When Starbucks recently found itself at the centre of a viral video-fuelled campaign to curb the use of its signature green straws, it didn’t take long for the coffee giant to announce plans to phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020. The move garnered plenty of coverage, with many applauding the company’s attempt to lessen its environmental impact (though some skepticism remains as to whether the move is really that significant when it comes to reducing waste).
Of course, the broader issue of reducing waste and being more environmentally-friendly is one that has been in the public eye for many years now. From concerns about aerosol sprays and the degrading ozone layer to use of non-biodegradable Styrofoam packaging in the 1980s and 1990s, to more recent anxieties about climate change, soaring electronic waste, and country-sized islands of garbage in the Pacific Ocean, the debate over how much we can all do to keep our planet healthy and habitable has been going on for decades.
With the rise of social media, sharing stories has become much easier. Hashtags and viral videos such as the heartbreaking footage of a plastic straw being removed from the nose of a sea turtle that sparked the recent Starbucks debate put these issues right into our feeds – and our awareness. And as much as progress has been made with recycling programs now being commonplace and electric cars growing in popularity and accessibility, issues remain. As recently as five years ago, a study found that Canadians produced more garbage per capita than any other country on the planet.
It’s certainly easy for the average person to become discouraged when trying to determine what they can do to help. As much as it helps people connect, social media has also given rise to an atmosphere in which almost every issue becomes a polarizing either/or debate. It’s easy to feel like if you’re not radically changing your life and consumption habits to completely remove your carbon footprint, you may as well be dumping your garbage directly into the nearest lake. Many of us are so busy just living our lives that it can be hard to find the time to be part of the solution.
PickWaste aims to make being a part of the solution achievable. A non-profit started by two 18-year-old students from the Toronto suburb of Pickering, PickWaste makes it easy for people to do their part, committing to picking up trash for one hour each week. The PickWaste team focuses on three primary tasks: volunteer cleanups, speaking engagements and presentations, and special events built around corporate social responsibility with the aim to “educate, inspire and provide people with tangible actions that they can implement in their personal lives to make a real, lasting change.”
The company recently held an Awareness Day on August 18, where co-founders Sam Demma and Dillon Mendes, along with the rest of the PickWaste team, showcased some of the work they’d done, including showing off a “garbage tower” to make the impact of the wastefulness of modern consumer habits more tangible. (For information on how to participate in a PickWaste event, click here.)
The ‘garbage tower’ on display at PickWaste’s Awareness Day.
The kind of work being done by PickWaste is important, particularly when it comes to raising awareness in individuals and corporations. While environmental issues are more widely discussed and understood than ever, there is still resistance; the Ontario government recently ended a rebate program intended to incentivize the purchase of electric cars (and electric car manufacturer Tesla is suing over the decision), and the mere concept of climate change remains a hotly-debated issue in the US and elsewhere.
PickWaste co-founders Same Demma (l.) and Dillon Mendes (r.) speak at Awareness Day.
The PickWaste Awareness Day event in Pickering, Ont.
Regardless, all of us can do our part to reduce pollution, particularly our reliance on plastics, from using a stainless-steel water bottle at the office, to carrying your groceries around in a cloth bag, to bringing your own reusable straws with you to places like Starbucks. Every little bit helps. Whether you volunteer to clean up their neighbourhood, support environmentally-friendly businesses, or simply make an effort to cut back on your own waste, people need to feel like they can make a difference and help the environment – even if it’s just an hour a week.
Justin Anderson | Senior Writer