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If you’re like me, you have the Bag of Shame hanging off the back of the basement door.
That would be the bulging plastic bag full of other plastic bags.
It waxes and wanes, expanding and shrinking like a slow-breathing animal.
Every now and then, I dump the plastic bags into a larger plastic bag which I take to the curb for recycling.
I’m not sure where those bags go or what becomes of them, but I do know that China is no longer taking our plastic waste as they once did.
So we have a problem.
That problem goes far beyond my own Bag of Shame. Those bags and other plastics end up in landfills, ditches, fields, parks and in the woods.
And they end up in the ocean. It is estimated that eight million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. There is an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is so big it has a name: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
It sprawls 1.6 million square kilometres which is twice the size of Texas. Researchers estimate that it contains 1.8-trillion pieces of trash. That’s trillion with a T.
Plastics big and small and smaller still
And it’s not just the big size of these plastic islands, it’s also the small stuff.
Over time, plastics break down into smaller microplastics and eventually into tiny nano-particles. Fish and marine life mistake them for food and consume them. If they don’t die from malnutrition, the plastics enter the food chain, climbing all the way up, eventually to humans.
Needless to say, eating plastic is not good for human health.
The United Nations has estimated that the consequences of marine pollution in the marine ecosystem represents a cost of $13 billion when you consider the cost of clean-up and the destruction of fisheries.
Actions need now
So we have a problem. We also have the beginnings of a solution.
Get rid of the of plastic bags. Municipalities across Atlantic Canada and around the world are doing this now. A number of countries have banned them.
The other solution is personal. Do something yourself. That means taking those cloth bags out of the trunk and using them. And motivate others to do the same.
We saw an example of crowdsourced goodwill with the #trashtag campaign that went viral in March.
The #trashtag project started in 2015 when a UCO, a company that makes outdoor gear tried to inspire people to gather 10,000 pieces of wilderness trash.
This year the #trashtag was reposted on social media as a challenge to post before-and-after pictures of cleanup projects.
The project inspired group cleanups and social media posts around the world.
Of course crowdsourced good will it isn’t the solution. That plastic is still being produced and it still has to go somewhere. We need other materials to package our food and carry it out of the store.
But the #trashtag project motivated a worldwide response and a unified resolve to take personal responsibility for a global problem.
That, at least, is a beginning.
Gail Lethbridge is a writes political opinion columns for The Chronicle Herald. She’s lived in the UK but is happy to be home in Nova Scotia.