Shrink-wrapped vegetables in a local grocery store led one woman on a quest to get the Canadian government to institute a national plastics strategy to deal with plastic pollution.
Salmon Arm resident Chélie Elsom has created a petition that has been sponsored by Green Party leader Elizabeth May in order to be presented in the House of Commons.
About two years ago, Elsom noticed that many of the vegetables were encased in plastic. When she asked an employee why she couldn’t get a cucumber that wasn’t shrink wrapped, he told her, “That’s what Canadians want.”
“But I said I am Canadian and I don’t want that,” she says. “I thought, if I don’t want that, there must be other Canadians who don’t want it either.”
Elsom’s subsequent research led to some apalling numbers.
“Canadians throw away 57 million plastic straws every single day and another shocking figure from the Canadian government website is that only 11 per cent of all plastics are recycled in Canada,” she says. “Here’s another shocking figure for you: every year Canadians use one billion single-use plastic grocery bags – and that’s just in Canada.”
Elsom believes that because most Canadians do not see the proof of plastic pollution every day; they throw things away without a thought as to where they go.”
“I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as throwing away. You don’t throw something away, it just becomes someone else’s problem,” she says. “But with the scope of plastic pollution now, it’s very quickly becoming everybody’s problem.”
Manufacturing of single-use plastics is a significant waste of resources, dollars and energy, she says, and, globally, plastic pollution poses a serious and significant environmental threat.
Elsom says one of the reasons Canada is facing a mounting plastic problem is that China, once a destination for the country’s plastic waste, closed its doors to the transfer.
Calling plastic pollution a multifaceted problem, Elsom says solutions should include a plan for education and public awareness, as well as for the responsible production, consumption, collection, processing and re-using of all plastic packaging.
Ben Van Nostrand, Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s team leader of environmental health, says he supports Elsom’s efforts to take the issue to the federal level. He points out the regional district is partnering with Recycle BC to ensure that options for recycling plastics are available at all CSRD recycling depots.
“We were one of the early adopters of the plastic category that Recycle BC recently added,” Van Nostrand says, noting he is pleased most local grocers are now charging five cents for each single-use plastic bag, another disincentive to use the bags.
“We’re pushing that stuff through the Recycle BC system for sure, and one of the positive things about them is that one of the partners is a plastic recycler in B.C. that is making new products from that material,” he says. “It’s staying within B.C. so we weren’t so heavily reliant on foreign markets.”
While she bemoans plastic pollution, Elsom is a supporter of the durable plastic that can be made and re-made many times over instead of being treated like garbage.
“We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to commit to a National Plastic Strategy which includes:
1. An education and public awareness campaign highlighting the scope and impact of global plastic pollution;
2. A ban on the manufacturing, distribution and use of all plastics that cannot be recycled;
3. A ban on all single-use plastics that are hard to recycle and most often end up in landfills or waterways;
4. A commitment to encourage a circular plastics economy by keeping recyclable plastics out of landfills and instead reusing them in a closed-loop system effectively saving billions in manufacturing costs while producing less waste;
5. A commitment to invest in the infrastructure, on a municipal, provincial and federal level, to collect, sort, process, recycle and re-use all plastic packaging;
6. A Zero Plastic Waste Canada by 2030, by ensuring all plastic packaging is 100% recyclable, re-usable or compostable.”
Elsom says there is a large global conversation going on at the moment and she decided she wanted to have a voice in that conversation.
“I am sure there are other Canadians who would like to have a voice as well,” she says, pointing out she would like people to sign her petition, but also be more conscious of what they are throwing away.
Petition 1834 which is available for signing until Jan. 10, must have a minimum of 500 signatures in order to be presented in the House of Commons.