Tag Archives: environmentalism

The Plastics Revolution

I got to thinking about plastic and  when it started to inundate the world, to the point that oceans and beaches are being clogged with bags and containers, our landfills are becoming toxic dumps and we’re looking at ways to get rid of these beasts that have a relatively long half-life.

Plastic is not found naturally in nature. Trees and even papery aspects of them in certain barks or wasp and hornet nests are. Glass in the form of a volcanic residue such as obsidian is found in nature. Sand, the basis for glass of course is. Gum and shellac were early natural plastics. Next came the chemically modified plastics starting with celluloid, developed in 1855 and was used as an ivory replacement and in photographic and movie film. But it was highly flammable. Collagen and rubber were a few of these. Later came the fully synthetic, not found anywhere in nature, plastics such as epoxy and bakelite.

I’m trying to remember the plastics of my childhood. I vaguely recall milk in glass bottles, and later waxed paper cartons. There were no plastic jugs for milk but there were for making Koolaid and other nutritious drinks like Tang. I think cottage cheese and the like might have come in waxed cardboard containers but I really don’t remember. There were the melamine dishes, often used for camping and very similar in denseness to the bakelite of old. I have one bakelite button that is put on like a buttoniere and has a screw back. I think it’s from the 30s.

There were of course plastic bags for things like bread but grocery bags were still paper. I can’t think of what we used for a garbage bag. I think it was paper and then tossed into the large green Glad bags. Saran wrap and other food wraps were around and even Ziploc bags but waxed paper and aluminum foil were just as likely.

Dolls were plastic, as were other cheap toys. But many toys were still metal. And things like shampoos, lotions, detergents seemed to always be in plastic containers of a type that could grow brittle if you had them for a couple of years. Pens and binders were always plastic too. But plastic wrapped things, shrink-wrapped items, equipment sold in blister packs or sealed in a stiff transparent plastic, those we did not have…much.

Now they’re everywhere. Plastic bags ooze out of ever garbage can. Clothing is made of recycled plastic and we worry about birds and other animals eating discarded bits of plastic or getting entangled. Vancouver is thinking of banning plastic bags. Stores would have to resort to paper or you bring your own cloth bag. The problem with banning all plastic bags is what do you use for your garbage can? Then you’d have to buy bags as opposed to re-using them. But then Vancouver is about to start curbside composting so garbage cans won’t have to be lined. But what do you pick dog poop up with?

And speaking of poop, what would happen if everyone went back to cloth diapers. Disposable (a misnomer if there ever was one) diapers cause huge strains on landfills. I remember my mother holding my little brother’s cloth diaper over the toilet and flushing the chunky bits down before tossing them in the washing machine. Many of my friends have used diaper services where you just toss soiled diapers, chunks and all, into a pail and the service deals with it all. It turns out to not be any more expensive than buying the disposables and probably better for baby’s bum too.

Look around and you’ll see how much plastic is on you or surrounding you. Plastic shoes, soles, purses, wallets, buttons, nylons, phones, furniture, etc. All of it. And most of it will take a very very long time to break down and will not add anything beneficial to the environment. Plastic like air pollution, has increased exponentially in the last century and it’s a huge problem. There are countries were you can walk the beaches for the plastics and animals are dying, at the rate of extinction for some. Next time you buy those prepackaged handy lunch packs in a plastic container and then shrink wrapped, ask if there would be a better way to do this, such as buying or making something in bulk and having reusable containers that you can use over and over. I think it’s more pervasive than we realize and is a large contributor to what’s causing our overflowing and toxic landfills.

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Scrapping Environmentalism

Whenever something has “ism” attached to it, it becomes a movement, a belief, a group: environmentalism, communism, Catholicism, chauvinism, a schism. Sometimes it has negative connotations and sometimes positive, but almost every ism groups something so that people will be for it or against.

So what’s the problem with environmentalism? That like many movements or beliefs the fad can wax and wane, be popular for a while and then fade away. Environmentalism shouldn’t be a fad but a way of life, if we want a sustainable and renewable world. Unfortunately, it has taken an environmental movement to get most governments to move on the abuses happening to the environment. It may already be too late in some ways for the world and people. But Ma Nature has a way of reasserting herself, even if it takes the dying off of a millions of people.

A month or so ago the federal government decided to scrap environmental reviews for any project under $10 million to bring about economic stimulus. So go ahead, you logging companies, wipe out a forested mountain. Who cares if the topsoils disappears and there are mudslides as long as it comes in at $9,999,999.00? Go ahead, you chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Toss your sewage and unrefined wastes into the river systems. Who cares if it raises the temperature and kills the fish? Who cares if our kids are getting breasts at the age of six from all the drugs?

No problem for Harper’s government. We don’t need reviews because the environment was only in the public’s mind until it was supplanted by the newest crisis–the economy. And as we’ve often seen, governments and politicians don’t always do what’s right but what will garner them the vote. Although the Conservatives still live in the shadow of a minority government, they know that most people are sick of all the elections and feel a little more secure in these proclamations though the opposition parties could still pull them down.

In fact, our government has taken these new environmental assessment regulations a step further by foregoing the constitution which requires consultation with Aboriginal groups if it could impact the various treaties. As well, they’re required to post the changes to give the public and affected groups time to comment but as has been a hallmark of Harper’s tightfisted, overcontrolling ways, none of these required steps happened. The government changed the Environmental Assessment Act without any consultation.

I’ve been critical of Harper’s late jumping onto the environmental bandwagon and only doing it to bring in votes. Unfortunately, even the previous federal governments did little as everyone ignored the impact on our environment and the Kyoto Protocol, first signed by many nations around 1998. My criticism still holds true that Harper’s minions seem to be playing the most popular game and in the smokescreen of economic concerns our natural resources could suffer.

Sad times when money and making money yet again mean letting slip the controls and level of doing things right. And worrying times when our government feels it doesn’t need to follow the rules that governments themselves have put into affect.

An assessment by U of Calgary’s Faculty of Law: http://ablawg.ca/2009/03/31/the-eviscerating-of-federal-environmental-assessment-in-canada/

http://cambridgevoice.ca/archives/prentice-confirms-cuts-planned-to-environment-reviews/

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Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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Conservation: Working on a Way of Life

I have been working on lessening my carbon footprint since I was a teenager, long before there were all the fancy catchwords that included “go green,” “eco” this and that, and “carbon footprint.” Recycling was the biggest, newest buzz word. As a teenager I had already read about the Gaia Hypothesis so I had a concern for the planet and pollution. About all I was doing at that stage was trying not to litter. It was a small start, but a start.

Over the years I never threw anything out that could be re-used. It makes me a bit of a pack-rat and I have sometimes had old computer monitors or printers on my floor for a year before I could find a home for them. I can’t bear to put working or perfectly good items into the landfill. I also stopped cleaning with abrasive, chemically enhanced cleansers. I clean with baking soda, almost exclusively, using low phosphate detergent and soaps and rags and cloth napkins instead of paper towels and napkins.

I started using cosmetics not tested on animals but I’m probably still eating/wearing my fair share of lead and other toxic chemicals, which are not yet regulated for cosmetics. That’s something I hope to work on soon. Unfortuanately I still drive, but my attempts to change that to something more fuel and energy efficient are being thwarted at the moment. (Previous blog entries cover public transportation, carbon tax and cars.)

I also try to avoid the overpackaging that supermarkets give. This includes bringing a cloth bag, or if I have just a few items, carrying them out in my hands or my purse. Also, the “buy this 24-pack of cookies/chips” prepackaging is something I studiously avoid. Instead of paying more for all that extra bagging of chips, which are then placed in a cardboard tray and shrink wrapped, I’ll buy a large bag of salad greens, or nuts or whatever, and then re-use plastic containers and bags that I do have at home. I haven’t bought a container in years, nor prepakaged thingamagooeys.

I rewash plastic cups from parties and put out bags to recycle bottles and plastic. I don’t wash my clothes or dishes until I have a full load. I don’t wear animal furs but I do wear leather. Shoes just don’t work well made of plastic or as long if made of cloth. But I do wear my shoes until they wear out, and try to fix them as long as I can.

I could compost more, but my garbage during the garbage strike was only one small grocery bag every three weeks. I don’t buy wrapping paper anymore and do re-use what people give me. But I also keep old calendars and use the pictures on those as wrapping. I also make re-usable cloth bags. I save buttons off of shirts and turn clothes into rags if they can’t be sent off to a goodwill store.

Am I perfect? Hell no. There are many ways I could improve especially when it comes to the car, though I do walk if I’m in my neighborhood. I try to keep an eye on what I do and improve it. For my own health and for my environment, I’ll look further into safe cleaners, nontoxic cosmetics and rechargeable batteries. Right now, I save batteries and take them to recycling facilities. If we all try a little bit, it can make the environment a lot better for everyone and everything. It still saddens me when people toss things because they “can’t be bothered” or are too lazy. That’s fine if you’re living on your own world, but not when you’re sharing with everyone else.

In BC, you can contact the Recycling Council of BC’s recycling hotline on what to do with various items. http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

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Not Throwing in with the Crowd: Litter

Once upon a time, in my teenage years, I used to wander around with my friends. We’d go to school, we’d stroll to the University of Calgary lands, we’d go to the mall. And like most teenagers, we would buy our share of gum and chocolate bars. I never littered and this was before “Going Green” had ever been heard of. I’d take my wrapper and put it in my pocket.

One day a friend asked, “Why bother, everyone litters?” I replied, “Just because everyone does it, doesn’t mean it’s right. Today it might just be me. But tomorrow it might be me and someone else and then it might be four people who don’t litter. And someday maybe everyone will change.”

Well, not everyone changed but as years went by it became more of a concern; recycling wasn’t just a word for the conscientious few. Green meant more than just the colour of grass. Of course, I wasn’t the pioneer, but even as a kid I valued my world and I read about the Gaia hypothesis at a young enough age. I was also reading science fiction at twelve and the possibilities of what-if were already working in my mind.

Move to 1989 when I went to India. I was there when the Berlin wall came down. For the first month I was in the tribal state of Meghalaya, one of very few white people (maybe three) in the predominantly Khasi lands. My girlfriend was from this Himalayan hill tribe and her relatives would drive us around to different sites. The Khasis are traditionally of an animist religion though Christianity is also prevalent these days.

Overlooking the town of Shillong was a high point and a sacred grove. It was sad to see tetra packs, tin cans and plastic bottles littering their protected area. One day, Hanocia’s cousins took me to see this site. We had some “take-out” from a local restaurant. This consisted of a meal wrapped in a banana leaf and then put in a plastic bag. We ate our lunch overlooking this beautiful, small waterfall. When we were done we threw our banana leaves into the bush. And then the two cousins threw their plastic bags.

I gathered them up, aghast, and said, “You can’t do that.” They looked at me, puzzled, and asked why. How to explain it. These guys weren’t stupid but just lived a different way of life. Like many Indians, they saw pictures from magazines or a few movies that revealed fairy tale glamour lives and ways. They wanted what North America had; the riches, the lifestyle. How can anyone deny what they already have? But how can you get across that it’s okay to try and achieve that life without making all the same mistakes?

I tried to explain it this way: If you throw the plastic on the ground, it will go into the plants and the water. The cows will eat it and it will make them ill and then you’ll eat the cows. (Khasis are not Hindu and do eat beef.) It was a simplified version and I didn’t have the knowledge to explain the full process but I tried.

It saddened me. India holds at least one-sixth of the world’s population. Being third world, they didn’t have all of the technology (cars, factories, etc.) as we have in N. America. But they already had their pollution problems. I received a valuable education in India and that day was just one reminder of how much work we still have to do, how far the world must go to still save itself. Like that day long ago when I put the wrapper in my pocket, I continue to try and stay green and become greener.

I have a long way to go still. But I still believe that if we try and even encourage one other person, we’ll continue to work against the tide.

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Suffering the Effects of Gas…Prices

Alas, today I had to put gas into the car. $25 for a quarter of a tank at $1.42 a litre. For those of you in the US, there are 3.8 litres to the US gallon (different from the imperial gallon) but roughly you can multiply it by four for a price of $5.68 a gallon. It’s still cheaper to gas up in the US, when I can, but I can’t afford to drive as far.

So, gas prices, definitely causing us discomfort but these days we hear, oh the price of food is going up because of gas prices. Airline tickets–gas prices. Clothing–gas prices. Gas prices–gas prices. Yes, the price of gas is going up because of the price of gas. Or gas prices are going up because of volcanoes, tsunamis, rain, broken fingernails or war somewhere. I wonder how much George Bush can be blamed for gas prices?

The moment that our lovely provincial government mentioned that they would be doing a carbon tax on gas as of July 1, the price went up by a couple of cents (back in April). Let’s not forget that gas is already taxed federally and provincially and more if you live in large urban centers–36.3% as of 2006 for Vancouver. Oh and there is tax on the tax. (You’ll have to read my earlier rant, “Carbon Tax: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” to see why I think it’s hugely flawed–the least amount of work the gov’t can do toward environmentalism.)

Let’s go back ten years or more. I remember a time when the price of gas stayed the same for months on end and would only change by a cent. In BC, less than ten years ago Arco started to come into the province. Gas went down to an unprecedented .29 cents a litre. You could gas up for $15. It began a gas war because of Arco’s low prices. Do they even exist anymore? At that point in time prices would drop or rise but stay that way for a week.

Somehow everything sped up exponentially. It became a daily thing to see prices change by .10 cents a litre and it still happens. So, tell me, great gas corporations, are your prices changing on the hour because of every geographic upheaval, drop of rain or hurled insult somewhere in the world? Does this somehow affect the reserves? According to these poor beleaguered gas companies, which I’m sure are losing money, yes, every little earthquake, every insurrection causes gas prices to change instantaneously.

Wow, we are so volatile. I notice that those world crises are at their lowest late at night and mid day but that they affect gas prices most when we are going to or coming from work and always on the weekend when you may be driving at any particular time. Gosh, our world is like a bunch of festering sores just constantly popping.

There have been calls for investigations into the price of gas and the fluctuation of such. I have yet to hear that there was such an investigation or the results. We’re at the mercy of the gas companies who will only switch wholeheartedly to hybrid or other clean energy cars when they can no longer suck the last drop of oil from the earth and likewise suck us dry. Just look at how little advertising has ever gone into a hybrid car and how they are more expensive than any gas guzzler. Oh, and if you check far enough some gas and car companies are often jointely owned or have shares in each other. Can we say collusion?

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