Plastics & Other Pollutants
by Theresa Peluso
“A habit is something you can do without thinking—which is why most of us have so many of them.” (Frank A. Clark)
Many people have acquired the habit of expecting their purchases to be put in plastic bags, not realizing the harm these bags cause to the environment. In Canada alone, between 9 and 15 billion single-use plastic bags are discarded every single year. Being so light and buoyant, most of these bags escape the clutches of the garbage collector, ending up in fields, forests, rivers, and oceans, and wreaking havoc on millions of animals and their habitat over the many hundreds of years that they take to break down.
This year the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, in support of our natural environment, implemented the Plastic Bag Reduction Project to address this problem.
You probably saw our booth at various summer festivals such as the Almonte and Pakenham fairs, Celtfest, and Herbfest, or at the Pakenham General Store, Patrice’s YIG or the Heritage Court, where our volunteers provided information to visitors about the issue, and invited them to Take the Pledge in support of not using single-use plastic shopping bags. If you’re a store owner you probably answered a short survey about your establishment’s use of plastic bags.
Thanks to the participation of all the people who stopped by our booth, and the store owners who took the time to answer our survey, our group learned a lot about the issue and got some great suggestions about how to solve this problem.
Our visitors told us how countries, like Germany, have simply outlawed plastic bags, and so they’re just not available. Some suggested that stores have a bin with used plastic bags brought in by customers for those who have forgotten their re-usable bin or bag. (This wouldn’t work, for hygiene reasons, in a store selling food.) Others recommended offering alternatives to plastic bags, such as cardboard boxes and cloth bags, and displaying them more prominently. Also, posting reminders to customers in various locations would encourage more of them to break their plastic bag habit and use cloth bags or bins. Offering discounts to people who bring their own bags or bins was another idea.
In an informal two-hour survey conducted by one of our volunteers at the local grocery store, it was observed that about 45% of customers had their purchases packed in re-usable containers or carried them unbagged. At another store in the area that sells baked goods, crafts and novelty items, the results were quite different. About 98% of customers came out with their goods in plastic bags.
A total of 244 people signed our Take the Pledge form, including people from Norway, Peterborough, New York City, Morrisburg, Stratford, Cobden, Sudbury, Windsor, and Grand Bend (Ont.).
Many of the people who passed by our booth saw our banner illustrated with a sea turtle eating a plastic bag (turtles think they’re jellyfish, which they prey on). About one-quarter of the passersby stopped to find out about the issue. A small percentage of these passersby had no idea that plastic bags were a problem for wildlife. Another small percentage had some awareness of the problem, and on hearing how harmful plastic bags were, promised to stop using them. Some people were inspired to renew their efforts to bring their own containers. Most visitors were already avid conservationists, pleased that we were publicizing the issue
Of the 23 stores surveyed in Almonte, Pakenham, and Clayton, 6 wait for the customer to ask for a plastic bag; 14 offer alternatives to plastic bags, including biodegradable bags; 7 have cloth bags for sale; 2 provide cardboard boxes; 8 provide paper bags; 2 invite customers to return plastic bags for re-use by other customers; 4 charge a fee for plastic bags; and one store on Mill Street doesn’t use any plastic bags, not even biodegradable bags. Regarding the 14 stores that answered the question about the number of plastic bags they use in a year, the total was 575,000. That’s a huge number!
Quite a few retailers also provided ideas about ways to reduce the number of plastic bags they provide, many of which were identical to those offered by the visitors to our booth. Some of these were: don’t make plastic bags available to the customer, promote cloth bags more actively, provide a box where customers can put their used plastic bags or drop off cloth bags for re-use by others, erect a flashing neon sign outside the store to remind people to bring a re-usable container, charge more for plastic bags, put up snazzy posters to remind people not to use plastic bags, and make biodegradable bags more easily available. One retailer pointed out that sometimes customers re-use plastic bags for their kitchen waste containers, so the bags do have a second use. Most of the retailers knew about the environmental harm caused by plastic bags, and most had taken action to reduce the number they handed out. Nearly all the retailers that were surveyed were keen to help with the problem of one-use plastic bags, but weren’t sure how to handle the fact that customers keep expecting to have their purchases packed in plastic bags.
A few retailers pointed out that biodegradable bags are more expensive, and because they degrade more quickly, they can’t be stored indefinitely. Several retailers were of the opinion that it’s the customer who dictates the store’s approach, and didn’t want to create a negative impression. As they prepared to answer the survey questions, a couple of retailers were shocked to realize just how much money they spend on plastic bags per year.
So, all you customers out there, for the sake of our planet, break that bag habit, and bring your own re-usable containers. Furthermore, because retailers take their cues from their customers, as we found out from our survey, you also need to speak up and speak out! Tell the managers whose stores you patronize that you support initiatives to reduce the consumption of plastic bags. Let’s work together to make our community an earth-friendly one!
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Environmental Issues Committee
May 2, 2013
Field naturalists to launch campaign to reduce local use of plastic bags
Canadians use up to 9 billion plastic bags each year and in view of the impact these bags have on the natural environment, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) have developed a campaign to help reduce their use in our local area. Organized by the MVFN’s Environmental Issues Committee, chaired by Blakeney resident Theresa Peluso, the campaign will be launched in our communities in early May and will include distribution of a fact sheet on the issue, a survey of current users and distributors of plastic bags, a poster contest for schools, and the publication of a concluding report on the campaign.
MVFN has ample reason to be concerned. Plastic bags have a very significant impact on the natural environment when they are disposed of. Did you know that if you tied together every plastic bag we use annually in Canada, the chain would circle the globe fifty-five times? Many bags end up in our watershed, plugging drains and sewers and creating an unsightly mess. Worse still however, they cause great harm to wildlife. Birds get tangled up in them, especially water birds; turtles and other mammals ingest them; whales and dolphins confuse them for jelly fish and gobble them up. Some fish think they are frog eggs and eat them. The result is usually suffocation or acute indigestion leading to death.
Masses of plastic bags are strewn all around the countryside. Not necessarily dumped or discarded by people, a large amount of plastic becomes wind-borne from landfill and construction sites. Canadian plastic bags have been found as far away as Scotland. Flotillas of plastic bags are found in the middle of our oceans and ocean currents slowly carry them to other shores. Plastic bags are made from non-renewable petroleum products. Every piece of plastic ever made in our lifetime, still exists! The bags do not decompose; they photodegrade. The sun’s rays eventually break them down into small toxic pieces, but these contaminate soil and water and get into our food chain when animals ingest them.
The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ campaign will encourage the use of reusable cloth bags. Another important message will be to avoid purchasing goods packaged in plastic. The campaign will also reach out to local businesses to encourage the use of alternatives to plastic bags. As the campaign unfolds, volunteers will be needed to help with this awareness building. If you would like further information or to get involved with this worthwhile initiative, please contact MVFN’s Environmental Issues Chair, Theresa Peluso at
The Great 2010 MVFN Carbon Reduction Challenge!
- brought to you by MVFN’s Environmental Issues committee-
During World War II, gasoline was rationed. Those who drove, used up their gas ration coupons and had no more gas for that time period. Pretend that gasoline is rationed now!
Who? All MVFN members and family and friends who drive vehicles.
What? A pilot project and challenge to test a simple method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2, a greenhouse gas) we put into the air by driving our vehicles.
When? Get ready now, but the challenge runs for the 26 week period: June 1st to Nov. 30th.
Where? Everywhere you drive.
Why? On average, every adult is responsible for contributing about 20 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year. ·Burning fossil fuels is a significant source of our CO2input. ·Burning a litre of gas adds about 2.2 kg of CO2 to our air.
How? Follow the directions below.
How to participate:
1. Choose a typical ten-week period. Calculate the number of litres of gas you use for those ten weeks; e.g. use credit card receipts. Divide the total by 10 to calculate your average use/week.
2. Set yourself a goal to reduce the average number of litres used per week; e.g. 10% or 30%.
3. Make a ration book and record your weekly consumption. Trick: Put the same number of litres in your vehicle each Saturday and try to make that last a whole week.
4. Register your goal with the MVFN Challenge Registrar, Cliff Bennett (contact information below).
Cliff will keep track of the challenge goals and announce the challenge results in early December.
An Example – Cliff Bennett’s personal goal:
Cliff found he was using 30+ litres per week during his ten-week assessment period. He will challenge himself to reduce fuel consumption for his Ford Focus from 30 litres per week to 20 litres per week during the challenge period. That will reduce his CO2 input by 572 kg (260 l X 2.2). If ten MVFN members meet this challenge, the reduction would equal 5,720 kg and, if 100 did it, that would equal 57,200 kg.
Ways to reduce your gasoline consumption:
Drive less. Walk or cycle. Car pool. Keep your vehicle well tuned. Go easy on acceleration.
Buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. Don’t idle. Combine several errands into one trip.
For more information, contact Cliff Bennett, 613-256-5013 or .
Join the challenge, help alleviate climate change, reduce our drain on fossil fuels and save money on gas!
The Town of Mississippi Mills is set to consider a by-law to regulate the unecessary (cosmetic) use of lawn and garden pesticides. The issue is on the agenda at the next Planning & Economic Development Committee Meeting, Thursday, March 6, 2008. This meeting will start at 6 pm in Council Chambers at the Municipal Offices at 3131 Old Perth Road, RR2, Almonte, Ontario. The meeting is open to the public.
The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Board of Directors supports the municipal regulation of lawn and garden pesticides. The BOD recognizes that such by-laws make no attempt to restrict the use of chemicals for agricultural purposes, but rather are intended to reduce the unnecessary or ‘cosmetic’ use of pesticides on lawns and gardens. Health Canada itself, the federal body governing the registration of pesticides, recommends reduction in the use of pesticides on lawns and gardens and the use of alternative products to safeguard the health of humans, in particular children, who are especially sensitive to adverse effects from pesticides. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and other groups also recognize the benefit to the environment from the elimination of the unnecessary use of pesticides.
Pesticides even when used following directions closely can easily have unintended targets such as to beneficial insects and song birds. They may cause damage to biodiversity, reducing wildflowers and weeds which play an essential role in a healthy ecosystem i.e. as a source of nectar for pollinating insects, for monarch butterflies etc. Aquatic organisms may also be damaged when pesticide products in active form reach water courses and ponds.
If you are interested in hearing Town of Mississippi Mills Council discuss the municipal regulation of cosmetic use pesticides we encourage you to attend this meeting. Those in other jurisdictions who may seek support for such by-laws in the future may also be interested in the nature of discussions at this meeting.
As meetings of council are subject to change, please check for any last minute changes on the town’s website at www.mississippimills.ca or by calling the Town of Mississippi Mills at 613-256-2064.
Perspective on Uranium Exploration and Mining in the Mississippi Watershed
-summary report prepared Jan 12, 2008
by Howard Robinson (VP, MVFN)
Concerns about the exploration of Uranium in North Frontenac township range from First Nations land disputes, environmental concerns, clean drinking water, clean air, species at risk, property prices, impact on Tourism and the local exploration work opportunities. The following is written from a Source Water Protection focus and the natural environment.
Frontenac Ventures Corporation (FVC) has claim staked 30,000 acres of both private and crown land for the purpose of Uranium exploration. The company is now in the latter stages of exploration and they plan to take core samples in strategic areas on the property. The claimed property includes various small lakes, wetlands as well as the eastern shore and part of Crotch Lake.
The main stem Mississippi River flows through the staked property. Carleton Place is the first town on the river that takes water from the Mississippi River some 30km downstream (2 day water flow). The Mississippi River then flows through Almonte (Aquifer water supply) to the Ottawa River where Ottawa takes its water supply. There are private wells adjacent to the prospected area but there are no municipal wells in close proximity. The creation of future municipal wells in the area should be considered if exploration continues. The Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority has taken the initiative to conduct a well-water quality sampling program to obtain a general understanding of the ground water conditions in the staked mining exploration area and to obtain a water quality baseline.
First Nations and their supporters are calling for a moratorium on Uranium exploration and mining in Eastern Ontario to protect the natural environment, including public heath with regards to air and water quality should Uranium be extracted or disturbed from the rock. Numerous townships, Counties and organizations have provided letters of support for the moratorium.
FVC was blocked (since June 28th 2007) from entering the property owing to a peaceful blockade by local First Nations groups along with supportive non-natives or settlers. The First Nations has a land claim on most of the property however the Provincial government under the Mining Act has allowed a land use permit to FVC. FVC obtained a Provincial court injunction which was served giving the company access to the property for non-drilling work pending the outcome of mediation talks between the Provincial and Federal Governments, Algonquin First Nations and Frontenac Ventures Corporation. The process is currently scheduled to expire on January 28th 2008 unless extended.
While current exploration activity may not directly affect municipal water systems covered by the Clean Water Act because of dilution over proximity distance, it may have an impact on private wells in the area and general airborne contamination. Other concerns related to source water protection include the safety of tailings ponds from natural causes or human accidents.
According to the Geological Survey of Canada the areas of Uranium significance cover a much larger area in Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. These zones also map into adjacent Source Water Protection regions. If current prospecting results prove feasible, then more exploration could result. Another exploration company ‘RJK’ is also actively exploring in the Mississippi Valley.
From a Clean Water Act perspective, ‘No risk’ is preferred to ‘Low risk’. A possible solution would be to place a moratorium on Uranium exploration, mining and processing within the Source Water Protection (SWP) Regions until the risks are fully understood and mitigated. See the following link for a mapping of current Source Water Protection regions.
As Stewards for the Natural environment and member of the Water Guardians Network in conjunction with the Clean Water Act, MVFN has escalated several major concerns to appropriate agencies as well as writing the Premier and applicable ministries.
• The above concern was first reported as a potential threat to Water Guardians and our Conservation Authority associated with Source Water Protection in June 2007. For Information on the Water Guardians Network see http://www.thewaterhole.ca/home.htm
• Our MVFN representative is active on the newly formed Source Water Committee (SWC) for our Source Water Protection (SWP) region. A member Inquiry was successfully introduced on the above subject at the inaugural meeting Jan 10th 2008 which was unanimously accepted by the committee, thereby making the inquiry official for our local conservation authority. For more information on Source Water Protection in our watershed see http://mrsourcewater.ca/welcome/index.html
• From an environmental perspective, the Algonquin to Adirondack (A2A) Conservation initiative would be impacted if mining is established. Uranium zones shown by the Geological Survey of Canada demonstrate this impact when mapped to the plan. The mapping of this concern is shown as slides in uranium-zones-in-a2a.pdf This concern has been escalated and accepted by the A2A association and that of Ontario Nature through the Western director. For more information on the A2A Conservation Initiative see http://www.a2alink.org/index.html
• MVFN members have privately or through other organizational associations provided input to the Provincial Government Environmental Registry for the review of the current claim staking and mineral exploration process as part of the Mining Act as of September 26th 2007. The government is proceeding through the review process on this topic. For more information see EBR 010-1018 at http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTAxMDIx&statusId=MTUwOTE1&language=en
Other Information Links:
• For information on Frontenac Ventures Corporation see http://www.frontenacventures.com Unfortunately corporate information on their exploration details at on this link appears to have been removed at this time.
• For more information mainly with respect to the science of Uranium see http://ccamu.ca/
• Research Information site for Dr Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
• Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission http://www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/
• Uranium Activity in Ontario per the following ministry poster http://www.mndm.gov.on.ca/mndm/mines/ogs/posters/PDAC_07/PDAC_Uranium_2007.pdf
** A warning for dial-up users. The Poster is a large detailed file greater than 2.5MB.