Earth Day: the battle against plastics

Today, April 22nd (2019) is officially Earth Day and is a chance to look at the on-going efforts by some to make a difference when it comes to the environment.

Young people today are especially worried about the environment and its future, as evidenced by the many protests that have recently taken place.  There are many questions about recycling and the problem that landfill sites are not only running out of room but are also contributing to the pollution problem with plastics that go into the land and that do not break down.

Katherine Martinko of Port Elgin recently spoke at the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Southport meeting on the harm that plastics are creating in the world and the environment.

Some of the statistics that she brought were not only surprising but dismaying.


“What is scary is that some animals are now developing a taste for plastic,” said Martinko.  “Take anchovies for instance. They track their food by scent and it has now been discovered that the prefer the scent of plastic over their normal food of Krlll.  Plankton, which are the building blocks of the planet and responsible for creating half the oxygen in our atmosphere have been filmed eating tiny polystyrene beads.”

According to Martinko, when it comes to humans, the health hazards of plastics are only now starting to be understood.  With some plastics, chemicals are being leached out and entering human bodies.  Phalites are being added to plastics to soften them, such as raincoats, garden hoses, medical tubing, IV bags and are used in cosmetics and make-up, perfumes and can result in the ‘feminization’ of baby boys and long-term infertility.

She also said that PBAs, banned in the early 2000s,are still being used by 91 percent of Canadians in food, beverage cans, glass, thermal receipts that use heat instead of ink and plastic food containers.  “It is considered a reproductive toxin for both males and females, disrupts brain development in children and is associated with early puberty, obesity, learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancer and substitutes being used for it are just as bad.”

There are endochronic disruptors that affect the hormones in the body, says Martinko.  They are different from other toxic chemicals as they are more dangerous at lower concentrations.  High doses to humans turn off the hormones in the body while slow leaching through containers and toys over years cause more damage.  Disruptors are also more dangerous during pregnancy and early childhood development where the results may not show up until later in life.

“Some researchers believe that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” added Martinko, “and that endochronic disruptors will become the ‘cancer’ of the future.  If that’s true, it’s more important than ever that we tackle this issue as soon as possible.”

Martinko also offered several solutions for ‘plastic-free’ living although she admitted that moving away from plastic is not easy as it is associated with convenience in today[‘s world.  “There are Zip-lock bags, take-out food containers, disposable plates and cutlery and wet-wipes therefore, it will take work to move away from plastic.”

“I believe that living without plastic lies in the past rather than future technological ambitions,” said Martinko.  “We need to talk to our parents and grandparents to find out how they did things because we used to be able to live without creating the waste that we do now.”

Martinko went on to say that she employs many of the old traditions such as making her own bread, chooses fruit that is in season, turns poultry bones into stock and makes muffins for her children’s school muffins, all of which eliminates packaging from the store.

The first step in considering a ‘plastic-free’ lifestyle is to conduct a plastic inventory of the home.  “Go through every room in your house,” Martinko says, “and write down all plastic items that you find, what their purpose is and what materials can be substituted for them.  It’s a big process but the point is to demonstrate how much plastic is in your life and to also brainstorm all the alternatives that exist if you are willing to exist outside the box.”

According to Martinko, there is a fun part.  “Re-assess your personal habits. Start with grocery shopping.  Assemble a grocery-shopping kit that you take with you to the store. It should contain glass jars and re-usable bags.  Do not accept store packaging but ask retailers to put their product in to your containers.”

Martinko admitted that small independent businesses are more amenable to the idea than are large box-type stores.   She said that one of the stores that had changed regulations was ‘Bulk Barn’ to allow re-usable containers.

She also said that she supports local produce purchasing whenever possible through the Community Supported Agriculture Share (CAS) that provides local produce weekly, eggs from a local farmer, meat from a local butcher shop, buys local meats by bulk and has recently begun purchasing milk in glass bottles delivered to her door.

Martinko also stressed the use of bamboo toothbrushes, bar soap and make-up using bamboo containers.  She also experimented with ‘non-hair-washing’ for 40 days and is now using product that is Canadian produced in bars. Some companies are also offering refillable metal containers that can be returned.

Martinko encouraged everyone to contact their local MPPs and MPs about how people want change. “Tell them that we want change on our behalf.”  She also recommended two books:

Martinko ended with a quote from Lindsay Miles of Australia:   “Actions are ripples that can change an important story …  if I wanted the world to change, I had to start with me. It was no good just wishing for it to be better, and doing nothing about it. I had to be the change I wanted to see. I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something. We can all do something.”