Why are we doing this?
Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its use. More than 50% of all plastics are single-use, but that does not mean they are easily disposable1. When discarded in landfills or in the environment, plastics can take thousands of years to decompose!
In cities around the world, including Sudbury, single-use plastic waste and synthetic plastic fibres fill drains, rivers, lakes, oceans, shorelines and the environment around us. Many of these plastics are eaten by animals, fish, and birds, bringing plastics into the food chain and negatively affecting the ecosystem and our environmental health.
Humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment2.
Disposable items, like straws, grocery bags, coffee cups and water bottles, contribute to the massive amount of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. One study found that there were 1.7 million pieces of microplastic per square mile in Lake Erie; a higher density than some parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is close to twice the size of Texas.
Why should you care?
Did you know that The City of Greater Sudbury has 330 lakes within 3 main watersheds? A watershed is the land area that drains into a water body – this happens when it rains and also when streams drain into a lake. Caring for and protecting watersheds is essential because chemicals from plastics and other substances that are left in the soil eventually drain into the water body; affecting water quality, animals and human health. These watersheds drain all the way into the Great Lakes (i.e., Lake Huron) and from there, into the Oceans. We are all connected.
Plastic waste is entering local water systems and the surrounding environment from landfills and carelessly discarded plastic products. Plastic contaminants not only include large plastic pieces (such as lighters, balls, toys, bags, straws), but also small pieces of plastic in the millimeter size range (called microplastics). The small pieces can occur from the breakdown of larger plastic pieces and even from washing our clothes!
When plastic is in an aquatic environment, it can attract toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and dioxins. Plastic particles may be consumed by many species of fish, birds and other aquatic wildlife, when mistaken for a food source, posing a risk of increased mortality events and offering an entryway into our food chain. Plastic pollution is a problem that will persist for much longer than this generation3.
Plastic poses a serious threat to environment, and consumer's health in many direct and indirect ways. Exposure to harmful chemicals during manufacturing, leaching in the stored food items while using plastic packages are linked with severe adverse health outcomes such as cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive effects etc4.
Some preventative measures have started to take effect, like the Canadian legislation banning microbeads this year, but there's still a lot more work to be done!
With over a century of active nickel mining, Sudbury had, by the 1970s, suffered from significant environmental ruin5. At that point, our community implemented a series of environmental initiatives that ended up transforming the landscape into what we see today. This highlights the capacity of Greater Sudbury leaders, academics and, local community members when they want to see change!
As concerned local citizens who want to continue to improve the environmental health of Greater Sudbury; we are putting the call out, once again, to ask community leaders, academics and, community members to take the pledge against single-use plastics.
Let us continue to plan for and provide a sustainable, healthy city for Sudbury's future generations to enjoy.
Want to learn more?
"We’ve all been told that we should recycle plastic bottles and containers. But what actually happens to the plastic if we just throw it away? Emma Bryce traces the life cycles of three different plastic bottles, shedding light on the dangers these disposables present to our world."
"What if we knew which toxic chemicals each of us carries within our bodies? Would we fix the current mismatch of material science and product design? Would we change the way we consume? Emily Penn has seen the worst we humans have done to this planet and its oceans and yet it still took a simple blood test to fully open her eyes."
2. Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science advances, 3(7), e1700782
4. Rustagi, N., Pradhan, S. K., & Singh, R. (2011). Public health impact of plastics: An overview. Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 15(3), 100.
5. Boerchers, M., Fitzpatrick, P., Storie, C., & Hostetler, G. (2016). Reinvention through regreening: Examining environmental change in Sudbury, Ontario. The Extractive Industries and Society, 3(3), 793-801