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The 2 most important R's

Posted: March 23, 2021

The 2 most important R's

Recycling is a hot topic these days. Many Canadians were shocked to learn that a large portion of their plastic waste, diligently sorted at home, and further processed at recycling centers, was exported rather than processed in Canada. In the best-case scenario, the cleanest and highest-value plastics were cherry picked for recycling, the rest ending up in a landfill. More often it wound up in forests, rivers, and eventually the ocean.

Plastic use and production has more than doubled since 2000. Recycling - - the last of the three R’s – has never caught up to this trend, and probably can’t. More and more products are packaged in plastic simply because it is the most abundant and cheap material. By far the largest contributor to plastic waste is packaging.

The good news is that the responsibility of plastics recycling is beginning to fall on the producers of plastic packaging, rather than municipalities, waste managers, and overseas labour. Once producers are forced to account for the costs of plastic collection, sorting, recycling, and reuse, I am sure we will suddenly see huge leaps in plastic recycling technology and reductions in packaging waste.

Excellent progress has been made recently in plastic waste reduction. Plastic shopping bags are becoming less common, and the federal single-use plastics ban is an important next step. Faced with the sudden halt on overseas "recycling”, North American waste managers have put in a lot of hard work figuring out how and what can be recycled economically. But single-use plastic was only ever a symptom of the problem. Replacing plastic cutlery with compostable corn-based poly-tetra-whatever is just removing only the most obvious negative impact. The real problem lies with our reliance on recycling as our environmental "due-diligence”. We’ve forgotten that there are two R’s that come before recycling, and they are the most important.

Reducing the waste we personally create and reusing what we can are an absolute necessity. We need to shake our creeping dependence on single-use everything. Here are few simple and effective ways to reduce your waste:

Reduce The first and best way to tackle your personal environmental footprint
  • Use a water bottle instead of buying bottled water. Almost everywhere in North America, tap water is treated to the same or higher standards than bottled water, and it is much cheaper.

  • Once COVID is over, bring re-usable coffee mugs to your favourite coffee store, they keep your coffee warm longer.

  • Look for products that are sold with less plastic packaging. For example, lettuce and spinach are often sold as whole, unwrapped heads, rather than in plastic film or clamshell containers.

  • Purchase reusable mesh produce bags, many grocery stores have them.

  • Keep a re-usable fork and spoon with you when you are away from home to avoid needing to rely on single-use cutlery.

  • Plastic cling-wrap can be replaced with re-usable beeswax cloth wraps, which also keep food fresh longer. Many local stores sell them, as do honey producers

  • Factor durability and reparability into your purchasing considerations.

  • Learn how to maintain and repair common household items such as clothing, furniture, shoes, and tools.

Waste not, want not
  • Find ways to reuse bread bags, dairy containers, and pea- nut butter jars around your home.

  • Wash and reuse ziplock bags. Even if you only use a bag twice, you have cut plastic waste in half.

  • Buy or trade for used items when you can. Not only are they cheaper, but they result in no new waste.

Recycle The last resort

Certainly, plastic packaging is impossible to avoid in some cases. In many scenarios it is absolutely essential for maintaining safety and hygiene. However, the vast majority of the plastic problem lies in its overuse. In the majority of cases, plastic is used in packaging out of convenience, rather than necessity.

The goal here is to become more aware of alternatives, and to be conscious in your purchasing decisions. Looking for low-waste alternatives is the first and most important step, and sends signals back to manufacturers that consumers are interested in the environmental impact of their products. While our choices make the most impact when we act together, it is important to understand and take personal responsibility for your individual contribution, and that begins with learning about the problem


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