Riding the Wave of Plastic Pollution Advocacy in Canada

By Ryan Elizabeth Cope –

There is a shift happening in Canada… can you feel it?

If you’re of the environmental mindset (and you likely are if you’re perusing this publication), then you might already know where this is headed…across the country, Canadians are waking up to the revolution against single-use plastics, joining the fray, and standing up for better practices in their communities. We are saying no to the plastic bag, despite criticism and debate determined to keep us swirling about in minutiae. We are finally seeing our waste as just that: waste! It is a great time to be alive and 2018 has a lot in store us, and this movement.

The global journey towards a zero-waste economy is still in its infancy, but as we look around and tune in to the rallying cry of the plastic-free people, it’s clear that this is movement is not just a fad. Over 16 years ago as of this writing, Bangladesh became the first country to ban outright the use of plastic bags, and since then, many countries around the world have followed suit, either with their own bans, or with a fee imposed for using bags. In fact, there are so many countries, cities, towns, and municipalities making an effort at eradicating this flimsy waste item that an entire Wikipedia page (1) has been created to keep up with the times. In the digital age, this feels fairly significant. While it is obvious that this sort of thing is quite popular and widespread across the pond, we Canadians can take heart knowing we own a piece of that pie (2) and our piece seems to be getting bigger every year. All told, eight cities across four provinces now hold some kind of bag ban, with Victoria, BC being the most recent addition to the list. Vancouver could be next, given its proximity to Victoria, and the fact that it is currently undertaking a “Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy” project, surveying Vancouverites to determine what their usage of specific items of plastic are (beverage cups, take-out containers, and bags both paper and plastic), their habits, and how best to deal with these waste streams (reducing consumption, offering a reuse/deposit program, fees, recycling, or outright bans). The mere fact that a city as large as Vancouver is taking the initiative with this strategy is a testament to the changes that are a foot in this country.

But it doesn’t stop at bag bans! No, the movement is extending beyond the bag, as many people are waking up to the fact that most of the plastic being recovered during beach cleanups, or during scientific research cruises at sea, is coming from our habit of convenient consumption. Even if we don’t want to admit it, we love our convenience, and that convenience often comes shrouded in plastic. From packaged sandwiches to cold-pressed juices encased in plastic bottles, plastic is all around us and it’s often hard to escape. To be fair, many of us are busy and don’t always have time to plan ahead, DIY, or keep a mug at the ready for an impromptu coffee date. In addition, because we’ve structured our society around convenience, it’s almost harder to avoid the stuff and still have tasty-yet-convenient options.

Enter in the concept of zero-waste shopping. There are now entire stores being built around the idea of zero-waste! Just as we are starting to see bag bans implemented across the country, so too are low-to-zero-waste grocery stores coming to the forefront. These shops offer everything from coffee beans and produce to household cleaners and self-care essentials, and they are so fun, simple, and dare-I-say-it…convenient?!

In BC alone, there are at least four scattered across the province, including on Salt Spring Island (Green (3)), the Lower Mainland (The Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples (4) and soon-to-open Nada (5) with a mission to “empower shoppers to decrease food waste and unnecessary packaging”), and in the Okanagan (Unless Market (6) in Kelowna). Moving east to Alberta, locals there enjoy frequenting The Apothecary (7) in Inglewood (Calgary) along with Community Natural Foods (8) (multiple locations across Alberta!), which allows customers to shop for bulk goods with their with their own containers and in some cases, allow customers to remove produce from its plastic packaging before purchasing. All of these places carry a variety of goods, some with food options and all supporting the local movement.

And that’s not all, folks! If you find yourself in Ontario, NU Grocery (9) in Ottawa is the place to be, having just opened up shop this past summer. After that, you might as well hop on over to Quebec, where Méga Vrac (10) in the Rosemont neighborhood of Montreal, also recently opened its doors with over 700 refillable options, from olives to olive oil. And finally, if you live anywhere close to a Bulk Barn, Canada’s chain of bulk grocery stores found nation-wide, you are now welcome to BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) as part of their Reusable Container Program (11). Great Scott, it just keeps on a’comin’!

The good news? This is by no means a comprehensive list. Across the country, coffee shops and restaurants are opting out of things like straws, to-go cups, and extraneous, single-use items that normally get thrown away. Pop-up markets offer temporary low-to-zero waste goods and farmers markets everywhere are tuning in to the sound of the plastic-free drum. The better news? All of these grassroots initiatives are fuel for the fire that we need in order to effectively advocate for similar initiatives in our own communities.

This movement, fighting against plastic pollution, is so important, now more than ever. Recent news tells us that China (12) is no longer accepting our often-contaminated recyclables. While this is proving to be a major point of contention for municipalities already overwhelmed with our trash, perhaps we should take this as an opportunity to ask some hard questions and re-evaluate our habits. Let’s jump on this waste-free bandwagon and grow our presence in the global movement towards a world free of single-use plastics. Given all that is currently happening in Canada, this is an entirely achievable goal, and a good one for 2018. Who’s next to join the zero-waste movement?

References:
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plastic_bags
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plastic_bags#Canada
3. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/zero-waste-salt-spring-grocery-store-1.3960551
4. https://www.thesoapdispensary.com/
5. http://www.nadagrocery.com/
6. https://unlessmarket.ca
7. http://www.the-apothecary.ca/
8. https://www.communitynaturalfoods.com/
9. https://nugrocery.com/
10. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/no-waste-store-mega-vrac-1.3747648
11. http://www.bulkbarn.ca/en/Project-Waste-Free
12. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/china-bans-foreign-waste-but-what-will-happen-to-the-worlds-recycling/

Ryan Elizabeth Cope is a Kelowna, BC-based advocate for plastic-less, healthful living. She has lived and worked in several places on the coasts of both the Atlantic and the Pacific, from Hawaii to Maine. She blogs at Seven in the Ocean (https://sevenintheocean.com/) where she marries her love of food with her disdain for plastic-wrapped garbage. When not ranting ad nauseum about plastic, she can be found playing with her chickens, or concocting fresh juices in her kitchen.

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