On Wednesday night, I attended a screening of the documentary "Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?" at the University of Calgary. If you haven't seen it, I highly encourage you to take a look at http://www.bagitmovie.com/. The event was organized by sustainability leaders Green Calgary, the Recycling Council of Alberta, RePlastic, Boomerang Bags YYC, and Plastic-Free YYC (thank you so much to these inspiring groups!).
You know, I like to think I'm a fairly conscientious consumer and that I make an effort to reduce my footprint. Then, I go to an event like this and I realize how much MORE I can do.
Some pretty amazing statistics and thoughts stuck out at me from the film and the pursuant discussions and I'd love to share them with you.
- The first plastic grocery bags were released in 1977. That's the same year that Apple Computer was incorporated, Elvis died, and Orlando Bloom was born. Wait! what? You mean that my parents would remember grocery shopping before plastic bags? Something that seems so ubiquitous now and is causing environmental destruction the world over is a relatively recent invention, so my Millennial friends, it shouldn't be too hard for us to kick the habit, should it?
- About 1 million ultra-thin plastic bags are handed out every single minute! Doesn't that seem a bit... um.... superfluous? Bags not your bag? Well, if you live on coffee like I do, you might be interested to know that about 300 million single-use coffee cups are thrown away per day in the US. Wow! That's about 8 times more coffee cups than the number of Canadian people that exist!
- We send our garbage, our recycling, our waste.... AWAY. But, where IS "away?" The City of Calgary hosts tours of our waste processing facilities. One of the gentlemen in the audience mentioned that he'd pitched an idea to Nenshi, who vetoed it: visiting a landfill should be a prerequisite to graduate high school. If we understand what "away" is, will we think twice when we send something "away?"
- Did you know that most of our recycling is shipped away for processing? I didn't! Until recently, most of it was going to China. Now, most is processed in BC and Ontario as exportation rules to China have tightened. I asked if the calculations of that carbon footprint had ever been done. They have. While there's of course an impact for transportation, it's still beneficial to recycle. The City of Calgary would love to have processing available locally, but there are virtually no local markets for the product since we aren't known for our manufacturing plants in Alberta.
- The City of Calgary's Blue Cart program accepts all plastics #1 through #7, but only a fraction of those (primarily plastics #1 and #2) are actually recycled. They've chosen to accept all plastics to make it super easy for us to recycle. It's easier for them to sort it out than for you to try to remember which numbers are recyclable. I thought that was a brilliant idea to get more people recycling, but have to admit that I felt a little misled. I always knew that some of what goes into the blue bin gets sorted out but I hadn't realized how much. The City of Calgary is genuinely open to ideas on how they can communicate all of the details with us citizens without making us feel disenchanted. If you have an idea, let them know! In the meantime, keep up those recycling efforts but remember it should be the last resort- redesign, reduce, and reuse first!
- Speaking of misleading recycling, did you know that the recycling arrow on products is basically complete bulls**t? Truth! It's an unregulated symbol that manufacturers use to help market their products. While I'm sure it's put there in most cases with some modicum of truth, the product may or may-not be recyclable in your area. Conversely, just because it lacks a symbol doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't recyclable. Confusing, no? I felt like I'd been told there was no Santa Claus. I'd trusted that symbol for years!
There was so much more, but I don't want to spoil the movie for you- get out and watch it! And if it inspires you like it inspired me, you can sign a petition and contact your Councillor and Mayor Nenshi at www.banthebagyyc.com.