Science & Technology

Single-Use Plastics

Although it’s May and Earth month is in the dust behind us, I haven’t been able to shake the persistent environmentalist on my shoulder (or perhaps it’s my mother). I started following a National Geographic wildlife photographer last year who also contributes to the Instagram account “Sea Legacy”. This NGO is dedicated to preserving healthy and abundant oceans, but I follow them because I love the pictures of polar bears and baby seals.

Then one day in December, I was lazily scrolling through my feed when I came across a picture of a teeny tiny seahorse holding onto a Q-Tip. You may have seen it yourself in passing; it was one of the poster pictures for this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit plastered across Toronto. At first, I thought it was cute, and then I read the caption which was an explanation of their campaign against single use plastics entering our waterways. The more I looked at it and thought about it, the more I thought how ridiculous it was that such a photo had ever been taken; why should this seahorse ever come into contact with someone’s ear-cleaner?

I talked to my mom about it over Christmas break – a time notorious for unavoidable disposable plastics at every turn, and I said I thought it was so unfair, how could she continue buying Q-tips? Well apparently there are paper versions as well, which just brings up the question: if we have the alternatives, why aren’t they mandatory?

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the recent push to ban all plastic straws after the UK became the first country to do so. In fact, Vancouver went a step further banning straws, Styrofoam cups, and take-out containers. It’s easy to say that this is an unnecessary step – people can ask not to have a straw in their drink – if they remember that is. And I would know. Ever since reading the term “single use plastics” for the first time on Instagram, I have been very conscious of all the single use plastics in my own life, and still when I go out I slip up and forget to tell the waiter I don’t need a straw.

I have become vigilant in other places, reusing Ziplocks until they get holes, replacing the need for tinfoil with a reusable version, taking food in washable snack bags. But am I making a difference, and does banning straws really do anything? And what about my favourite sweet treat bubble tea which is always served in plastic containers? It’s hard to make sacrifices if you don’t see a point.

Because of course banning plastic straws is not the solution; it’s step number one in a long process that in some ways goes “against progress”. We invented plastic versions of EVERYTHING for a reason and that reason is convenience. People talk about taking a metal straw around with you now, but this is no new invention; people have been using metal and paper straws for over a hundred years, and archaeologists have even found straws in tombs dated over 3000 years old. We only started making them out of plastic to save the consumer time and money. As for just about everything else that’s made of plastic today, well it all started out made from something else for the most part, especially the single-use items.

Going back in time on purpose might sound dumb to people; but changing the products we use and demand is how change is made. It starts with straws today and then you move to paper Q-tips and tampons, and little change by little change, the world becomes a cleaner place. It’s just a thought but I hope you consider it.

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