If you stop to think about it — we rely on plastics a lot in our everyday lives. You wake up and turn off your alarm clock (which is cased in a plastic shell). You brush your teeth with a plastic tooth brush. You wash your hair with shampoo from a plastic bottle. You eat cereal from a plastic bag. Your milk may have come in plastic bags. You drive to school or work in a vehicle with many plastic parts. You sit on chairs with plastic parts. You use plastic pens. Your computer is made out of plastic. You stop for a coffee; the coffee cup lid is plastic. If you buy strawberries in November in Canada, they’ll have to come from far away, which means using a plastic clamshell container to make them easy to transport.

Which of these plastic items would you ban? Remember, at some point, they all become a waste that needs to be managed somehow.

Some people also state “we should make sure all plastic is compostable.”

But that in itself can actually cause even more challenges.

You see, “regular” plastic is made from petroleum (oil). Plastic bottles, for example, are recycled into polyester like polar fleece, carpeting and reusable bags. If we don’t have plastic bottles to recycle, petroleum would still need to be extracted from the earth to make polyester materials.

"Compostable" plastic cups made from corn go in the garbage.

“Compostable” plastic cups made from corn go in the garbage.

“Compostable” plastics are usually made from corn, instead of petroleum. But it begs the question: is growing corn — a food source — for the sole purpose of making plastic, the best use of that food, especially considering we have so many starving people around the world?

“Compostable” plastic can’t be recycled with “regular” plastic, because they have different melt rates. And we’ve found that “compostable” plastic doesn’t actually break down in municipal composting facilities. For most municipalities, including Halton, “compostable” plastics (commonly used for certain cups) and cutlery, are garbage. They then end up in a landfill, where they’ll sit for hundreds or thousands of years.

Plastic is practically unavoidable. UK’s Royal Society estimated global plastic production from 2000 to 2010 would equal worldwide plastic production of the previous century!

We need to think about the 3Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle:

  • Reduce our use of plastic whenever possible. This means bringing a reusable bag instead of getting disposable plastic bags when shopping. Even use reusable bags when buying produce! Don’t buy “compostable” plastic products or packaging, which end up in your garbage.
  • Reuse whenever it is safe to do so.
  • Recycle all rigid plastic packaging in your Blue Box. Don’t put these materials in the garbage, and ensure they don’t end up as litter.

For more inspiration, read about how this family of five created a “plastic free zone” in their home.

About John Watson

I'm the Director of Customer Success for ReCollect Systems. We're a technology company that specializes in waste management apps that delight residents. Previously, I was the Waste Diversion Educator Coordinator for Halton Region, where I implemented award winning communications and outreach programs.
This entry was posted in Recycle, Reduce, Reuse and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Can we ban plastic?

  1. Brett Lavery says:

    I have generally enjoyed your posts but watch out with this one and I quote “You see, “regular” plastic is made from petroleum (oil). Plastic bottles, for example, are recycled into polyester like polar fleece, carpeting and reusable bags. If we don’t have plastic bottles to recycle, petroleum would still need to be extracted from the earth to make polyester materials.” That is exactly what big oil would have us believe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s