My sweet Bea loves the great outdoors as much as I do. The natural world is a place of wide-eyed wonder and it brings me so much joy to watch her marvel in it. This past weekend she saw her first monarch butterflies and still hasn’t stopped talking about it. It’s one of the great privileges of being a parent; seeing the world through the eyes of our children. And it is my sincere hope that she gets to experience that same joy with her children and her children’s children.
My parents reuse everything. In fact few things bring them more joy than old items finding new life. Our hometown of Guelph, Ontario was a very progressive city when it came to producing less waste. In the 80’s it was one of the early cities to join the Blue Box program and as a proud Brownie at the time I had the honour of handing out the bins to my community. Even now, my hometown is a leader in waste minimization. And it’s my hope that other cities follow suit.
The truth is I’d always felt being waste-conscious was in my DNA, but when I started to take a really good look at how casually I was buying, consuming and disposing of plastics, I quickly realized I need to make some changes ASAP. I’ve written before about the changes my family has been making to reduce our use of plastics, and how we’re trying to eliminate the single-use ones altogether. We are far from perfect, but like a lot of things, perfection is not the goal. Making conscious choices, refusing products that have a single use and taking a careful and critical look at the things you buy and what happens to that item when you’re done with it, is where I started. I made a commitment to my family and to the future of the planet to do better.
Which is why I’m deeply honoured to be teaming up with Canadian Geographic, The Government of Canada and The Recycling Council of Ontario to spread the word about their new program 10,000 Changes, Canada’s commitment to rethink plastics.
In the 80’s we were all taught to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And while those three Rs are still vitally important to lessening our impact on the environment, an additional set of Rs is needed to solve the plastics problem we’re facing. We’re only now truly beginning to understand the full impact our dependence on plastic has on our health, and the health of the planet. And it’s time to step our game up.
These are the 3 new Rs:
Plastics are a problem we can start to do something about immediately, by limiting our use of the material.
The biggest source of consumer-side plastic waste is from so-called single use plastics. These are products and materials that are intended to be used just once, then discarded. Using better options in place of single-use plastics, especially in grocery, food service, and consumer products, can substantially reduce our individual plastics footprint. If enough individual consumers make more responsible choices, we can reduce our demand for plastics and achieve dramatic cumulative results.
Of course it’s much easier to say no to plastics when alternatives are offered. That’s why 10,000 Changes™ will be working with Canadian businesses to explore the options that are available, and championing the leaders.
Plastic components of durable goods can enter the environment as they wear down through normal use, or when the goods are discarded by consumers. Some products shed microplastics particles directly into the environment, like polar fleece down your washing machine’s drain. And many products rely on plastic packaging to get from the factory to your home in good working order.
Whether it’s the consumer products that make our lives easier, or the packages they come in, low- and no-plastics options are better for the environment, and can also be better for business.
Replacing plastic with alternative materials or polymers with stronger environmental performance and recyclability, can reduce impacts without reducing quality. This is an opportunity for Canadian businesses to seize a strategic advantage in a world where consumers and regulators increasingly value responsible design and manufacturing, and leaner and cleaner packaging.
Why do takeaway meals create mountains of plastic? Why do airlines need so many disposable items to fly someone from one city to another? Why are so many household goods made of plastic, and why are they now so difficult or impossible to repair? Solving these challenges will take ingenuity and effort. Businesses will ultimately have to re-evaluate their use of the material wherever it’s used.
A large number of products and services will have to be re-engineered or completely reimagined. Many technical solutions will be required, and countless far-reaching systemic changes will have to be implemented over the coming decades.
Better serviceability, and taking plastics back to their point of origin at end-of-life is are powerful ways to ensure they don’t end up in the environment. Whether in food service, hospitality, or healthcare, innovative design, new technology, and fresh business models will play an important role. The sharing economy, circular economy, and product-as-a-service can all contribute to better resource efficiency and reduced demand for plastics.
Solving the plastics problem will require each and every one of us making small changes in our daily lives and it’s hope that you add these new R’s to your daily routines.
Here are some of the changes I’m committing to make:
I commit to buying unpackaged produce
I commit to refusing plastic cutlery
I commit to bringing my own water bottle
If you’re wondering where to start click here for some great ideas: https://10000changes.ca/areas-of-change/. I’d love to hear from you on the changes you’re making.