Spreading the Word

View From Train, Lakeshore East

Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope that the new year has started out well for all of you. Many people make New Year`s resolutions and in addition to dieting and stopping drinking for a bit, a couple of my friends have been talking about resolving to use as little plastic as possible. Having grown up in Kenya, during a time where we didn`t have a lot of plastic or things like clingwrap, the habit of re-using and recycling is ingrained. I take my own shopping bags to the grocery stores and I wash out strong plastic bags like ziplock bags, yoghurt containers etc and reuse them. I demand real cups in coffee shops and I rarely use disposable plates or cutlery. However, I’m sure there is room for improvement so I too am going to see how I can cut down.

A few days ago, I went to visit my sister in Ajax, a small town close to Toronto on Lake Ontario. The train goes along the lakeshore and it is a picturesque journey in part. It was the first sunny day practically since I arrived in Toronto and I enjoyed seeing the light on the water. When I got to Ajax, I noticed that people had put out their bins for recycling and organic garbage collection. The bins were neatly segregated as instructed and hopefully the contents will be recycled, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of it will end up in landfill. About two thirds of north America`s recyclables used to be bought by China for recycling but it has now stopped accepting various categories and this will likely be treated as garbage. We are producing more garbage than ever before.

Potash Mine, Russia
Image: Edward Burtynsky

A few days later, I saw an exhibition entitled `Anthropocene` by Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The word Anthropocene signifies our current geological period in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change. Burtynsky is noted for his documentaries and spectacular photographs which look like amazing landscapes from afar but when you look closely, you see that in fact it is a destruction of the landscape caused by human activity such as mining and manufacturing. The picture above shows a Potash Mine in Russia where machines tunnel underground leaving impressions that look like sea fossils, beautiful to look at but the damage underground is extensive. The exhibition highlighted the extreme changes that we humans have caused to the landscape, for example destruction of vast tracts of forest in order to raise cattle or cash crops and fracking for oil.

Dandora waste Site
Image: Edward Burtynsky

I was particularly saddened by a pictures of a garbage dump in Dandora, Nairobi. It didn`t exist when we lived there but now covers 30 acres. It was declared full in 2001 yet the site is still active and locals sort scrap by hand to sell it to recycling plants. The amount of plastic is horrifying. Plastic does not degrade and is piling up all over the world. There is an area reputed to be 1.6 million square km in the Pacific Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in which there are high quantities of plastic, 100kg per square km in the centre. There is also a North Atlantic Garbage patch. The UN Ocean Conference in 2017 estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

On that note dear readers, please try and cut down on your use of plastic and tell your friends. If anyone has tips for cutting down on plastic and reducing garbage, add them to the comments section so we can all benefit.

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