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Our Recycling Habit Is In Need of Repair

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Two billion. There are over 2 billion people globally who lack access to clean water and sanitation. There are also 2 billion plastic water bottles used by Canadians every year.

Our world is marked by both crisis for some and convenience for others.

For 30 years, the promise of recycling has reshaped how Canadians sort their waste, how companies package our goods, and how governments manage and regulate this waste at home and abroad. For the past 30 years we have also seen a dramatic rise in plastic waste with almost everything now being made from plastic or coming wrapped in plastic.

It might shock some to know that only 9% of all plastic produced in Canada is ever recycled. The remainder ends up in landfills, incinerators, and littered across our walkways and waterways (with microplastics entering the food chain). Since these waterways tend to flow into the oceans, floating islands of plastic are formed that are sometimes hundreds of kilometers wide.

In late June, the Federal government announced it would be banning several types of plastic. A few details:

  • The rules ban 6 types of single use plastic products: checkout bags, cutlery, hard to recycle takeout containers, aluminum can ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws (although you will still be able to buy packages of plastic straws at the grocery store).

  • Missing from the ban, yet also single use are coffee cup lids and plastic water bottles (all 2 billion of them).

  • The ban starts December 20, 2022 with a one year transition period, but for some products (ring carriers) there is an additional 6 months to comply. Adding up the other unique parts of this plan, it will be 42 months until ‘full’ implementation (December 2025). Because of WTO (World Trade Organization) rules, banned plastics can still be imported without restrictions after December 2025.

  • The ban covers plastics that make up only 3% of all the plastic waste made in Canada.

Peter Zimonjic writes about these new rules in his article: The Liberal government's single-use plastic ban, explained.

The CBC’s Fifth Estate with Gillian Findlay examines Canada’s export of plastic waste to poorer countries like India, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The investigation is called Bait and Switch: Recycling's Dirty Secret. You can watch it below.

Here we learn how Canadian recycling companies (their names kept secret by the Federal government) export plastic waste, pollute the air and waters of these poorer countries, and toxify the local people. The Honourable Steven Guilbeault (our Environment Minister) says “this has to stop”, yet he and his party voted against a Conservative-led bill that would ban this unjust export.

Thanks to projects like The Story of Stuff, we can also learn about the lifecycle of plastic. By eliminating plastic we also reduce what gets extracted and disposed and all the stages in between.

Watch a four minute video by the Story of Stuff about turning this chain of harm into a circular economy.

This awareness is being coupled with action. We always have the privilege to write to our elected representatives. We can ask for a ban on exporting plastic waste and more swift and far reaching commitments to both reduce our plastic use and to recycle more at home.

Our BC program is also promoting ways to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. We have a new invitation for gathering spaces that sell bottled water (cinemas, theatres, community centres, etc) to offer tap or bulk water instead. There are alternative ways to recoup lost revenues and the invitation links drinking water access with a Land and Water Acknowledgment.

When we gather, more and more organizations are welcoming their guests with an authentic Land Acknowledgement. The statement honours the territory and the Indigenous peoples who have and continue to reciprocate the gift of creation because of their ancestral and sovereign responsibilities.

Our invitation to gathering spaces that sell bottled water is to link action with this Acknowledgement. When thinking about the waste we produce and the resources we consume, how can our words and actions create a culture of repair? When we acknowledge the sources of life and wisdom, we can also signal how we are caring for creation.

See, share, and download this invitation

for a relationship of repair.

standard print - bottled water gathering spaces
Download PDF • 3.46MB


flyer bi-fold version - bottled water gathering spaces
Download PDF • 3.46MB

Acts of Repair add a fifth R to the usual 4 Rs of waste management (refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle). Refusing to sell some of 2 billion plastic water bottles, while honouring the lands and waters can be an act of relational repair. Updates to come as we test these new strategic waters.

By Paul Baines

Share your comments below.

What concerns you the most about the amount of plastic in the world and Canada's response so far?

When reflecting on the lifecycle of plastic and who and where is impacted the most, how is reducing plastic a justice issue?

Does your organization have a Land & Water Acknowledgment and if so, what types of repair help shift words into action?

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1 komentarz

27 wrz 2022

Thank you for planting the seed of a repair element to land acknowledgement. This is an important topic for discussion with my groups. The convesations alone will move us all forward.

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