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This swan building her nest from plastic is the reminder we all need to do better with waste

A photo taken by a Mississauga woman of an elegant swan on the Credit River making her nest out of bits of plastic, a flip-flop sandal and a scrap of bubble-wrap is getting a lot of online reaction.

'It just broke my heart to see this mother deciding that this was where she was going to start her family'

This swan, building her nest out of plastic bits and a flipflop, made Mississauga resident Anne Bergman stop dead in her tracks. (Jérémie Bergeron/CBC)

Along the picturesque shore of the Credit River, an elegant swan makes her nest, pulling together bits of plastic, a flip-flop sandal and a scrap of bubble-wrap to bring her young into the world.

It's an image Mississauga resident Anne Bergman says stopped her dead in her tracks.

Bergman was walking toward the end of the pier last Wednesday, noticing the trash discarded along the bank, when she was struck by the sight.

"I suddenly saw this swan sitting on her nest ... And it just broke my heart to see this mother deciding that this was where she was going to start her family in this pile of garbage," Bergman told CBC News.

Seeing the coffee cups, plastic bottles and Styrofoam strewn about the swan, Bergman decided to post a photo of the sight to Facebook, where she says it started generating quite a reaction.

Photo comes amid news of plastics ban

"There were a lot of comments about the irony of the beauty ... and the heartbreak of starting life this way," she said. 

For Bergman, it's a sight that underscores the necessity for the recently-announced ban on single-use plastics, which Canada aims to implement by 2021.

News of the ban came Monday, though the federal government hasn't yet set in stone exactly what items would be covered by the ban. CBC News previously reported the list could include items like cotton swabs, drink stirrers, fast-food containers and cups made of polystyrene, according to a government source. 

That's good news to Nathalie Karvonen, executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, who routinely sees animals in dangerous condition because of plastic waste.

Perhaps the worst items, she says, are plastic cup lids — because they're about the perfect size for skunks and other animals to get their heads and necks stuck in them.

And while images of the animals neck deep in the bottom of a McFlurry cup might seem amusing at first blush, they're a sign of a deadly problem.

'We're messy as a species'

"The skin swells up because it's very tightly on there... and then it starts to cut into the skin almost like a knife, really," Karvonen said.

The animals often have to be operated on, itself a tricky procedure because if done incorrectly, she says, the scar tissue can end up creating a noose-like effect around the animals' necks.

Plastic jars, fishing line and kite strings are other big culprits. And while city-dwellers, especially in Toronto, are keen to give raccoons a bad rap, she says, it's humans who pollute without giving their waste a second thought.

"We're messy as a species," she said. "We don't really take responsibility for our garbage and it isn't fair that wild animals get impacted by that ... Raccoons aren't tossing cigarette butts out the window all day long."

An animal getting treatment at the Toronto Wildlife Centre. (CBC)

Much of the pollution that enters Ontario's waterways is from domestic-use disposables, such as straws, lids and plastic cutlery, according to Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.

"From all sources, a whopping 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters our Great Lakes every year," its website states.

And the problem with plastic is that it never fully biodegrades, breaking down only into smaller pieces called microplastics that pose their own risks to the environment.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says Canadians throw away more than 34 million plastic bags every day that often wind up in landfills, and it can take as long as 1,000 years for them to decay.

Plastic items are seen along the shore of the Credit River. (CBC)

'Stop buying plastic'

"We don't really spend time thinking about, 'Where does it go?'" said Karvonen.

Still, Bergman, says she's heartened by the fact that people are responding to the image she shared online, and hopes to organize a cleanup in the area in the coming days.

And while a ban on single-use plastic items won't take effect for two more years, she says there's plenty of action individuals can take in the meantime.

"There's a lot we can do. We can stop buying plastic on purpose."

As for the swan along the river, working away to build a nest out of trash, Bergman says it's a reminder that that "the normal is not natural."

"There's resilience," she said. "There's life ... But to have to raise your kids in trash, it just breaks my heart."

Images of this swan on the Credit River making her nest out of bits of plastic, a flip-flop sandal and a scrap of bubble-wrap is getting a lot of online reaction. (Jérémie Bergeron/CBC)

With files from Ali Chiasson

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