Opinion: Without Government Investment in Reusables, Earth Day will Never be Zero Waste
Around Earth Day, many people consider how they can help reduce their impact on the planet. Reducing plastic consumption has been a top choice, but many have realized that without big changes by industry and government, there is only so much plastic they can personally eliminate. This can be especially frustrating knowing industry has increased our plastic production exponentially since the 1950’s.
One viable solution to the plastic crisis is the growing zero waste, reuse-refill movement—which we at Jarr are honoured to be a part of. Zero waste businesses provide consumers with opportunities to shop zero waste and transform how products and services are distributed across communities. But, while governments work to ban some single-use plastic, they fail to support and invest in the required reusable alternatives. In the absence of government support, the reuse movement is struggling to create scalable systems to replace the single-use plastic we’re all trying so hard to phase out.
Right now, most of the companies working on reusable solutions would be categorized as small businesses, presumably with small margins and small budgets—all taking on high levels of risk.
Vancouver, as an example, is a hub for reuse, with amazing zero waste grocery stores, zero waste grocery delivery companies, reusable take-out container and cup rental programs and sharing programs of many types, all offering solutions for eliminating single-use waste.
With absent reusable government initiatives, circular, reuse-centered businesses have stepped up to do what the government has been unable, or unwilling to do. Together, these small companies are already working on removing waste from the landfills, recycling systems and incinerators. This translates to less pick up and handling costs for both Recycle BC, and municipal garbage collection, and more momentum towards the government’s goals of reducing single-use packaging and CO2 emissions. Despite this benefit to government and taxpayers, there is no extra support for the reusable industry—an industry that often incurs extra costs reducing waste, including the costs of cleaning, refilling and collection of reusable containers. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation predicts that converting 20% of plastic production to reusables is a $10 billion business opportunity, but we need our government’s help to propel this movement forward. Without government funding or support, reusable-based businesses struggle to get lift off. The reality is, the extra costs of cleaning and distributing reusables is challenging to monetize while non-reusable competitors skirt paying for the true cost of their waste.
Right now, reusable alternatives are on a precipice of significant growth. Even big corporations are now piloting reusable models and signalling changes in our larger retail and fast food restaurant sectors. Momentum is gaining across Canada, and we have some of the best movers and shakers right here in Vancouver creating blueprints for this change. The risk is, unsupported, these organizations will eventually fold and the groundswell of change will come to a halt. Full government support at the federal and local level coupled with funding is required to give reusables alternatives a real chance.
There is a precedent for funding greener alternatives. As we transition away from gas powered vehicles, the government of Canada has already spent $1 billion on the switch to zero emission vehicles with more funding to come announced in this month’s federal budget. As a fossil fuel product that emits through its whole lifecycle, plastic must be reduced overall and initiatives aimed at eliminating its use must be similarly prioritized.
In the latest budget, the federal government committed $8.6 billion by 2030 to carbon capture, all in the support of oil companies to keep doing what they are doing— extracting oil to make more plastic. To me, it feels like our tax payer dollars are going in the wrong direction.
This Earth Day, we need to refocus the value we hold for our planet and our future. Our landfills, our oceans, our animals and our air all need us to take the next step and make the move to reusables. The only true way to reduce waste is by not creating it to begin with and that is exactly what reusable solutions offer. Yes, as individuals and small businesses we can slowly move the needle, but we can only significantly reduce our packaging waste with government funding and support.
Emily Sproule is the founder of Jarr, a mom of two young school age children and an environmentalist doing the best she can with the time she has. Emily lives in East Vancouver, is passionate about business as a force for change and is excited to bring package-free grocery delivery to Metro Vancouver.