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Canada Leads North American Charge to Reduce Single-Use Plastics

The plastics in my Nissan Leaf? They’re a good thing. They keep the vehicle light, which helps preserve battery life. In gas cars, the plastic components translate into better gas mileage. Way to go, plastic.

Plastic pipes directing water around the house and across my city? Good. Plastic is durable and cheap. The clay pipes in my city of Boulder, CO sort of fell apart years ago. When epic floods in 2013 ravaged the city and stole half of our house, I cursed the decayed pipes — their dissolution contributed to flood damage. I celebrated with the city replaced them with plastic ones.

Plastic storage containers? Plastic shelving? Outdoor decking crafted from plastic? All good.

An important key to our plastic praise? All of these things are meant to last. They’re not disposable.

Single-use plastic, on the other hand, receives our scorn. Grocery bags. Soda bottles. Drinking straws. Sandwich baggies. To-go cutlery. Styrofoam containers. Items like these pack landfills, pollute cities and gather in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an enormous island of single-use plastic larger than the size of France.

Single-use plastics washed up on a beach.
Plastic waste is wrecking the world’s oceans, beaches and waterways. (Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash)

Kudos to government bans on single-use

We must replace single-use plastics with sustainable options. Well done, Canada, for being the first in North America to ban single-use bags, straws and cutlery, beginning next year.

To date, more than 112 countries, regions and cities worldwide have taken steps to at least suppress sales of certain single-use plastic items. Antigua and Barbadoes banned single-use plastic bags in 2016, and followed-up that law with bans on plastic utensils and styrofoam. It was the first Latin American and Caribbean country to implement the ban; others in the region followed.

Rwanda was the first country in the world to ban single-use plastic bags, in 2006.

Cities across the United States ban different kinds of single-use plastics. My city of Boulder doesn’t ban them, unfortunately. I’m sure we would but the state of Colorado does not permit municipalities to ban plastics, thanks to a 1993 statute. Colorado is one of 10 states that doesn’t allow municipalities to ban plastics.

Campfire plans to begin campaigning to change the statute.

Reuse wins

All consumption invites compromises and environmental problems. Paper comes from trees. Recycling demands enormous amounts of energy. Metals require mining. Plastic comes from petroleum. Campfire embraces the reuse ethic above all else.

This excellent article about a University of Michigan study lays out just how fraught our decisions can be. Here’s a few key grafs:

“Consumers often over-emphasize the importance of recycling packaging instead of reducing product consumption to the extent possible and reusing items to extend their lifetime.

“Although the use of single-use plastics has created a number of environmental problems that need to be addressed, there are also numerous upstream consequences of a consumer-oriented society that will not be eliminated, even if plastic waste is drastically reduced,” she said.

“The resource extraction, manufacturing and use phases generally dominate the environmental impacts of most products. So, reduction in materials consumption is always preferable to recycling, since the need for additional production is eliminated.”

Shelie A. Miller. Five Misperceptions Surrounding the Environmental Impacts of Single-Use PlasticEnvironmental Science & Technology, 2020

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