TALES FROM THE DUMP: Declaring war on litter

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Yellowknife has a litter problem. The NWT has a litter problem. Canada has a litter problem and the entire world has a litter problem.

Some countries are much cleaner than others but since litter knows no boundaries, litter like most types of pollution, eventually spreads over the entire world. It is carried by the wind, by water, by plants, by animals and even by humans.

Consider plastic for a few moments. It is everywhere. It is in most things that we buy or use and a lot of it ends up as litter on land and in the water. Everything from plastic bags to Styrofoam containers, from cloths and footwear made out of plastic, to the linings in takeout cups. Plastic is made from oil or hydrocarbon. It may break down into ever smaller particles, but it never goes away.

Plastic products started to be developed in the 1900s. Bakelite was invented in 1907, cellophane in 1912, neoprene in 1930 and polyester in 1950. So, we started this great experiment on the pros and cons of plastic about 60 years ago. Humanity fell in love with the pros and started to put plastic in everything from bank notes, to plumbing, to fast food containers and a gazillion other products. Everything from you rugs, to your appliances and even vehicles contain a significant amount of plastic. It is only now that people are starting to recognize the many cons of plastic.

The stuff may be a little hard to light on fire, but once it gets going, it burns hot and furious and is hard to put out. You are burning a product derived from oil and gasoline after all. It also produces some very heavy and toxic smoke. This is why some apartment and high-rise fires can be raging infernos.

Plastic is everywhere. Let’s declare war on litter and litterers. Wikimedia Commons

Various forms of plastic have also been shown to be not all that healthy for people. They certainly aren’t good for the environment. Plastic as litter gets everywhere. Plastic bags can blow in the wind for kilometres.

Every time there is a good wind storm, a heavy rain or a flood, all sorts of plastic gets into the environment, into our lakes and rivers and oceans. A recent study found microplastics – tiny bits of the stuff – in sea ice, which is not surprising since we are slowly filling the ocean up with this junk. In the ice they found 17 different types of plastic, the most common were packaging material, cellulose acetate from cigarette filters, paints and nylon. So, when you litter or throw your cigarette butt on the ground and think you aren’t harming anything, think again.

Big mammals like whales have been found with their stomachs full of plastic and as a result they starve to death. Many smaller sea creatures suffer the same fate. Even more frightening is the microplastics get eaten and become part of the critters. Soon all the plants and animals on the planet will become part plastic, including humans, and that is going to lead to all sorts of problems. Microplastics have even been found in many bottled waters.

The question of how harmful ingesting plastic is to humans hasn’t been determined yet. Plastics are a very recent phenomenon but we have entered the plastic age. And as we ingest more and more of it, we are about to find out. My prediction is, that we will discover, it’s not good. At one time in our history humans managed to poison themselves with lead and then later with mercury and heavy metals. Are we doing the same thing with plastic?

So how do we tackle this world-wide disaster of litter and plastic. The old axiom is think globally and act locally. I agree. I also think we should lobby all levels of government to get the lead out and start being a little proactive.

Personally, I would like to see Yellowknife become the cleanest community in the NWT, in Canada and in North America. If you are going to do a job, you might as well set your goals high. So lets declare war on litter and litterers starting immediately.