Guest blog: The World Needs Zero Plastic Heroes


By Derek Leahy
Can you be a ‘Zero Plastic Hero’ and shop plastic-free for an entire week?
A global initiative from the Netherlands called Zero Plastic Week (ZPW) is challenging people to avoid purchasing products made of or covered by plastic for seven full days. The initiative started on June 10th. Re-using plastics obtained before June 10th is allowed.
“We have improved recycling immensely, but we seem to have forgotten the other 2 R’s – reuse and reduce,” says Ries Mentink, Dutch co-creator of ZPW.
Over thirty years after the developed world learned about the importance of the ‘Three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – in maintaining a clean and healthy environment global plastic production is increasing. A 2009 report by the Royal Society in England estimated global plastic production from 2000 – 2010 would equal worldwide plastic production of the previous century.
“The plastic industry has lobbied governments to focus primarily on the recycling. Reducing and reusing is clearly not in the interest of industry’s profits,” explains Mentink from Amsterdam. Mentink was the 2011 organizer of International Stop the Tar Sands Day in Amsterdam.
Zero Plastic Week was launched in the Netherlands last year by Mentink and a group of friends who recognized the world’s increasing consumption of plastic was a urgent problem in need of a great deal more of a attention than it was receiving. Over 1500 people participated in ZPW last year.
The event has gone global. Thousands will be taking up the ‘zero plastic challenge’ in Europe, Africa, the US, and Canada this year.
“Going a week without purchasing any plastics is a lot more difficult than you’d think, but it’s not impossible,” says Katrina Prescott, spokesperson for Zero Plastic Week Canada.
Micro-plastics can be found in toothpaste, and facial cleaners
Many staples in the North American diet – breakfast cereals, breads, cheese, meat – are quite often only available in a plastic covering. There are also plastics that cannot be easily seen by the naked eye called micro-plastics, which can be found in toothpastes and facial cleaners.
All plastic produced is still in existence in one form or another. It can take up to 450 years for plastics to break down but they continue to exist as micro-plastics. These micro-plastics are wreaking havoc on the food chain especially in aquatic life.
“Micro-plastics go straight from our drain into the ocean and now there are parts of the ocean which contain more plastic particles than plankton,” says Mentink.
Plankton are the base of the food chain for all aquatic life from shrimp to whales. Many marine species ingest plastics mistakenly thinking it is food. A stomach full of plastic can cause marine life to die from malnutrition or starvation.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is perhaps the most famous example of the ‘plastic soup‘ the ocean has become. Discovered by Capt. Charles Moore in 1997, it is a convergence of plastics of different shapes and sizes in the North Pacific Ocean. Scientists estimate the ‘patch’ covers an area at least the size of Texas.
Canadians produce the most waste per capita
Waste in general has steadily risen in most developed countries since the 1990’s and Canadians produce the most wasteper capita out of all developed countries.
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians produced 13 million tonnes of waste in 2008. 8.5 million tonnes went to landfills and incinerators, while 4.4 million tonnes were recycled or composted. The vast majority of recycled and composted items were paper and organic materials.
Zero Plastic Week’s organizers provide participants with tips to reduce plastic in their lives from the obvious such as drinking your coffee-to-go from a travel mug to recipes on how to make your own detergent and shampoo.
“The surprising benefits of avoiding plastics is you tend to eat healthy and support local independent businesses,” says Prescott, who is a freelance TV producer as well as a food coach based in Vancouver. She met Mentink during his two-year stint in Vancouver as an enviromental campaigner.
Nearly all ‘junk food’ is covered in plastic but vegetables can be purchased plastic free. Meat at the supermarket is usually shrink-wrapped in plastic, but the local butcher shop can wrap meat in paper upon request.
Prescott’s three recommendations for Zero Plastic Heroes is to buy whole foods, carry your own shopping bags, and politely tell your server you do not need a plastic straw in your beverage.
“A short experiment like Zero Plastic Week confronts people with the enormous amount of plastic that we buy and throw away every week and of how many readily available alternatives there are in order to live plastic free,” says Mentink.

Derek grew up in the sleepy little town of Brooklin, Ontario in Canada. After his experience as a backpacker in Copenhagen, Denmark during the UN Climate Change Summit in 2009, Derek decided it was time he stood up for the planet. Shortly thereafter he created International Stop the Tar Sands Day (international rallies to raise awareness about the destructiveness of the tar sands)  and plans on continuing to raise awareness about the tar sands and the need to act upon climate change this decade in the years to come. Derek grew up in the sleepy little town of Brooklin, Ontario in Canada. After his experience as a backpacker in Copenhagen, Denmark during the UN Climate Change Summit in 2009, Derek decided it was time he stood up for the planet. Shortly thereafter he created International Stop the Tar Sands Day (international rallies to raise awareness about the destructiveness of the tar sands)  and plans on continuing to raise awareness about the tar sands and the need to act upon climate change this decade in the years to come. 

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