Canadian youth shine in Stockholm
- September 10, 2010 12:17 PM |
- By Quirks
By Bob McDonald, host of the CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks.
The award was for their research into the use of microbes and enzymes to break down polystyrene plastic into carbon dioxide, making it less hazardous in the environment.
While I applaud the innovation of these young scientists, their approach to the plastic problem is at the wrong end of the pipe. The real issue is how much plastic is ending up in the environment in the first place.
There's a strange irony to the fact that a lot of the plastic pollution in our waterways comes from plastic water bottles. About 200 billion of them are used every year worldwide, and less than a quarter of them are recycled. Plastic floats, so it can cover great distances, and eventually sunlight breaks it into smaller particles that can be ingested by sea creatures.
This very clever mockumentary shows the life cycle of the ubiquitous plastic bag.
Some cities, such as Toronto, are taking measures to reduce the input of plastic to the environment by banning the sale of bottled water in municipally run facilities, and by charging for plastic bags in grocery stores. It's a start.
Usually, we think of water pollution as contamination from harmful chemicals or bacteria, but plastic pollution is just as serious.
World Water Week is hosted every year by the Stockholm Water Institute to bring attention to what is probably the most pressing issue of the 21st century: water quality and supply. It's unfortunate that the event comes and goes every year without garnering much attention. But as the population grows, cities expand, glaciers disappear and climate warms, the fact is that fresh, drinkable water will only become harder to find. The least we can do is stop throwing our garbage into the water we have left.
(P.S. There's lots of discussion of water issues on our first show of the season this Saturday - with a feature documentary on the effects of the Gulf oil spill, and a Canadian report on the massive decline of phytoplankton worldwide. Check out our web page.)
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