Captain’s Blog

Whale Watchers Scholarship 2018 Contest – 2nd Place

January 2, 2019

Last week, we posted the submission that finished in whale watcher scholarship 3rd place. It is our great pleasure this week to post our 2nd place submission, a great essay by Takuya Harada, a master student originally from Japan at University of Toronto majoring in Sustainability Management:

In Thailand, a pilot whale, which had swallowed 17 pounds of plastics including 80 shopping bags, died in June

What practical changes can people make to ensure that
Canadian oceans are a safer place for whales?

Contents:
1. Current situation in the ocean
2. Current situation in Canada
3. What people can do as a customer
4. What people can do as an employee
5. Conclusion
6. About the author

1. Current Situation in the ocean
Please imagine that you are in a restaurant and you are very hungry, waiting for your food. Your favorite food, calamari fries, has finally arrived at your table. As you are eating it, you notice it tastes a bit strange, and somehow you find it difficult to breath. Eventually you realize that the calamari fries are in fact made of plastic bags instead of squid. You might think this scenario is implausible and never happens, but this is what is happening out in the ocean right now. The year 2018 has witnessed multiple incidents where man-made plastics take whales’ lives across the world; in Thailand, a pilot whale, which had swallowed 17 pounds of plastics including 80 shopping bags, died in June, while an emaciated sperm whale, whose stomach and intestine contained 64 pounds of plastic, found dead in Spain in April. Ingesting plastic, which whales mistake as food such as squid, clogs up and injures whale’s digestive system, leaving the animal impossible to ingest real food and slowly killing them in malnutrition in the end.
In fact, whales are not the only marine animals consuming plastics. It is reported that many other marine creatures that people routinely eat are also ingesting plastics. There are several gigantic trash islands floating on the world ocean including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is about the size of Province of Quebec (1.6 million square km). One great trait of plastic which enriches human life is its durability. This durability, however, becomes extremely problematic once it slips out of people’s hands and ends up in nature because plastic, which does not biodegrade, becomes a persistent pollutant in the ocean. World Economic Forum says that 150 million tons of plastic trash has already entered the ocean with eight million tons of plastic being added every year, and that if this continues the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh that of fish by 2050. Plastic is literally on its way to your dinner table.

2. Current situation in Canada
In 2018 June, being a host country of G7 meeting, Canada exercised leadership in concluding “Ocean Plastic Charter”. Five out of seven world leaders signed the pledge committing to combating oceanic plastic pollution by making all plastics recyclable, reducing single-use plastics, and promoting the use of recycled plastics. However, Canadian situation in tackling with plastic pollution is not free of flaws, and there are still many things to be done for Canada to continuously be a world leader of this fight. According to Greenpeace Canada, as much as 3.25 million tons of plastic waste is generated in the country every year, and less than 11 percent of plastics are recycled with the rest (nearly 90%) going to an incinerator, landfills, lakes, parks or oceans. Since waste management is at the helm of each province, the country has not been able to establish a national binding target of plastic waste reduction.

3. What people can do as a customer
If you are a provincial policymaker, you can be directly involved in setting an ambitious reduction target of plastic waste and enacting progressive measures that can potentially avert plastic waste from entering the ocean. This, however, does not mean that large majority of Canadian residents, who are not a provincial policymaker, cannot contribute to making the ocean safer place for whales to live in. In order to keep the explanation of the how simple, this paper will focus on what each individual can do at a coffeehouse such as Starbucks and Tim Hortons.
Have you recently complained about or laughed at misspelled name of yours written on a drink cup while enjoying the drink in the coffeehouse? If the answer is “Yes”, there is good news; you can make a positive behavioral change right away. What is odd about this situation is that the drink is served in a disposable container, on which waiter can write your name, instead of reusable cup such as a mug and a glass despite the fact that you are having the drink inside the coffeehouse. You might think that it is acceptable to use a disposable cup as long as you toss it into a recycle bin in the coffeehouse after drinking, but how can you be so sure that the cup will be properly recycled? Besides, high quality recycling which generates decent end-products involves painstaking processes (i.e. separation, transportation, washing, fragmentation, and reformation) and requires substantial amount of energy throughout the process. Additional energy use obviously means additional carbon footprint, which is the culprit of climate change, another serious environmental issue with detrimental effect on marine lives. Therefore, it is encouraged to avoid using single-use cups whenever a reusing option is available. A positive behavioral change that any individual can readily practice for the safer oceanic environment for whales is to simply add the following four words when you place an order. “In a mug(glass) please.” Environmental contribution you can make through avoiding a few disposable cups might be insignificant, This positive change does not stay only within yourself. It has a ripple effect on others surrounding you. A friend of yours that you are having a cup of coffee with will probably notice that you are drinking from a mug whereas the friend is drinking from a disposable cup and start a conversation about it, making him or her think if they should also have their drinks served in a mug next time. You also communicate with an employee at the coffeehouse when you order. Through you order, coffeehouse employees become aware that some customers, if not all, are seeking a more sustainable option (i.e. reusable containers), which may influence their future business strategy.

4. What people can do as an employee
If you are working at a coffeehouse, lucky you. You have immense potential to reduce plastic waste to greater extent. The simplest thing you can do is to always provide customers with options like the following. “For here or go to?” when the answer is “here” then, “mug or plastic cup?”. Mug can be a glass, and plastic cup can be a paper cup depending on the type of container your coffeehouse offers. In this way, customers are given an opportunity to think and decline single-use cups. If you want to take this one step further, instead of merely asking “mug or plastic cup?”, you can say “would you be willing to drink from a mug(glass)?” In this manner, more people are likely to choose a reusable container since saying “Yes” is much easier than saying “No”, psychological tendency known as “Default effect” in behavioral science. Alternatively, you can prepare a request card which read for example “in a mug(glass) please” possibly with a side note explaining how to use this card. The cards can be placed next to cashier for customers to pick up and hand over to an employee when they place an order. This is effective in a sense that this facilitates customers to initiate the plastic trash avoiding action, and it does not matter which employee is receiving this order; among the employees working for the coffeehouse, not everyone is interested in protecting environment or suggesting a reusable container option mentioned above. As reusable option gain popularity, it is important to make sure that reusable container operation is well managed. Negative customer experiences associated with reusable container usage must be avoided. A case where a mug is not properly washed and has coffee stain from previous customer will throw cold water on the popularity of reusable containers.
One setback which keeps coffeehouses from encouraging reusable cups option might be the rick of the cups being stolen, although the risk does not seem very high judging from the fact that few restaurants, which use reusable drink containers and plates, seems troubled with stealing. Introducing a deposit system, in which customers pay a deposit fee added to the price of drinks and receive the pay-back when they return the drink container, can be a solution. This sure will increase the chance for customers to return used mugs, but introduction of this system is tricky because increased initial price would discourage people to opt reusable container and also setting up and maintaining a pay-back system can be a complicated task. With that in mind, changing a design of a mug can be a more pragmatic countermeasure against stealing. One approach is to keep the design as basic and ordinary as possible not to stimulate customers’ desire to possess it. You can perhaps put a logo of your coffeehouse on the bottom of the mug so you will know that the mug belongs to your store if it ever gets stolen and taken out of the store. You can also tackle with stealing with creative design. Do you want to steal a mug which has a warning saying “Please avoid a dishwasher to protect the GPS” embedded in the cup?

5. Conclusion
This paper focused on the practical change individual can readily make at coffeehouse. The same approach discussed above, however, can be applied to other places as well with appropriate modification (e.g. grocery shops which gives out myriad of plastic shopping bags). Environmental contribution you can make by avoiding merely a few disposable cups might be insignificant. But practicing this behavioral change (i.e. choosing a reusable cup) will surely make you aware of tangible changes you can make and prompt you to seek other positive and sustainable changes you can practice elsewhere, which might have more impact. You do not need to sit and wait for the government to set appropriate regulations to contain plastic pollution. There are simple things you can do from today to make the ocean a safer place for whales.

6. About the author
I am Takuya Harada, a master student originally from Japan at University of Toronto majoring in Sustainability Management, who trying to figure out how to comfortably drink café latte when the drink is served in layered style (i.e. milk layer and espresso layer are artistically separated) without having to use a straw.

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