Editor’s note: The following is a submitted op/ed article regarding the federal court’s recent decision to overturn the single-use plastics ban. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
The recent decision of Federal Court judge, Justice Angela Furlanetto, to overturn the single-use plastics ban is a terrifying reminder of the power of the fossil fuel industry and an empowering reminder of the need to take climate change into our own hands.
Justice Furlanetto claimed that the federal government’s decision to list plastics as toxic was “unreasonable and unconstitutional.” It’s this toxic classification that seems to be the crux of her decision, but it is simply evidence of the oil industry successfully pulling the plastic bag over her eyes.
The case to fight the ban on plastic stir sticks, straws, grocery bags, cutlery, takeout containers, and six-pack beverage rings in Canada was brought by the fossil fuel behemoths like Dow Chemical, Nova Chemicals, and Imperial Oil. These are the companies primarily responsible for the three million tonnes of plastic waste thrown away by Canadians every year.
This grasping-at-straws move by “Big Plastic” is a doubling down on the lie they’ve been telling for 50 years. They knew it then and they know it now. Plastic is incredibly difficult and expensive to recycle. In fact, only nine per cent of the plastic that makes its way into a blue bin is ever recycled — the rest is actual garbage. The plastics industry has spent millions of marketing dollars claiming that plastic can be recycled while making billions of dollars knowing it can’t.
When people think of why plastic is bad, they think of that picture they saw of the turtle with the straw stuck in its nose. While a horrible image, the waste created by plastic is only the tip of the giant melting iceberg when it comes to the catastrophic impact it is having on the planet.
It starts at the beginning; plastic comes from fossil fuels and estimates are up to eight per cent of all global oil production is to produce plastics. Annually, the greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing of ethylene, the building block for plastic, are the equivalent of what 50 million cars produce in a year. The carbon dioxide emissions from plastic production are expected to increase by 35 per cent in the next 25 years, with plastic accounting for 20 per cent of all oil production.
That’s just the start of its never-ending lifecycle.
Once the non-recycled plastic finds its way into rivers, lakes, and landfills, it starts to break down — and slowly. In fact, a plastic laundry jug takes over 450 years to break down. If the people who came over on the Mayflower were throwing laundry jugs into the ocean, they would still be breaking down. If Sir Isaac Newton had used a plastic water bottle to discover gravity instead of an apple, it would still be lying there, on the ground, breaking down.
As discarded plastics are exposed to the sun, heat, and water, they once again start emitting dangerous levels of greenhouse gases, and while they decompose, they break down into micro-plastics which enter the soil and water systems. These can never be cleaned up and are now everywhere. Scientists estimate that every human on the planet is consuming five grams of micro-plastics per week — about the weight of a credit card. Every. Single. Week.
The impact of climate change is at a tipping point, both at a micro and macro level. Global temperature records were shattered this year. July alone saw over 10,000 global heat records broken. Water temperatures off the coast of Florida this summer reached hot tub levels — 100 degrees. 2023 will end up as the hottest year on record. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will also hit a record high this year. These two things are intrinsically connected. Meanwhile, Canadian oil sands companies saw their 2022 profits soar to a mind-blowing $34.7 billion, more than twice the $15.1 billion they made in 2021.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says the federal government is reviewing the decision of the overturned ban and is “strongly considering an appeal.” However, history has shown we can’t rely on the courts, government, or the oil companies to do what’s best when it comes to the environment and climate change. The onus is on us as individuals to stand up and make change on our own.
Climate change activist
Founder, The Keep Refillery (a local company singularly focused on ridding the world of single-use plastics)
Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].