By Larraine Roulston :
On March 12th, I listened to CBC radio to hear host Michael Enright interview Sian Sutherland who founded the group Plastic Planet. After learning about a beached whale off the west coast of Norway with its stomach full of plastic that included 30 bags, this British-based group began its environmental campaign to encourage grocers to introduce a plastic-free aisle. Sutherland spoke with great passion, claiming that once you know about the destruction of our oceans that give us life, it’s time for individuals to protect them. She feels most people today are aware of the amount of discarded plastic that is putting our oceans in peril, and now are ready to take action. If Plastic Planet’s simple mandate of urging supermarkets to devote an entirely plastic-free aisle seems rather daunting to grocers, they could begin at the very least to introduce such an aisle.
Recall the days when airlines began introducing nonsmoking flights. It seemed rather absurd to think that only a few rows of seats would actually be smoke free in a confined aircraft; however, as more travelers requested the nonsmoking section, the number of rows gradually increased.
The same principle could be applied to plastic-free aisles in stores. All it will take to obtain plastic-free aisles are simple requests from many concerned customers. Even mentioning the idea to cashiers or clerks stocking the shelves would plant a seed of awareness.
In the same vein, encourage other retail stores to have a plastic-free aisle. Florists can reduce their thin transparent wrapping by switching to brown recycled paper or offering a free fern to those who will take home their selection unwrapped. Imagine if fancy boxed chocolates for sale in drug stores were advertised with separators formed from edible wafers. Then envision a toy store aisle providing an area featuring only felt, wood, wool and paper, for example.
The idea of zero-waste stores is not new. The first one opened in the UK in 2007 followed in 2011 by a waste-free outlet in Texas. Although most independent bulk food stores have allowed reusable containers, this February, the Bulk Barn Canada chain followed suit. Recent news also reports that enterprising individuals are establishing zero waste grocery stores in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Our obsession with disposable plastic has created vast islands of the stuff swirling in the oceans. Most notably is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of micro-beads, film bags, water bottles and beyond, that has grown in size larger than the state of Texas. In addition, plastic is choking the very life out of sea creatures, as it did the whale of Norway. With an estimated 5 trillion pieces floating about, scientists are claiming the oceans have become this decade’s “Silent Spring.” After years of building up the plastic industry, we now need to wean ourselves from our addiction to plastic bottles, bags, straws, takeout food containers and over-packaged products. In other words, eliminate at the source those items we do not need.
Without a doubt, plastic revolutionized the manufacturing of many useful and durable products. Little did I know that some 50 years after its invention, I’d be part of the revolution to cut back on its wastefulness. To be optimistic, I’ll bet that we are nearing the tipping point for change.
Larraine writes the Pee Wee at Castle Compost adventure series on composting and pollination at www.castlecompost.com