Environmental Defence is a group of innovative and determined problem-solvers who are making a difference defending clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.They challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
Canadian summers may be short lived, but boy do we know how to make them count! And there’s no better way to show that we’re living our best summer lives than with a day spent on the beach. Since 2004, Blue Flag Canada has been helping you choose the best place to throw down a towel, catch some rays or enjoy a swim.
There is no shortage of beautiful Canadian beaches, and we want to see your favorites. This summer, you could win some awesome prizes, including a brand new Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6, by snapping a pic and entering our 2018 Life’s A Beach Photo Contest on Instagram. Remember, you’ve got to be In-sta it to win-sta it! (sorry not sorry)
Tyler Cave won 1st place in the 2017 contest with this beauty – wow!
Entering is as simple as following @Envirodefence on Instagram, and tagging your photo with #BlueFlagPhotoContest. Because, if you didn’t post it on the “Gram” – were you even really at the beach?
We can’t wait to see photos of your favorite things about a beach day – the sun, the surf, and people having a great time! If showing off your Instagram and photography skills wasn’t enough, there are some fabulous prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.
This shot of beach volleyball netted Azra Popat third prize last year
If we love your photo the best you could win a Blue Flag prize pack, an Instax camera AND a $100 Henry’s Camera gift card.
The Blue Flag prize back includes a hat, bandana and a Swell water bottle valued at $45. Not too shabby!
So – what are you waiting for? Summer is here! Grab your smart phone, snap a pic, then follow @Envirodefence and hashtag it with #BlueFlagPhotoContest.
Toronto, Ont. – Environmental Defence applauds the federal government for launching a discussion paper on a strategic assessment of climate change. This is a critical step in ensuring that proposed energy and industrial projects are aligned with Canada’s commitments to cut carbon pollution in line with the Paris climate agreement.
Canada is making notable progress in reforming its environmental laws and investing in climate action. But the strategic assessment can’t cut any corners if Canada is to decarbonize its economy, restore public trust in the project review process, and provide industry with the certainty it needs to flourish in the low-carbon future.
To be effective, the strategic assessment for climate change must:
Provide real guidance for how individual energy and industrial projects make sense environmentally and economically in a world in which the Paris agreement is achieved.
Set out binding ways to align the impact assessments of new projects with Canada’s 2030 climate targets and its Paris commitment to decarbonization by around mid-century.
Require the consideration of zero-carbon alternatives in any analysis of a project’s incremental or avoided greenhouse gas emissions
Ensure that the public’s views are acted on and Indigenous peoples are meaningfully consulted.
Require real transparency and accountability from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Environmental Defence supports the establishment of an expert advisory panel for the strategic assessment of climate change and looks forward to participating in the process to ensure energy and industrial project reviews are aligned with Canada’s climate commitments.
Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
Last week, the new provincial government was sworn in and has already started moving on its election promises. A promise that I can get on-board with is the commitment to improve the supply of housing, especially since we’ve also been assured that land in the Greenbelt will not be developed. Like many of you, I want to ensure we have affordable housing options, farmland, access to nature and the transportation choices we need, so our children and grandchildren can live in healthy, prosperous communities.
What we know
Our region is growing: between 9.7 and 13.5 million more people will be living and working in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) by 2041. That means we need approximately 55,000 housing units per year, and getting our housing supply mix right is going to be crucial.
We know from research undertaken by the Neptis Foundation that there is enough land available for new housing within the boundaries of our towns and cities to meet our growth needs for the next decade and beyond if we grow smarter. So, as we begin planning our housing needs to 2041, we should ask these questions: will the housing industry, developers, provincial government and municipalities work together to provide the supply of housing that people need and can afford within their communities? Or will they bow to the pressure from land speculators to build more single family homes on our dwindling supply of productive farmland in the GGH?
It’s time to build up!
For too long, sprawling low density housing on greenfields has cost us all. It has added to traffic congestion by requiring us to drive farther to find affordable housing. So, rather than continue this costly growth model, it’s time to build up! Not only does building gentle density reduce the capital cost of infrastructure for municipalities (which can reduce our taxes), it also means people spend less time in their cars.
And it’s not just environmentalists, transit advocates or planners like me who think so. There seems to be consensus among affordable housing advocates, and the Building Industry and Land Developers Association (BILD), that we need to increase the supply of housing close to transit.
The areas where consensus seems achievable are:
Building up to provide affordable housing around transit stations;
Providing infrastructure upgrades including transit in our existing cities and towns (instead of extending pipes, roads and services to support more urban sprawl);
Protecting farms and natural areas.
Our housing needs are changing
It’s time to move away from building 5,000 sq ft monster homes on the edge of the Greenbelt. Instead, we need to build more affordable housing in our cities. Not only is this the right thing to do to protect our precious food and water supplies, but it’s what people actually want. According to a survey by Pembina and RBC, most people prefer a smaller home with a shorter commute over a larger home and a longer commute. Both younger millennials and aging baby boomers want apartments and townhomes that are accessible and close to services like transit, health care, restaurants, and shops. Building up instead of sprawling out makes sense for all.
We don’t need more land
When we consider our future housing needs, it is important to remember that an estimated 700,000 homes (averaging between 25,000 and 30,000 per year) are coming onto the resale housing market from our aging population by 2041. That means we have a good supply of single family homes coming onto the market without having to lift one shovel. And there are many other ways to increase our supply of housing without building homes on greenfields, like rental options, basement apartments, laneway housing and apartments over shops.
Let’s work together
If we focus on the areas of consensus, we can grow our cities around transit and support communities that have enough people living in an area to allow for walking, biking, homes, services and shopping to be combined in a lifestyle improving way.
Building more low density detached housing on the edge of our cities is where consensus breaks down and traffic congestion takes over. Let’s work together to build vibrant, prosperous communities.
You may have seen that a small anti-poverty charity, Canada Without Poverty, won a landmark court challenge against the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) regarding political-activity audits and wondered what that means. Or maybe you saw Environmental Defence’s ads on how charities’ involvement in public policy has been limited by an out-of-date law and had questions. You are not alone. There is limited awareness about how our charity law works and why it needs to change. That’s why we have put together some answers to some common questions on this issue. We hope they are helpful.
Q: What is the charity law and who enforces it?
The ‘charity law’ is part of the Income Tax Act and it is the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) that is responsible for interpreting and enforcing it. The Canadian Department of Finance is responsible for the Income Tax Act
Q: Are Canadian charities allowed to conduct political activities?
Yes, within certain restrictions. The Income Tax Act restricts Canadian registered charities in the type and quantity of political activity. Charities can be involved in non-partisan political activities as long as it helps accomplish the charity’s purposes. See below for a definition of what “political” activities actually entail. You will be surprised.
Q: What’s the difference between “political” and “partisan political” activities?
The current law limits the amount of time charities can take part in “political activities.” However, this use of “political” is different from the way most people use the word. To most of us, “political” means electoral politics, and the back and forth between Conservatives, Liberals, the NDP, etc. However, according to the current law, “political” means working on any public policy issues. This means that when a charity works on drinking and driving and asks its supporters to write to their Member of Parliament (MP) about the need for better laws or when a health charity asks for new investments in life saving equipment, this activity is called “political”. We are asking the government to update the law to allow charities to take a greater role in public policy discussions.
In contrast to “political” there is “partisan” which refers to supporting one political party over another. We agree that charities should remain non-partisan, which means that charities cannot promote any political parties.
Q: Isn’t lobbying “bad”? Shouldn’t it be banned?
“Lobbying” is when someone meets with their MP or senior civil servant to discuss a public policy issue. These conversations are how MPs and government find out a lot of their information about the implications of a law or policy that they may be considering. If lobbying is banned, politicians may not have the information that they need to make smart policy decisions. Your MP is not an expert on health care or the environment, that’s why these meetings are essential.
Q: How is corporate lobbying different from what’s done by charities?
Corporations and industry associations spend millions on lobbying and are doing so to convince governments to enact policies that favour them and their industries (they are required to do this by the nature of their own legal obligation to make money for their shareholders). There are no legal restrictions on the amount of lobbying they can do. In contrast, charities must, by law, undertake lobbying that is in the broader public interest, and are currently highly restricted in the amount of lobbying they can do, which limits the voice of their supporters.
Q: Do charities pay taxes and what does that have to do with free speech?
Charities do not pay corporate income taxes but their employees pay income tax like any other worker. Charities are also prohibited from making a profit.
The free speech issue is related to the current rules which prohibit charities from engaging the public to seek better laws and policies to protect human rights, health and the environment. This means that the citizens that donate to the charity have very little ability to have their voice reflected in advocacy for appropriate laws and policy.
It is critical that supporters of a charity’s efforts be able to write to their Members of Parliament (MPs) or Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPPs) to ask for action. If charities cannot inform their members about these issues, Canada will be a less democratic and less successful country. The playing field is not even because corporations face no such restrictions.
Q: What is the difference between how charities and corporations are treated concerning public policy advocacy and tax breaks?
Citizens get to reduce some of their income tax that they have to pay by donating to a charity (you would have seen this on your income tax form when you filed it after giving to a charity). The more donations a charity receives, the more resources it has to work on public policy issues.
Corporations, by contrast, can spend unlimited amounts of money opposing or supporting a public policy issue and deduct these expenses from their gross income, and therefore, lower the amount of income tax they are paying. This is similar in the scale of tax benefit to what a citizen gets from contributing to their RRSP — that it is a larger tax benefit than what would be received from donating to charity. Citizens are subsidizing this corporate activity because of these rules.
Q: Why does the law need to be updated?
Canada’s charity law is behind most other western countries. Charity laws in places like Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe and New Zealand enshrine the ability of charities to undertake advocacy to further their charitable purpose. Philanthropy is able to fund policy (not partisan electoral) advocacy with few exceptions. This is important, as funding advocacy is one of the most effective ways for philanthropy to protect the environment, human health and human rights.
Q: I saw that the Court ordered the CRA to stop setting political limits on charities’ activities. What does this mean?
An Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled that the Income Tax Act infringes on charities’ constitutional right to free expression. This means that a longstanding rule which limits the resources any Canadian charity is permitted to devote to political activities to 10 per cent has been overturned. This decision does not alter the prohibition against charities engaging in partisan activities (see above for the difference between political and partisan activities).
Q: The judge declared that the offending sections of the Income Tax Act have “no force and effect”— does that mean that the existing law needs to change or does his ruling effectively do that?
Right now, the ruling means there’s no limit on charities’ abilities to undertake non-partisan political activities. However, the ruling decision can be appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal by the federal government. If this happens, it’s a clear signal that the Prime Minister has abandoned his promise to “allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors.”
Our hope is that given this ruling and an earlier recommendation from an expert panel (which the judge cited in his ruling), that the government finally fulfills its promise and updates Canada’s charity law.
If you agree that charities should be allowed to speak freely about protecting the environment, stopping drinking and driving or protecting vulnerable people, please send a letter here.
Last week, P.E.I. became the third province to question the federal government’s plan to put a price on carbon emissions. The province put out its climate change plan, and it didn’t include a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.
Saskatchewan is already challenging the federal authority to apply a carbon price in the province. Newly elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he will join that court challenge.
A wind mill on the North Cape of P.E.I. (Photo by Eddie)
These provinces may end up regretting their decisions. That’s because it’s unlikely they can stop the federal government from applying a carbon price. While court cases are not always easy to predict, the conventional wisdom from constitutional experts is that the federal government has the authority to do this. In fact, when Manitoba commissioned a legal opinion on the issue, that’s exactly what the province was told.
Not only are the provinces who challenge the carbon price likely to lose, but their challenge will further backfire as they will also lose control of the revenues from carbon pricing. Under the legislation that the Canadian government passed at the end of June, provinces can either accept the federal carbon price, or put into place its own. Either way, the province gets the revenue back to use the way it wants.
However, for provinces that resist the price on carbon, it will be the federal government that decides how to return the revenue. The best option would be for the federal government to invest it in further reductions in carbon emissions, like the Ontario climate action programs that are being cut now that cap-and-trade – their funding source – is cancelled.
Prime Minister Trudeau with provincial premiers in Vancouver, March 2016
The federal government could also use carbon pricing revenue from defiant provinces to cut cheques for their citizens. If the feds choose that, let’s hope they direct it to lower income households who have less ability to pay the carbon price or invest in reducing their personal emissions.
Either way, funding decisions will be taken away from the provinces and controlled by Ottawa. It will be interesting to see what premiers say about this self-inflicted wound when it happens, because it probably will.
Now that the federal carbon pricing legislation is in place, the next step is for provinces to declare by September 1st whether they are accepting the federal carbon price, using their own system to price carbon, or neither. If this last option is chosen by some provinces, it will lead to a federal-provincial showdown…one that the provinces are likely to lose.
Summer is in full swing and it’s time to get outdoors!
Luckily, for those living in Ontario, there’s a vast and permanently protected Greenbelt just waiting to be explored. From Cobourg to Niagara, it encompasses nearly 2 million acres of farmland, forests, beaches, and natural areas and offers a wide range of activities and adventures.
Whether you’d like to strap on your boots for a scenic hike, or you prefer to sip on a delicious local wine – the Greenbelt has you covered (and so do we!)
Here are our top 5 picks for things to do and see in the Greenbelt this summer:
1. Sample fresh local food and specialty wines.
Buy locally grown fruits and vegetables, along with meats and cheeses from one of 5,500 farms in the Greenbelt. Ontario’s iconic Holland Marsh is a vegetable basket with deeply fertile soils, and the famous Niagara Peninsula has an optimal climate to grow tender fruits such as peaches, plums and cherries. Meet and greet your local farmer at a farmers market, and cook up a new recipe with what’s in season!
Don’t forget to pair your meal with an award-winning VQA (Vintner Quality Assurance) wine made exclusively with Ontario-grown grapes. Niagara region is the Greenbelt’s wine capital with over 88 wineries, so raise a glass of Ontario’s finest.
2. Take a spin on the Greenbelt’s cycling route.
Lush forests, sparkling rivers and welcoming communities await you in the Greenbelt’s beautiful, protected countryside. Enjoy the day exploring part of a 475 kilometre signed cycling route spanning six Greenbelt regions from Niagara to Northumberland.
3. Hike Canada’s largest network of trails.
Breathe fresh air on a walk or hike along more than 10,000 kilometres of Greenbelt Walk trails. There are options for every fitness level, whether you’re exploring the Bruce Trail, Oak Ridges Moraine Trail or Ganaraska Trails. If you plan ahead, you might stumble upon one of the Greenbelt’s spectacular waterfalls. In fact, Hamilton is known as the Waterfall Capital of the World thanks to the Niagara Escarpment which runs through it, creating perfect conditions for over 100 majestic cascades.
Bordering our bustling cities are the Greenbelt’s quaint towns and villages. Here you can indulge in the flavours of artisanal cheeses, premium local brews, explore antique shops and scenic outlooks. Try Pine Farms Orchard, a little farm in King Township with a bakeshop and year-round sit-down café, apple orchard, play area and farm animals for kids.
5. Visit a world-class conservation area.
Take a refreshing dip in the turquoise waters at Bruce Peninsula, zip-line through tracts of ancient forests, or camp under a starry night sky. You’re likely to get a glimpse of wildlife in these areas as the Greenbelt’s network of lakes, wetlands, river valleys, and forests are important ecological corridors for a range of species including 78 species at-risk. Grab your binoculars to catch a glimpse of rare hawks, owls, or even flying squirrels.
So, what are you waiting for? Get outdoors and explore the beautiful landscapes Ontario’s Greenbelt has to offer.
After nearly two decades since Canada’s main toxics law was enacted, the federal government promised to give it a major makeover. The government’s commitment was in response to recommendations made by a committee of MPs that confirmed longstanding concerns of scientists and environmental groups regarding the need for stronger protections from toxics and pollution.
This law, known as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), is arguably Canada’s most important environmental law and is key to the health of Canadians. One of CEPA’s primary responsibilities is to regulate harmful chemicals released by industry and used in consumer products such as cosmetics.
Delayed action, but a promising path forward
Over the past couple of years, tens of thousands of Canadians have called on the federal government for stronger protections from toxics. On June 29th, the government responded by announcing its commitment to introduce reforms to CEPA “as soon as possible in a future parliament” – in other words, as early as 2020.
The federal government agreed “with the intent” of many of the committee’s recommended reforms to CEPA and committed to considering a number of reforms that Environmental Defence, scientists and partner organizations considered to be high priority. These include:
mandatory protections of vulnerable populations (such as pregnant women and children),
safer substitution of harmful chemicals,
tightening timelines of assessment and regulation of toxics,
assessing cumulative impacts of different chemicals on our health and environment, and
In addition to these priorities, the federal government should continue to consider a stricter regulatory process for chemicals of high concern such as BPA and phthalates. These chemicals should not be allowed to be used in products unless industry can prove that the proposed use will not lead to human exposure or release to the environment.
Furthermore, the government recognized that Canadians want to see their right to a healthy environment enshrined in law and committed to further consult Canadians on potential legislative changes in the next two tears. Canada is currently behind 150 countries that legally recognize people’s right to a healthy environment.
Stronger Product Labelling on the Horizon?
The government also said it will begin looking into solutions that do not require legislative reforms such as product labelling. This means that products such as cleaning products and furniture would have to clearly label when a harmful chemical is present or released. Labelling policies in the U.S. and Europe have shown to be very effective in guiding consumer choices and promoting safer alternative to harmful chemicals.
The federal government promised to continue consulting Canadians, civil society and industry on legislative reforms as it prepares a bill to amend CEPA. Environmental Defence will continue to engage in these consultations and actively work with government and other stakeholders to ensure key reforms are introduced as soon as possible.
We’ve come very close to strengthening toxic chemical and pollution regulations in Canada. Together we can work to ensure that the government meets its commitments and gives Canadians the healthy environment that they deserve.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE, CANADIAN FRESHWATER ALLIANCE, AND FRESHWATER FUTURE CANADA
For immediate release: July 12, 2018
Significant algae bloom in Lake Erie should serve as wake-up call for action, warn environmental groups
Toronto, Ont. – The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) significant algae bloom forecast for Lake Erie is a sad reminder that green slime is the new normal for the once-clear lake.
Over the last decade, Lake Erie has suffered from increasingly frequent and severe algae blooms, thanks in part to a lack of enforcement of existing pollution prevention laws. The blooms threaten drinking water, clog intake pipes, suffocate fish, and deter tourists – and without action may cost the local economy upwards of $272 million annually.
“Ontarians need clean water,” says Ashley Wallis with Environmental Defence Canada. “Lake Erie provides drinking water to millions of people and supports a multi-billion dollar economy. If governments don’t take action to keep nutrient pollution out of the lake, these blooms are going to keep happening.”
Algae blooms happen when there is too much phosphorus in the water. In Lake Erie, the majority of phosphorus enters the lake as runoff pollution from agricultural lands. Earlier this year, Canada and Ontario released a plan to tackle algae blooms in Lake Erie. But, the plan doesn’t adequately address agricultural runoff, relying mainly on voluntary actions from the agricultural sector.
“It’s great to see the agricultural sector taking voluntary action to curb nutrient pollution, but we know from Michigan and Ohio that voluntary programs aren’t enough,” says Raj Gill with Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “We need to enforce existing laws that limit runoff pollution from agricultural lands.”
In 2014, Ontario’s Auditor General found that less than three per cent of the farms with nutrient management plans were inspected by the province. And of those farms half weren’t following the rules.
“Once again the science is telling us that Lake Erie is in trouble. This year’s algae forecast should be a wake-up call for government,” says Jill Ryan with Freshwater Future Canada. “We aren’t going to clean-up the lake unless we take serious and sustained action to keep phosphorus out.”
Tomorrow, Environmental Defence will be hosting a Facebook Live panel discussion about what the announcement means, and what needs to happen next. Join us on Environmental Defence’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/EnvironmentalDefenceCanada) at 12pm EST on Friday, July 13th.
ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
ABOUT FRESHWATER FUTURE CANADA (freshwaterfuturecanada.ca): Freshwater Future Canada works to ensure the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region. We help citizens engage in efforts to protect our natural environment by providing grants and offering consulting assistance to diverse communities and collaborators.
About the CANADIAN FRESHWATER ALLIANCE (freshwateralliance.ca): The Canadian Freshwater Alliance builds, connects and supports freshwater initiatives across Canada. We work with NGOs, community groups, governments and businesses to strengthen citizen voices and participation in protecting our lakes and rivers. We are a project on the Tides Canada shared platform (http://tidescanada.org/).
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For more information or interview requests, please contact:
Imagine kicking back on a sunny patio with a cold drink and good friends. You hear the soft lapping sounds of waves against the shore, and you’re looking forward to an afternoon paddle or swim. Or maybe you’re planning to get out on the water and catch some world-class walleye. Or hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the hundreds of species of songbirds that make a pit-stop here on their great migration journey. Imagine if instead, the fish are dead, the birds gone, and the water is too toxic to swim in.
This is Lake Erie. And this is what could happen if we don’t protect it.
Ducks swimming in massive algae bloom.
Lake Erie is under threat
Lake Erie is plagued by increasingly frequent, severe, and sometimes toxic algae blooms. These blooms threaten drinking water, clog intake pipes, suffocate fish, and deter tourists. And one study estimates that if we don’t do something about it, the blooms could cost the local Canadian economy upwards of $272 million annually.
Aerial shot of Lake Erie toxic algae bloom. Photo taken September 25, 2017. Photo credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
All of the most notable blooms have happened in the last five years. In 2014, an algae bloom left nearly 500,000 Lake Erie residents without safe tap water for days. The 2015 bloom was the largest bloom every recorded. And last year, just when we thought we were in the clear, we were gifted a pre-thanksgiving bloom so big that it touched the shores of two U.S. states, and Ontario’s shoreline too.
Nutrient pollution feeds the bloom
One of the main causes of algae blooms is nutrient runoff. Farmers apply fertilizers and manure to their fields, but rain and snowmelt can flush these soil amendments into streams and rivers. Those streams then carry these nutrient-rich pollutants into the lake where they do what they do best – make plants grow. And with all those extra nutrients the algae grows out of control.
Ontario needs to do more
Earlier this year, the federal and Ontario governments released a joint plan to tackle algae blooms and curb nutrient runoff. The plan has some great stuff – including new federal funding for research and innovation, but it lacks concrete and enforceable actions to address nutrient runoff from agricultural lands. And that’s where the majority of the pollution is coming from.
What’s the solution
Algae are complicated organisms, existing in a complex ecological system. There is no silver bullet when it comes to cleaning up this green, slimy mess. We need to target the biggest sources of nutrient pollution and turn off the tap. The good news is we already have laws on the books to help keep nutrients out of Ontario’s waterways. The bad news is those laws are often not enforced.
Toledo algae crisis. Photo credit: Dave Zapotosky, The Blade, 2014
Maybe we’ve finally seen enough photos of dead and dying animals choking on or entangled in plastic trash. Or maybe we’re rattled by reports that our bodies and drinking water (bottled and tap) are also contaminated with plastic bits. Whatever the reason, more people than ever want to do their part to help curb the flow of plastic into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. And that’s a great thing.
During Plastic Free July, millions of folks in more than 150 countries try to go the whole month without buying any single-use plastics.
But where to start? We all know about saying no to plastic shopping bags and straws, but what next? We’ve put together a list of ways to ditch plastics for good this #PlasticFreeJuly which you might not have thought of.
1. Say “No” to single-use
So let’s start with the obvious. Single-use plastics are the kind of plastics you use for only a few minutes before throwing them in the bin. Items like plastic bottles, shopping bags, coffee cups and drink straws fall into this category, but so do most take-away containers and produce bags. You can make a huge difference by refusing to buy or use these items in the first place.
Plastic bottles and coffee cups can be replaced with stainless steel or glass alternatives. And you don’t need to get fancy. I’ve taken a regular, clean mug to my local coffee shop and they’ve happily filled it. If you’re looking for a more portable option, you can use a canning jar and buy or make a cloth sleeve to protect your hand from the hot drink inside.
And if you’re the kind of person who usually needs a “doggy bag” when you eat out, bring your own reusable containers to date night. Instead of leaving the restaurant with leftover spaghetti in a Styrofoam box wrapped in a plastic bag, you can bring your food home in a container you can wash and reuse over-and-over again.
Unfortunately, many takeout restaurants refuse to fill personal containers, citing concerns over food safety. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider taking action number two…
2. Tell businesses they need to do better
A few fast food chains have recently announced plans to stop using plastic straws. This is a great first step, but there are lots of other problematic plastics businesses should kiss goodbye. For example, in many jurisdictions (including Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa) black plastic simply isn’t recyclable. That means coffee cup lids and takeout trays are destined for the landfill. If black plastic can’t be efficiently recycled, it shouldn’t be used.
“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” – Pete Seeger
And what’s with packaging bell peppers in cellophane and avocados in plastic mesh sacks? This kind of packaging doesn’t do anything to protect or preserve your produce. If anything it encourages shoppers to over-buy, which can lead to unnecessary food waste.
If you have concerns, write, tweet, or call the companies you think are the worst offenders, and ask them to eliminate unnecessary packing. Kicking up a stink works, especially if lots of people do it. And use your wallet as a tool for advocacy by choosing to support companies and products that use less useless plastic.
3. Rethink what you wear
Peppers aren’t the only things wrapped in plastic. There’s a good chance you are too. Many of the common modern fabrics and textiles we wear are actually made from plastic. Performance fleece, stretchy athletic wear, and really anything with polyester, spandex or nylon is made with plastic.
To decrease your impact, choose high-quality, durable clothes made from natural fibres like wool and hemp. And buy less, because all of this stuff inevitably ends up in the landfill, incinerator, or environment.
4. Join a beach clean-up event
Wondering where littered single-use plastics end up? Last year, over 80,000kg of litter was collected from shoreline clean-up events across Canada. And most of the commonly collected items were – you guessed it – plastic.
While shoreline clean-ups on their own won’t get us out of this mess, they’re a great way to roll-up your sleeves and help your local environment. They also provide vital data on the amount and types of plastic that are out there. But if we really want to end plastic pollution, we need to change the way we use, collect, and recycle plastic. And the best way to accomplish that is through point number five: government action.
5. Tell government to do more
As individuals we have important choices to make, but the biggest change happens when we change the way a system operates. Over the last several decades, we’ve established a system that ignores massive costs to people and the environment. If it doesn’t have a price tag, it doesn’t seem to matter. Governments need to write new rules that make businesses financially responsible for the polluting plastics they put on the market. And we need a unified approach from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
We need federal, provincial, municipal, and Indigenous governments to work together to establish a national framework that moves Canada to a zero plastic-waste future.