How plastics from our food industry are starving albatrosses

The Midway Islands are one of the most isolated places on the planet as they have the longest stretch of ocean between them and any other form of land in the world. When considering this, it would be expected that these islands are pristine and untouched; however, this is not the case. 

These islands are famous for providing breeding ground for albatross, one of the largest CF000517 17x22

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A sample of Chris Jordan’s heartwrenching collection of Midway Island Albatross http://www.chrisjordan.com

migratory sea birds in the world. But these birds are facing adversity and the success of their young is being compromised. Tragically, our ocean are becoming so polluted that plastic in our oceans are prevalent enough for albatross to mistake the debris for food and are ingesting these plastics themselves and feeding them to their young. These indigestible particles remain in their stomachs and prevent them from eating real food which essentially starves them. Filmmaker and photographer Chris Jordan’s documentary Midway: Message from the Gyre illustrates the severity of the issue with haunting footage while telling the story of the interconnectedness between human activity and wildlife. He has also has released a collection of pictures documenting the consequence of this problem – the full gallery can be found here.

A significant source of plastic polluting our oceans is the food industry – from caps off of pop bottles to the wrapping that covers every cucumber, the food industry is a significant contributor to the plastics in our ocean.

Taking steps to reduce your footprint through conscious consumption of food can play a significant part in changing the current story. Every plastic bag, every plastic container and every piece of packaging impacts our world. It is crucial that individuals become empowered to take steps towards reducing the amount of packaging associated with food when possible, and recycling or reusing the packaging that cannot be avoided.

When many individuals make small, yet impactful, changes in their life, the combined effect is enough to change the world. The ocean is made of single droplets of water – in a similar way, each action we take can contribute to turning the tides and creating waves of change.

Blog post by Allison Pritchard and Shakti Ramkumar, Co-coordinators for Common Energy’s Food and Connections Team

Plastic-free sandwiches and lamentable eyewear

Halfway through the Plastic-Free July Challenge and my journey has not progressed without peril. Every casual food outing, every corner turned in the supermarket and down every aisle, synthetic petrochemical-derived polymers are waiting in anticipation to dupe this poor, unsuspecting consumer. Every purchasing decision requires far more consideration than I am used to.

The other day I wanted to construct a sandwich for an easy beach-day lunch. Bread? Luckily I like nice bakery loaf bread, but when the gal at Cobs asked me if I wanted my pumpkin flax sourdough sliced, I had to graciously decline for otherwise they would have placed my loaf in a sack of plastic to keep it together. Which is cool, because I like slicing my own bread anyways, but this phenomenon never would’ve consciously occurred to me otherwise.

 

Other sandwich implements were equally challenging. I was unable to find a single cheese or cheese substitute that did not come sold in plastic wrap or some other plastic container. Leaves were limited to plastic-free bunches, which ruled out arugula, my personal favourite.

Then came the pesto predicament. Fortunately, I had a glass jar of pesto in my fridge, but this just happened to be a stroke of luck.

oleev oil
500 mL of Product of Italy Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Colavita Brand = $10, Walmart Brand = $3. Not even exaggerating.

Most of the time I opt for the economic and delicious Kirkland pesto from Costco, which comes in a plastic jar. This led me to a slightly obvious but nonetheless thought-provoking realization; dozens of products out there are offered in both plastic and glass/ paper packaging depending on the brand. Generally, the more “fashionable”, “gourmet”, organic brands offer slightly more sustainable packaging, along with higher product prices. For a broke UBC student, the decision between a $3 and $10 bottle of olive oil of equal volume can be challenging. Whether or not the more expensive option contains a higher quality product is an entirely separate thing to consider. This phenomenon that sustainably packaged items are only accessible to higher-income consumers is a huge roadblock in trying to reduce our overall plastic consumption.

 

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Lamentable eyewear.

It also recently occurred to me that, to my horror, my daily contact lenses that I completely rely on to perceive the world around me come in single-use plastic packaging. Nay, they THEMSELVES are made from single-use plastic. What is a poor blind girl to do? Unfortunately I was not ready to take the leap in A) getting laser eye surgery or B) embracing the dorkdom with my glasses for Plastic-Free July. Terrible.

A Brief Word on the 3rd “R”

I’ve been asked on several occasions: “why do you need to avoid plastics altogether? Can’t we just recycle most of those things? So they won’t end up in our landfills and waterways anyways right?” …

Recycling is great, don’t get me wrong. But it must be treated as a last resort. There are energy costs associated with the transportation and recycling process itself; for a given crude amount of petro-chemical feedstock used to make plastics, several times that amount is burned in the process of synthesizing, transporting, and reprocessing said plastics¹. Even if we are perfect recycle-ers, their use in the first place is a major contributor to our carbon emissions footprint. Additionally, infinite closed-loop recycling of most grades of plastic is very rare simply due to the processing methods at our dispense. Plastics degrade with each recycling, such that at a certain point they can no longer be recycled and will end up in a landfill or somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

My plastic vs. glass container realization has sent me on an academic article quest to investigate the energy and monetary costs of manufacturing both. Stay tuned for our next instalment of the Plastic Free July Challenge blog to read about my findings!

Source:

  1. Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115–2126. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0311

 

-Blog post by Keila Stark, Assistant Director External

February events wrap up!

February is usually a busy month for UBC Students, who are all busy getting cozy with IKBLC as they study for midterms and then in between these study sessions students are busy making swanky plans for Reading Break. However, for Common Energy members, February was extra busy with a whole load of fun events!

At our monthly Big-Team meeting we all enjoyed yummy homemade stew and mac and cheese among other delicious potluck items. We then welcomed Tanya Bennett, a UBC Alumni, who was kind enough to run a Social Media workshop for the CE team. We all learned about how to effectively manage our multiple social media platforms! Thank you Tanya for teaching us about Hootsuite and saving us loads of time by scheduling tweets! Genius!

February 9th was National Sweater Day—a WWF initiative that asks people to turn down their thermostat by three degrees and sport a wild sweater to show that they are taking action on climate change. The Challenges team made wonderful Sweater Day posters (some of which actually hung on hangers) and ran an interactive booth in the SUB and IKBLC. With the kind donation of Happy Planets from UBC Food Services, the booths were busy and we were definitely able to reach out to the thirsty student population!

The Tangible Solutions team ran another UBC’s Got Skillz workshop, this one being a free knitting workshop!! The turnout was fantastic and the participants all went home with a warm and fuzzy set of needles and yarn. And of course, the priceless skill of knitting, which will reduce their personal consumption in the future.

Finally, Chew On This was a huge success! Monday’s event, “business case for sustainable food” was a full line up. Rebecca Irani, from the UBC Bookstore made a convincing argument for buying fair-trade. If you are sorry you missed the fair trade talk, don’t despair—UBC Fair Trade week is coming right up and Common Energy is running a Fair Trade mob!! Randy and Annie from Discover Organics gave us a first-hand look on primary production of sustainable food. Then Chef Steve Golob, the head chef of Place Vanier cafeteria gave us the most dynamic talk on what UBC is doing in terms of serving socially-responsible, local food. On Tuesday, Sprouts kindly ran a workshop about food-mapping, which was well-received by the audience. On Wednesday, for the panel discussion had over 55 people turn up! Then on Thursday the Oxfam UBC’s ‘Hungry for Change’ dinner went drew a huge crowd– everyone went home with a full belly and motivated to help out in Oxfam’s work. We cannot thank our partner organizations: IKBLC, CUS Sustainability, Oxfam UBC and UBC Food Services.

Check out the webcast for the Monday and Wednesday events below, sponsored by IKBLC.

As if that wasn’t enough to fill our calendars, we had a huge CE delgation at the SFU Sustainable Campuses Conference. Read Quinn’s blog post here.

Thanks for reading and gear up for a magnificent month of March! eARTh festival and Fair Trade mob is just around the corner, are you joining us?

-Kyuwon Kim, Assistant Director