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Editorial: The last straw

A plastic bag is found drifting underwater in Samoa in 2005 in this NOAA photo.
A plastic bag drifting underwater. - Submitted

Plastic trash continues to be a big environmental problem on land and sea around the world. Almost daily, we’re presented with the devastating impact of plastic. The material is contaminating the planet, clogging landfills, littering the landscape and choking marine life.

But there is hope, from lofty promises by heads of state, to small but impressive victories by ordinary citizens and environmentally sensitive businesses, to a new mutant plastic-eating enzyme that developed naturally at a waste dump in Japan.

This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May urged leaders at the Commonwealth meeting in London to follow the U.K.’s lead in tackling the problem, calling plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world. The government is taking its cue from the Queen, who announced earlier this year a ban on plastic straws and bottles on royal estates.

Kenya, which has adopted the toughest measures of all the Commonwealth countries, fines anyone using a plastic bag, and if business people are caught importing them, they face up to four years in jail.

The problem of plastics cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating between Hawaii and California is far larger and threatening to the planet than anyone realized. The collection of floating trash has grown to more than 600,000 square miles. There may be more than 16 times as much plastic in the patch than previous studies estimated.

Atlantic Canadians don’t have to look to the Pacific Ocean for warning signs. Beach cleanups routinely find that most common debris on shorelines are plastic — bottles, caps, bags, rope, straws. Take a look around as the snow recedes and the blight of plastic pollution is visible everywhere.

Wildlife and marine life cannot escape this constant threat.

And while much of this region’s recycled plastic was sold and shipped to China, as of Jan. 1, China no longer accepts it. It’s caused massive headaches for parts of Atlantic Canada, especially Halifax, and for the region’s landfills.

What do we do now?

P.E.I. MHA Allen Roach introduced legislation this week that could see P.E.I. become the first province to eliminate plastic checkout bags from stores. In January, Nova Scotia Environment Minister Iain Rankin said the government is considering a province-wide ban on plastic shopping bags, while Halifax city council is pondering a ban within the municipality.

The threat of plastic is slowly changing minds and shopping habits. More shoppers are using reusable bags. Restaurants across the nation are eliminating the use of plastic straws.

The public shouldn’t need much convincing on this issue: many Atlantic Canadians are already on board with measures to protect our environment and reduce stockpiles of plastic.

If we can’t successfully recycle it, we have to find a way to remove it from waste streams.

Because, right now, plastic waste is winning.

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