Dear Friends in Christ,
Plastics: they are everywhere! From our take-out containers and coffee cups to personal care products and packaging, it seems there’s no getting away from these synthetic polymers. Unfortunately, that is also true in a deeper sense, as plastic pollution has become a serious environmental problem.
In Canada, less than 10% of all plastic is recycled, contributing to over 3 million tonnes of plastics being thrown into landfill each year. Over a third of plastics produced in Canada are designed for a single use, which constitutes one of the largest sources of plastics found in fresh water. Some 30 million tonnes of plastic waste have found their way into the waters of the world, an amount that is set to triple in 20 years if alternatives are not found.
Visible plastic waste is only the tip of the iceberg. Though the term “microplastics” was only coined in 2004, these microscopic particles – formed from the breakdown of everything from coffee cups to craft glitter to polyester clothing – can now be found everywhere on earth, even in the most remote locations. Most worryingly, they are in the food we eat, the water we drink, even in the air we breathe – and thus in our bodies, on which their long-term effects are as yet unknown. It’s not surprising that the UN recently declared plastics to be “the second most ominous threat to the global environment after climate change.”
People around the globe have begun pushing back against plastic pollution. Plastic-Free July was started by a small group of concerned citizens in Western Australia in 2011. A decade later, it has become a global movement. Alternatives to plastic products for personal and household use have become more readily available. In 2019 our diocesan Synod passed a motion encouraging parishes and individual Anglicans to reduce their reliance on single-use plastic products. This motion echoes a similar resolution that was passed at General Synod earlier in 2019, as well as motions passed in the Dioceses of British Columbia, Niagara, and Huron. The federal government has also announced plans to ban certain single-use plastic products, with regulations to be finalized by the end of 2021.
Since that time, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the proliferation of disposable masks and gloves and a return to single-use plastic food and beverage containers. The International Solid Waste Association estimates that use of single-use plastic has increased by 250-300% during the pandemic. We have seen this increase both in our individual lives and in parish outreach ministries that have pivoted from community meal programs to take-out.
But there are signs that the tide of plastic may be turning. More restaurants are switching to compostable food containers, and several parish outreach ministries have been using similar containers in their meal-to-go programs. Most of us have adopted reusable fabric masks for individual use. And many retailers are now allowing customers to use their own reusable shopping bags.
For Plastic-Free July this year, why not learn more about the dangers of plastic pollution and calculate your own plastic footprint at earthday.org? A great source of information in the Canadian context is the Plastic Action Centre, which includes a directory of plastic-free grocery stores in Ontario.
At the parish level, we’re just beginning to re-open our church buildings for public worship. While the pandemic is not yet behind us, and it may be some time before our parishes return to coffee hours, potlucks and other communal activities, now is a good time to consider how we might adopt new modes of parish life that don’t depend on single-use plastics. The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care has produced a poster to help parishes find alternatives to commonly used plastics in our church buildings. You can also follow the committee on Facebook for more news and tips on plastics reduction and ways to care for our common home.
Taking steps to curtail our use and waste of plastic is one way we can care for this fragile earth our island home and all our fellow creatures. Let’s do our part.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto