KAMLOOPS — Twice a week I get to spend an hour sipping tea and reading while my little guy is in karate class. In a coffee shop, that is. Every time I order, I have to make sure I mention ‘for here’ and that I want a reusable cup. The coffee shop is half-full that time of day, and save for the very rare ‘porcelain cup person’, everyone else is enjoying their beverages out of disposable cups. Plus straws for the cold beverages. Oh, and those useless domes, also plastic. As I take the back alley back to pick up my son, there are beverage cups and straws scattered in the back alley.
It’s a head scratcher. Why wouldn’t we all take reusable cups, be it our own or the ones in the coffee shops? The amount of garbage and plastic especially is suffocating life as we know it. In the case of disposable coffee cups, the route is a short one: straight to garbage. Though some coffee shop paraphernalia bears some recycling signage, most facilities do not accept them as they have no appropriate technology to recycle them. So even with a certain conservative approach, what we use during a coffee shop excursion becomes, for the most part, garbage. As a society and planet too, that is not acceptable anymore. Better yet, it is not affordable.
Yet it is hard to know how to navigate the waters of reducing one’s garbage and recycling output. In our family, we maintain a constant challenge to reduce the two as much as we can, week after week. It’s not easy. Once you become aware of it, it is a revelation to keep track of the trail of waste your purchases leave behind. There are household objects that come so tightly and excessively packaged in non-recyclable plastic that it really makes you wonder if we have truly lost touch with reality. If one cares about their waste footprint, it is a painful thing to watch the garbage bin fill up with packaging material, or various items that make our lifestyle what it is.
As for the comfort that many conscious recyclers took in knowing that though excessive at times in everyday life, the recyclables are taken care of… well, that ended on January 1 of this year when China revised the purity standards for the recyclable materials they are purchasing from around the world.
When the exasperation about waste we produce as a society reaches a peak level (one reason I stay away from big retail stores) I fantasize about a measure of some sort that would have us unable to dispose of our garbage and recycling for a period. It would be an eye opener, I am sure of that.
Recently, a headline read that some of the bottled water now contains microplastics. The irony that it comes in plastic bottles is not lost on me, but it’s far from funny. Same goes for sea salt and marine creatures, as well as birds. There are one too many documentaries about it. That we cannot escape the consequences of one’s actions is a reality that is catching up even with the most incredulous of us. It is estimated that by 2050, humans will have dumped approximately 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic in the landfills.
It’s been said that it makes no difference what individuals can do if the industry and the ‘big guys’ don’t change. While it is true that change can take a while, let’s remember that individual action can influence tremendous change. Public pressure can be a powerful tool in the hands of customers. Trouble is, we have become so comfortable with so many of the conveniences that fill our day to day life, that it seems almost insurmountable to give any up.
Life is stressful at times and it is not wrong or absurd in any way to make use of conveniences. At the same time, the footprint of our lifestyle is hurting the planet and the world our children inherit.
Yet there is good news too. Environmental awareness and economic profit may not go well together, some may think, but it can work. More importantly, it creates a ripple. As it happens, one ripple creates many as it moves along. That is how we approach this I think. By making ripples, in every way that we can.
Earlier this year, The Noble Pig restaurant and pub announced that it will no longer provide plastic straws. It reinforced my determination to remind each server wherever we eat out that we want our drinks without straws. If enough people ask, businesses take note and do their best to find better solutions. Many measures seem hard to apply at first (think banning plastic bags, the inconvenience appears huge at this point for many), but like many other things, we get used to changes once they are in place.
All it takes is committing to it. We know why already.