Daniel Thompson: Plastic as a dystopian invention

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      By Daniel Thompson

      As technology injects new products and materials into our world, the list of things that we don’t need seems to have grown while the list of things we do need has stayed the same. Although we generally accept these materials as beneficial to the economy, most of them have proven to be hazardous to just about every other sector.

      Environmental protection agencies add to their lists of hazardous materials quite regularly, making us recoil in disgust that these things had ever been allowed to exist in the first place.

      Of these, none is more ubiquitous than plastic. It is something we may have overlooked because it is so common, disguised in many of its applications, hidden in plain sight, substituting natural materials with inferior ones.

      Even irreplaceable wood and steel are swapped out for cheap, frangible garbage, rendering the objects of which they are a part disposable after only a fraction of their natural life has transpired. It is a product that was almost nonexistent until the First World War and which didn’t really see widespread manufacture until the Second, bringing about a normalization of synthetics because there was no normal to go back to.

      Oil belongs in the ground

      While still in the ground, oil is a neutral substance, perhaps even serving its own purpose, but when removed from its proper place it takes on monstrous proportions, assuming a dark involvement in our lives. It turns everything it touches into itself, both anoxic and oxidizing, covering and suffocating the land—a product that is meant to be sacrificed (thrown away) rather than preserved.

      The Earth eats its own substances, but it cannot process our plastic garbage, which is why it needs our help to push governments and businesses to decrease the amount of plastic being produced and to ensure that more of it is recycled. It hasn’t all been progressive, but a responsible society favours the whole of its citizens.

      Earlier this year, the Canadian government purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Texas’s Kinder Morgan, effectively making Canada an oil company and all of us shareholders by default, which shows just how indispensable oil is to our economy. In order to even things out, the country has resolved to reduce its plastic consumption, increase recycling, and clean up its oceans after introducing a zero-waste initiative at the 2018 G7 summit.

      Working toward their own initiatives, cities and municipalities across the country have banned single-use plastic bags in a move toward banning all single-use plastic items. Although some areas have seen their bans overturned, Victoria, B.C., has taken a unique approach where instead of imposing environmental regulations (which it doesn’t have the power to do on its own), it has chosen to impose business regulations, banning the distribution of single-use bags at the retail-store level, thereby reducing the impact of litter on municipal facilities and services.

      New recycling category vastly expands allowable products

      Working with the municipality, Recycle B.C. expanded its program as of June 2018 to incorporate nearly every imaginable product in a new category simply referred to as "other flexible packaging". Acceptable items include, but are not limited to: zipper-lock pouches, bags, standup pouches, crinkly wrap, cellophane (flower wrap), both chips and snack bags, instant meals, cheese and meat wrap, woven net bags, bubble wrap, shipping envelopes—anything, as long as it’s clean, i.e., rinsed.

      Although it has not yet been integrated into the curbside collection, by January 2019 all Recycle B.C. depot locations—that is any Return-It, Bottle Depot, London Drugs or Recycling Center in the province—will accept this type of deposit. For now, recycling enthusiasts can make deposits at pilot Recycle B.C. depots, which, along with soft plastics, has also offered electronics recycling through their What’s the Green Deal? initiative since 2008.

      This is all good news, but how does it make recycling easier for the consumer? For most of us, recycling fills us with resentment. Whether that resentment is directed at those who force us to recycle, the companies that insist on using excess amounts of packaging, the challenge of figuring out what type of recycling goes where, or the imposition it makes on our time, there has always been the urge to just throw it away and let God sort it out—or someone else’s generation, whichever comes first.

      New laws not the real answer

      Unfortunately, the ban on single use isn’t the solution. It merely eliminates the convenience. Now every time you use a straw or a plastic fork you are breaking the law; even if those particular items have not yet been banned, they will be. It’s as if our guardians have never ceased telling us to clean our room, because if they didn’t, we never would. Passing a thing into law only means that it has gotten so bad that forcing people to stop is the only way to get it done.

      Many consumers may not even want the level of convenience they are receiving. It amounts to someone foisting upon you a piece of plastic that as soon as it is used becomes garbage. In most cases, that particular piece of garbage will outlast the person disposing of it and possibly end up in the food chain.

      People, if they had a chance to think about it, would not want to be part of this process. Legislation simply prevents this destructive process from continuing. It helps the consumer make one less detrimental choice, one less blight on their conscience. In order to do this, businesses should be willing to lead the way, limiting the convenience they offer to customers, and customers need to stop taking every convenience they can.

      This means you don’t ask for a straw and you refuse one if it is offered. Refuse that bag! Try enjoying that meal at its point of sale through disciplined and budgeted time management, then get back on your bike and continue on your way. No more carrying around a quarter-cup of coffee; just drink it or opt for a cheaper espresso and feel that jolt. Just think of all the time you’ll save.

      If you want to speed up the process, consider signing the petitions at the usual places: Greenpeace, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Change.org and then take a quick detour over to Recycle B.C. to see where your nearest depot is before taking a nice walk on the beach.

      You earned it.

      Daniel Thompson is a graduate of Vancouver Island University’s Creative Writing program. He has written several books (novels), all currently seeking publishers. He lives in Victoria, B.C. This article initially reported that "Other Flexible Packaging" could be dropped off at London Drugs, but this won't be the case until late summer or early fall.