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Entries in environment (7)


Weekly Pause &  Ponder

We are all paying the price for climate change.  Some of us though, are bearing a greater burden.  It’s a scary commentary on inequity writ large, and it points to an urgent need for all of us to work harder to advance environmental justice everywhere.

 - Rhea Suh, NRDC President.



Trump’s Wall vs. the National Butterfly  Center

In Canada, we have witnessed developments that cause seemingly irreparable damage to our environment. Wood Buffalo Park’s habitat is being compromised due to damning of rivers in BC, logging, oil sands development and industry. Warming climates are causing ice on lakes to thin and permafrost to melt. A collapsed damn in Brazil has killed hundreds and buried towns under toxic mud. We are endlessly told about the damage pf plastic in our oceans and the threat of extinction for caribou, birds, fish, whales, and animals.  Yet, somehow, the threat to monarch butterflies pains my heart.

In September 2018, the United states Congress approved $1.6 billion to construct a 36-foot wall along a section of the Rio Grande in Mexico to prevent illegal migrants from Mexico to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security has issued waivers for 28 laws protecting public land, wildlife and the environment.  Construction of this wall, scheduled to begin in February 2019 will cut the National Butterfly Center in two, sandwiching 70% of the Center between the wall and the Rio Grande. Access to this area will be blocked for campers, tourists, and workers.  A 150-foot enforcement zone will be cleared of all vegetation.   Cleared land will eliminate, degrade, and fragment the wildlife habitat and butterfly sanctuary. Access to water and food for wildlife will be blocked; migration will be blocked.  Searchlights at the top of the will be deleterious for the nocturnal animals. Thousands of scientists have written letters denouncing the wall and there have been lawsuits have been instituted to prevent its construction.

More than ever, the voices of individuals are needed to persuade governments, industries, and corporations to place the welfare of our world above financial and political interests.  Each of us needs to pay attention and use our voices, pens, and actions to change our political and social climate as we strive to care for all of creation.

- Sr. Pat McKeon


Already got your canvas shopping bag? 

Here are five other ways to go #PlasticFree

By: Ashley Wallis,  Program Manager, Water,  Environmental Defence

Maybe we’ve finally seen enough photos of dead and dying animals choking on or entangled in plastic trash. Or maybe we’re rattled by reports that our bodies and drinking water (bottled and tap) are also contaminated with plastic bits. Whatever the reason, more people than ever want to do their part to help curb the flow of plastic into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. And that’s a great thing.

The good news is that all over the world folks are trying to go plastic free, or reduce the amount of plastic they use.

But where to start? We all know about saying no to plastic shopping bags and straws, but what next? We’ve put together a list of ways to ditch plastics for good which you might not have thought of.

1. Say “No” to single-use

So let’s start with the obvious.  Single-use plastics are the kind of plastics you use for only a few minutes before throwing them in the bin. Items like plastic bottles, shopping bags, coffee cups and drink straws fall into this category, but so do most take-away containers and produce bags. You can make a huge difference by refusing to buy or use these items in the first place.

Plastic bottles and coffee cups can be replaced with stainless steel or glass alternatives. And you don’t need to get fancy. I’ve taken a regular, clean mug to my local coffee shop and they’ve happily filled it. If you’re looking for a more portable option, you can use a canning jar and buy or make a cloth sleeve to protect your hand from the hot drink inside.

The Plastic Free July website has loads of awesome alternatives to single-use plastics.

And if you’re the kind of person who usually needs a “doggy bag” when you eat out, bring your own reusable containers to date night. Instead of leaving the restaurant with leftover spaghetti in a Styrofoam box wrapped in a plastic bag, you can bring your food home in a container you can wash and reuse over-and-over again.

Unfortunately, many takeout restaurants refuse to fill personal containers, citing concerns over food safety. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider taking action number two…

2. Tell businesses they need to do better 

A few fast food chains have recently announced plans to stop using plastic straws. This is a great first step, but there are lots of other problematic plastics businesses should kiss goodbye. For example, in many jurisdictions (including Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa) black plastic simply isn’t recyclable. That means coffee cup lids and takeout trays are destined for the landfill. If black plastic can’t be efficiently recycled, it shouldn’t be used.

“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” – Pete Seeger

And what’s with packaging bell peppers in cellophane and avocados in plastic mesh sacks? This kind of packaging doesn’t do anything to protect or preserve your produce. If anything it encourages shoppers to over-buy, which can lead to unnecessary food waste.

If you have concerns, write, tweet, or call the companies you think are the worst offenders, and ask them to eliminate unnecessary packing. Kicking up a stink works, especially if lots of people do it.  And use your wallet as a tool for advocacy by choosing to support companies and products that use less useless plastic.

3. Rethink what you wear

Peppers aren’t the only things wrapped in plastic. There’s a good chance you are too. Many of the common modern fabrics and textiles we wear are actually made from plastic. Performance fleece, stretchy athletic wear, and really anything with polyester, spandex or nylon is made with plastic.

The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) industry has been singing its own praises for transforming used plastic bottles into performance fleece. But huge quantities of textiles end up in landfills every year. And before they even get there, these fabrics shed millions of microfibers into our rivers, lakes and oceans through laundering processes.

To decrease your impact, choose high-quality, durable clothes made from natural fibres like wool and hemp. And buy less, because all of this stuff inevitably ends up in the landfill, incinerator, or environment.

4. Join a beach clean-up event

Wondering where littered single-use plastics end up?  Last year, over 80,000kg of litter was collected from shoreline clean-up events across Canada. And most of the commonly collected items were – you guessed it – plastic.

If you want to get involved with a shoreline clean-up, Environmental Defence bookmark this website for upcoming events. If the timing or location doesn’t work out for you, you can join an existing clean-up or lead your own through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

While shoreline clean-ups on their own won’t get us out of this mess, they’re a great way to roll-up your sleeves and help your local environment. They also provide vital data on the amount and types of plastic that are out there. But if we really want to end plastic pollution, we need to change the way we use, collect, and recycle plastic. And the best way to accomplish that is through point number five: government action.

5. Tell governments to do more

As individuals we have important choices to make, but the biggest change happens when we change the way a system operates. Over the last several decades, we’ve established a system that ignores massive costs to people and the environment. If it doesn’t have a price tag, it doesn’t seem to matter. Governments need to write new rules that make businesses financially responsible for the polluting plastics they put on the market. And we need a unified approach from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

We need federal, provincial, municipal, and Indigenous governments to work together to establish a national framework that moves Canada to a zero plastic-waste future.

If you agree, take action and tell government you want a plastic-free environment now. 




The Thames River is a Person

On October 10, 2017, CBC radio host, Anna Marie Tremanti’s presented a segment entitled “Colorado River: Should the river have the same legal rights as a person”.  A lawyer, Jason Flores Williams, on behalf of an environmental group has asked a judge to grant to the Colorado River the same legal rights as a person.  Mr. Williams stated in the interview with Tremanti, that states and corporations are legal “persons”.  The Corporate “persons” use the finite resources for their own interests, these same resources upon which all of us depend. Existing laws to protect nature are inadequate to prevent degradation of the environment and loss of many species of plants and animals. If the Colorado River is deemed to be a legal person, entitled to be represented by a guardian, this ecosystem upon which the population depends can go to court to protect itself from injuries inflicted by all-powerful governments and corporations. Already, the overuse of the Colorado has been such that this former great river no longer reaches the Gulf of Mexico.  Corporations have sufficient wealth to influence governments into issuing permits for fifty-million-dollar water bottling plants. But new forces are instituting change.  Three dozen communities in the United States have statutes proclaiming the rights of natural entities. Similar laws in New Zealand, Equator, Bolivia, Columbia and India have been passed and upheld.  

David Boyd, and environmental lawyer from Pender Island, BC, is the author of The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World.  Boyd notes that Indigenous peoples think of nature as having human qualities. In Manitoba, aboriginal people speak of Lake Winnipeg having a spirit which is crying for help.  Boyd comments that we treat nature as property which is either privately owned or the property of government.  Indigenous people speak of connections among all nature – "all our relations”.   We are facing the meltdown of our planet with massive decreases in animals and plants. We are on the verge of the 6th mass extinction of earth in the four and a half billion years of our history.  Concerns of communities about fracking and bottling water abound. Countries, such as Equator, have established that nature has constitutional rights as a legal person.

David Boyd states that unless we develop a different perspective in our relationship with nature the degradation will continue rapidly. We need to transform our view: “Nature is a community to which we belong, not a commodity which we own.”

The radio program hosted by Anna Marie Tremanti The Colorado River, can be accessed at CBC, “The Current”, October 10, 2017.  The audio presentation is worth nineteen minutes of listening.

Pat McKeon, CSJ


Microbeads add up to big problem for Great Lakes

Microbeads are tiny plastic beads commonly used for their exfoliating properties in personal care products such as facial cleansers, body wash and toothpaste. Generally 0.5 mm or smaller in diameter, these particles get rinsed down drains during use, and are dispersed into the environment through wastewater treatment plants which are not designed to remove or treat microbeads. Treated wastewater is then typically discharged into freshwater rivers or lakes.

Microbeads are an emerging issue of global concern. One study, for example, found a single tube of facial scrub to contain more than 330,000 microbeads. These tiny bits of plastic are now distributed widely in both marine and freshwater environments — in the water, on the seabed, and on beaches.  They are ingested by many organisms throughout the food web, including plankton, invertebrates, small fish, birds and mammals. Along the way they act as sponges for dangerous chemicals and contaminants such as PCBs and flame retardants — which accumulate in species low on the food chain and are passed on to larger predators, eventually contaminating the fish and wildlife species that humans eat.

In the face of increasing public concern over the use of microbeads, a number of large personal care product manufacturers have expressed their intention to phase them out and replace them with biodegradable alternatives. This is an important first step, as microbead use is completely unnecessary: Effective biodegradable alternatives, such as ground apricot kernels and jojoba beads, are readily available and already widely used in personal care products.

There’s also growing momentum in the United States to get microbeads out of personal care products. Last year, Illinois enacted legislative provisions that will prohibit the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing microbeads. New Jersey just followed suit and enacted similar legislation. A ban is also looking promising in Indiana, and Ohio, New York, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Maine, and Washington State are all currently considering similar legislative measures.

Meanwhile in Canada …
No similar efforts have yet occurred in Canada except for the recent introduction of a private member’s bill to ban the manufacture and addition of microbeads to consumer products in Ontario — even though plastic microbeads are a particular environmental threat to Canada’s iconic Great Lakes. In fact, microbeads make up 20 per cent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to 8.5 million Canadians.

Scientists have found millions of microbeads in just one square kilometer of parts of the Great Lakes. These bits of plastic have been found in Lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie, as well as in the St. Lawrence River, with the highest concentrations occurring near urban areas. Sample analyses show that the majority of microbeads come from facial cleaners.

And yet, a wide variety of products containing microbeads are still available on the Canadian market. While voluntary measures from manufacturers are a good first step, we cannot rely on that alone to prevent these substances from polluting water bodies. It’s time for Canada to take action and address the threats microbeads pose to the environment and, by extension, our health.

That’s why, on behalf of Environmental Defence, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Ottawa River Waterkeeper, Ecojustice staff lawyer Tanya Nayler has submitted a request to Minister of the Environment Leona Aglukkaq asking that plastic microbeads used in personal care products be added to the Priority Substances list so that these can be assessed, designated and regulated as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The Minister must respond to this request, with reasons, within 90 days.

The letter also asks Minister Aglukkaq to review Illinois’ decision to ban microbeads. Under CEPA, when the Minister receives notice that that another jurisdiction has or substantially restricted a substance for environmental or human health reasons, she is required to determine if that substance is toxic and should be regulated.

Our hope is that this request will put into motion the necessary steps to initiate a Canada-wide ban on microbeads, keeping these unnecessary pieces of plastic from piling up in our oceans, lakes and rivers and putting the environment and our health at risk.

Reposted with permission from Ecojustice


Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.