Approximately eight million pieces of plastic pollution are deposited into our oceans daily, according to Surfers Against Sewage, and around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastics – weighing up to 269,000 tonnes – currently float in the open waters. Whatever your belief on climate change, it is clear human habits are impacting the planet.
Recently, major consumer companies Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever Plc and The Body Shop have begun rolling out more products in a refillable form. However, this is not the first time this has been attempted. The Body Shop offered refills in the early 1990s, but discontinued them in 2003, citing a lack of consumer demand. SC Johnson & Son Inc., marketer of Windex and Pledge, told CBC, in the decade the company has offered refills and concentrates, unit sales have fallen flat in American and European markets.
It seems refill products just don't draw in the sales like single-use options. But how could that be if, according to Unilever, refills generally cost 20 to 30 per cent less per item compared to their single-use counterparts? Experts suggest this has much to do with our throw-away culture and the need for consumer convenience that has been ingrained in our social collective for decades.
Case in point, single-use plastic beverage bottles. A 2017 report from The Guardian found more than a million plastic bottles are purchased around the world per minute. Annual consumption of plastic bottles, the report stated, is set to top half a trillion by 2021, far outstripping recycling efforts. In October, Break Free From Plastic named Coca-Cola the world's top plastic polluter.
Less than 10 per cent of plastic used in Canada is recycled, according to the Office of the Prime Minister. This has resulted in the government's move to ban harmful single-use plastics by as early as 2021.
That sounds great, but this set-in-our-ways mentality is hard to shake.
Bart Elmore, author of Citizen Coke, suggests a financial incentive may be the key. He told the CBC, in previous decades, the deposit on a five-cent bottle of pop was as much as two cents, making returning the plastic highly desirable. Elmore also calculated the markup of a $1.49 bottle of water is 1,935 times more than a glass of tap water.
But, as with the savings in refillable products, financial incentives might not be enough. Education and strong marketing are also imperative, as consumers are swayed by both trends and savings.
While recycling may be "inconvenient" and bringing along a reusable bottle is "tiresome," we can't keep going the way we have been. We must make small changes as individuals and pressure ourselves, the companies we patronize and our governments to do more. Our planet demands it.