On Saturday, May 5, Steinbach will again have it’s ‘Pick-up-and-Walk’ event, the spring cleanup day for the city. The effect of this cleanup activity on the city’s appearance is remarkable every year, and I’m sure this year will be no different. The churches of Steinbach are to be commended for annually organizing this campaign.
However in the midst of commending one another for the excellence of this campaign, we should also remind ourselves that most of what we will be picking up will be plastic intended for single use. I dare say if there were no such thing as throw-away plastic, the Pick-up-and-Walk campaign would be unnecessary. Even people much younger than I am can remember a time when there simply was much less throw-away plastic around – it did not exist.
Usually we don’t buy throw-away plastic. Most throw-away plastic is packaging. It is there to hold or contain the product we want. And the plastic container certainly facilitates the handling of that product, whether that be water, lettuce, or general groceries from the grocery store; coffee, hamburgers, or soda drinks at the drive-through or the latest potluck; or a spark plug, screwdriver or wrench at Canadian Tire. We buy it, open the container, use what;s inside and throw the wrapping away. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, only 8% of the plastic we discard is recycled. Most of it ends up in the landfill: some of it directly, and some because of the Pickup-and-Walk campaign. Have you seen the size of the Steinbach landfill recently? That’s all “garbage”accumulated during my lifetime. The rate at which we throw away plastic is increasing (We all know that. Most of us can remember when drinking water came from the tap or fountain.). So how big will that landfill pile be in another generation?
So what can we do about it? On an individual level, how about we all adopt a lifestyle that adheres to “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” This could make a huge difference.
There is a great deal every one of us can do and should do to reduce our use of single use plastics, but governments at all levels can enact policy that will have a much bigger effect. We all use throw-away plastics because it’s convenient: plastic bags, plastic water bottles, Styrofoam plates, Styrofoam cups, plastic drinking straws, plastic stir sticks, and so on. It’s so convenient. How about we jointly decide we will make it inconvenient? (Jointly means that our government enacts a policy on our behalf.) How about we decide that the price of single use plastic should be such that we will think twice or thrice before we use single use plastic. It shouldn’t be that hard to change the price. It would be easiest for our national government to effect a change in the price of throw-away plastic. It’s simply a matter of applying an appropriate tax to the manufacture of these items. The manufacturer would need to pass this cost on to his customers, and ultimately the final user, you and me, would have to pay. How much should that tax be? I don’t know, but probably quite a bit – enough to change people’s behavior. If the federal government won’t do it, the provincial government could, and if that government won’t, our city government could. Policy to discourage the use of single use plastic enacted at the local level, would not be as effective, nor would it be as easy to apply as at the national level, but if the feds won’t do it, what’s the alternative?