July 17, 2019
By Haniya Syed, Student Intern to the Richmond Chamber of Commerce
It’s a fact: there is a large amount of garbage in our oceans. Citizens and their governments worry about the health of our planet and the rate of change. With that, many are looking for alternatives to replace their typical single-use plastics. It is crucial for companies to focus on their bottom line, as it relates to government regulation and environmental stewardship.
The Harsh Truth About Single-Use Plastics
According to CBC Canada, plastic can take up to 1000 years to decompose. Shockingly, less than 10% of the plastic that Canadians consume is properly recycled. Studies conducted by National Geographic suggest that a staggering 93% of the ocean’s plastic waste comes from just 10 rivers. Despite implementing a myriad of plastic restrictions, these rivers have seen little to no improvement in their conditions due to the overall state of the cities that the rivers penetrate. The 10 rivers all border some of the poorest cities in the world.
The numbers are scary, so Canadian companies are starting to challenge the plastic industry by being creative with their packaging. Through recent years, there has been a significant rise in single-use plastic alternatives, such as compostable plastic, paper packaging, and in some cases, even food grade packaging that can be safely eaten. An infinite number of green packaging possibilities have yet to be explored; in a generation where anything is possible, inventive companies are always racing to create the latest apparatus.
Meeting Richmond’s Plastic Innovators
Layfield Flexible Packaging, a local plastic manufacturing company from Richmond, B.C. is leading in the world of sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging. Their latest creation, BioFlex, is a plastic alternative that creates green renewable energy by releasing gases throughout its decomposition in the landfill. Mark Rose, president of Layfield Flexible Packaging describes the engineering of BioFlex as “using the most efficient material available”. He shares that many people are unaware that certain materials such as BioFlex will, in fact, benefit the environment inside landfills by producing gases that can be generated into energy, able to power thousands of homes every year. Rose hopes for a “more pragmatic approach to considering the environment” and is a firm believer in being educated about the process of recycling, as there are many misconceptions to how beneficial putting a bottle in the blue bin is for the environment. Canada aspires to become a global role model when it comes to waste reduction and control, and companies like Layfield are guiding us in the right direction.
Roadblocks to an Effective Ban
As good of an idea as banning single-use plastic sounds, it is hard to say what would happen if these materials were prohibited. The idea of banning plastic leaves the impression that the pool of concerns and problems will be washed away but introduces a tidal wave of new obstacles. Single-use plastics serve a very important role in maintaining a level of cleanliness that can not be reached by reusable materials.
They are not only convenient but are also very effective in keeping food products sanitary. Banning materials such as plastic bags would be “a serious threat to public health,” according to Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiologist and co-author of a study on grocery bags. He voiced that health risks of reusable bags came “especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled.” If the ban were to go through, we could see an increase around contamination induced diseases and foodborne illnesses. 2018 saw Vancouver’s attempt with banning all single-use plastics by 2019, which was then postponed to 2020 after receiving an alarming number of people expressing their hesitations.
Transitioning into a plastic-free city would take years, and many companies that consume a high volume of single-use plastics would see significant impacts within their businesses, as they would be forced to scramble to find alternatives to replace these materials.
Ever since the state of California, USA, banned the use of single-use plastic bags in stores, scientists have seen the emissions of greenhouse gasses triple, partially due to the rising purchase of garbage liners, which are much more plastic intensive.
The Cost of Continuing Plastic Use
The battle between considering the environment and finding convenient alternatives is never-ending, with valid points on either side. It goes without saying that the potential ban on single-use plastic will affect many in both beneficial and detrimental ways.
This summer, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce is asking local business owners to weigh in on a proposed single-use plastics ban. The survey can be found online at www.RichmondChamber.ca.
- “E. Coli Infection in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/hamburger-disease. “Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic Revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e7720. Https://Doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720.” doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f.
- “Flexible Films.” Layfield www.layfieldgroup.com/Flexible-Films/Products-Page/BioFlex.aspx.
- “Government to Ban Single-Use Plastics as Early as 2021: Source | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 10 June 2019, cbc.ca/news/politics/government-to-ban-single-use-plastics-by-2021-1.5168386.
- Irving, Michael. “Edible Milk-Based Packaging Reduces Food Spoilage and Plastic Waste.” New Atlas – New Technology & Science News, New Atlas, 22 Aug. 2016, newatlas.com/casein-milk-packaging/45005/.
- Mao, Da. “Restricted Use of Plastic Shopping Bags: The Way Out.” The China Environment Yearbook, Volume 5, pp. 215–223., doi:10.1163/9789004216884_020.
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