July, 2018 marks the official start of the microbead ban here in Canada, when the majority of personal hygiene products that contain small exfoliating plastic beads are removed from shelves. (Microbead production was banned six months earlier in January, 2018).
July also marks the start of the microbead ban in the UK – part of the country’s 25-year Environmental Plan that bans the sale of all single-use plastics including straws, cotton swabs and cutlery. Even more impressively, in recent years the UK has placed a charge on plastic bags and not only the ones from grocery stores but from most major retailers, too.
A 5p charge (equivalent to 10 cents) has led to an 85% decrease in the number of plastic bags used — removing 6 billion bags from circulation — and a 30% decrease in the number of plastic bags found on the seabed around the UK and Europe.
One of the most notable differences between Canada and the UK is size. The UK is a mere 242,000km², a third of the size of Alberta and would fit inside Canada 42 times, yet the UK has twice the population (65 million people). How has a country with double the population managed to make such headway banning single-use plastics for ocean protection?
When it comes to ocean health and education, the UK has something that Canada doesn’t: an island mentality. You can’t leave the UK without crossing an ocean or sea. The most inland point from the coast is less than 150 kilometres. In Canada, 150 kilometres would get me halfway from Calgary to Edmonton.
The ocean impacts daily life in all parts of the UK, from transport to fresh seafood, industry and jobs, too. Even people who live farthest from the ocean understand why the plastic ban is so important for improving waterway and ocean health.
Moving to Calgary from the UK has been an eye-opening experience for me. I went from being able to see the ocean from my house to being an hour’s plane ride away. Canada is so big and so varied in its landscape that you can feel disconnected from the ocean.
That’s why programs like Ocean Bridge are so important, empowering youth to make a difference and giving them the opportunity to spread the message and help educate others about the importance of healthy oceans and waterways. Through these programmes, many more Canadians will understand local environmental issues, and how even more single-use plastic bans and discussion here in Canada can create positive change for the ocean — no matter how far you live from the coast.
Hannah Lucas is part of the Ocean Bridge 2018 Cohort that visited Haida Gwaii as part of its community-service work.
Ocean Bridge is funded by the Government of Canada under the Canada Service Corps.
Portail Océan bénéficie du soutien financier du gouvernement du Canada dans le cadre de son Programme Jeunesse Canada.