The ban on single-use plastics is going to be a quiet revolution for Canada.
A dozen years from now, teenagers will watch old TV programs and ask what everyone is carrying from the mall, or why their takeout containers look so weird. They literally will not remember the era of disposable plastics.
As of the end of next year, plastic bags and cutlery and Styrofoam takeout containers will be banned.
It’s going to be a massive change. There are doubtless going to be kinks to work out – plastic straws are to remain available to people with disabilities, for example, but will every restaurant keep stocking them? Will there be shortages outside of hospitals?
Many stores and restaurants are getting ahead of this coming legislative change, which is why there has been a flurry of sudden innovations from cardboard tags on bags of bread and various substitute straws to the return of paper bags and cardboard burger containers at stores and restaurants.
For decades, environmental activists have been trying to encourage people to use cloth or reusable plastic bags when shopping.
Many people did, but disposable plastic bags remained cheap and ubiquitous. They were always there if you’d forgotten your reusable bags at home, or if you were grabbing something from a store on the way home.
They are at least recyclable, but that’s more than you can say for most plastic cutlery and disposable Styrofoam containers.
Recycling can deal with some waste, but inevitably a significant amount escapes and winds up in landfills, drifting around streets, and in waterways and oceans.
Humans have created a strata of plastic that will show up in the geological record millions of years from now, and we did it in just a century. We’re seeing microplastics in water in vast quantities, and we don’t really know what that will do to the environment, or what it’s doing to the environment right now.
Judging by the fact that plastic simply doesn’t break down that easily, the likely answer is “nothing good.”
It’s high time we weaned ourselves off plastic. Getting rid of bags and cutlery and takeout containers is just a start.
Making society less dependent on the disposable should be our long term goal. There are still countless disposable items we use, from plastic pens to batteries to water bottles. Eventually, we’ll need to find substitutes for all of these things, because recycling will never catch all of the plastic we produce and use, even here in Canada.
Hopefully Canada’s leaders will keep moving in that direction if people give them a push.