top of page

By Caitlin Ciceri

The first synthetic plastic was called ‘Bakelite’ and it was produced all the way back in 1907. The rise of the global plastics industry did not take place, however, until the early 1950’s and was enforced as an ‘environmentally friendly’ alternative to paper use. Over the next 65 years, the annual production of plastics increased 200-fold, with over 381 million tonnes produced in 2015 (Ritchie, 2018). Today, plastic production has infiltrated almost every part of our everyday lives. We see it wrapped around food in grocery stores, embedded in our shoes, stitched into our clothes and now; plastic is ending up inside of us.

What’s the damage?

One of the biggest problems with the mass production of plastic, is that they are not biodegradable. Instead, plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming plastic particles called, ‘micro-plastics.’ These tiny, sometimes microscopic plastic pieces are then eaten by animals who occupy the lower levels of the food chain. Some of the animals most affected by plastic consumption are small fish, plankton, crustaceans and mollusks. As these animals remain a primary food source for many species, including humans, the “plastics ingested by (these) invertebrates then have the potential to transfer toxic substances up the food chain” (Nichols, 2015). Namely, these micro plastics move from smaller fish, to bigger fish, to whales, to birds and eventually, end up on our dinner plates. When these micro plastics are taken up into the body, if they are small enough, they can be absorbed from the gut into other body tissues, creating an array of wounds and health problems both internal and external.

This is terrifying to learn as someone who sees massive amounts of plastics in their every-day life. Even more worrisome, is the rate at which the average person ingests plastics without even realizing. A recent study published by the World Wildlife Fund indicates that the average person could ingest “a credit card’s worth of micro plastics every week” (WWF, 2019). This study, along with many others, was published over 2 years ago. Governments and production companies have known that plastics are not biodegradable for years, decades even. They have known that micro plastics are everywhere, threatening our wildlife and ending up in our water, our sea salt, our food; yet, they continue to produce plastics at ever increasing rates.

Who is responsible?

I have heard many times that the single biggest way a person can reduce their plastic waste is by simply refusing to buy single use plastics. But it’s not always that simple. I have walked into my grocery store many times to buy fruits and vegetables, armed with my reusable grocery bag, only to find that most organic foods with a natural protective outer layer are also, unnecessarily, encased in plastic. Picture an orange, for example, with a natural protective peel, wrapped in single use plastic. Are we consumers simply supposed to stop eating oranges? Will this even make a difference? Systemic changes are needed at the production level, not the waste disposal level. The easiest way to remove plastic pollution is to simply, stop making plastic. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support anyone who wants to reduce their plastic waste by doing the “little things." I myself try to carry around reusable water bottles, reduce my plastic bag consumption through reusable bags and grow my own vegetables to avoid the plastic casing on some of my favorite veggies. But as much as these actions can help on a small scale, the real problem lies with the companies and massive transnational corporations who have created millions of tonnes of plastic waste each year and successfully shifted the responsibility for disposing of these products off themselves and onto consumers. Not only is this unethical but it’s also impractical. Too examine this emphasis on ‘consumer responsibility,’ let’s look at what many companies and governments claim to be the ‘perfect solution,’ recycling.

The recycling of plastics has often been portrayed by corporations and governments as the 'perfect solution' to the plastic waste crisis. They have put massive amounts of money and effort into targeted advertisements, preaching to consumers that if they only did ‘their part,’ the world could be plastic free and companies could continue to maximize profits. In reality, only 8.7 percent of plastics manufactured can actually be recycled. This is due to a variety of reasons, including plastics contamination, the mixing of different plastic resins and a lack of economic incentive for companies to actually recycle their waste. Despite the other 91 percent of plastic waste ending up somewhere in our environment, companies have continued to push ‘recycling’ programs, lobbying governments to stick recycling symbols onto every waste container despite the fact that companies are essentially setting up consumers to fail in their quest in disposing of plastics ethically and safely.

Solutions: Redesign and Government Policy.

There are, however, some solutions to our plastic waste crisis. There are different ways of approaching a complex problem like this one, that holds economic incentives in opposition to community health. The first is that governments and policy makers must set targets and standards for companies and transnational corporations in their use and production of plastic. Prime minister Justin Trudeau attempted to limit single use plastic in 2019. He promised a ‘ban’ on all single use plastic by 2021. This announcement had the potential to serve community health and environmental wellbeing, however, it is now 2021 and single use plastic remains in Canadian stores, restaurants and well, just about everywhere.

A promising example of global government action lies in the United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ created at the U.N. summit meeting in September of 2015. The 17 goals were developed to address the most pressing global threats and provide a vision for achieving a just and sustainable future. Despite plastic pollution being a “severe threat to natural ecosystems and human health”, only 1 goal out of 17 attempts to address and reduce plastic pollution (Walker, 2021). The attempt is listed under goal 14, which focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans, seas and marine resources. The goal articulates that “by 2025, (we must) prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution” (Walker, 2021). This is measured using an index of coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris. Other than this, there is “no specific mention of targets aimed at reducing micro plastics or indicators to measure their reduction,” despite the fact that plastic pollution effects and impedes 12 of the other 17 SDG goals. Additionally, the UN has yet to illustrate a concrete way forward that indicates how companies and manufacturers are to be regulated for their plastic consumption, distribution and mass production.

In order for this crisis to be solved, governments must be specific about limiting or eliminating plastic use and production within their jurisdictions to force companies to look for environmentally friendly and biodegradable alternatives. This brings me to my second solution to the plastics crisis, redesign. All plastic materials are derived from fossil fuels, specifically “petrochemical feedstock naptha and other oil derived from crude oil” (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2021). This is what makes plastics so deadly to humans and the natural world. Therefore, “the development of (plastics) derived from renewable and natural resources” must be encouraged, funded and implemented actively into supply chains. These are known as 'bioplastics.' There are already some bioplastic alternatives that have immense potential to replace fossil fuel plastics, they simply have to be funded and implemented.

There are many re-design alternatives for companies looking to replace specific single use plastic waste. One example is this decliciously edible, cookie-coffee cup pictured above. However, bioplastic alteratives are the most promising option to replace fossil fuel plastics at the global level. One of the most promising bioplastic alternatives has been created from olive pits, which are particularly abundant in countries that produce large quantities of olive oil. “A Turkish startup called BioLive began creating a range of bioplastic granules, created from olive seeds, that result in bio based, partially biodegradable products that decompose in a year” (Welle, 2020). One of the key ingredients found in this alternative is a powerful antioxidant that both extends the life of the bioplastic, while hastening the composting of the material into fertilizer within the span of one year. Additionally, by utilizing the biproduct of olive oil, production costs are reduced by 90 percent in relation to other alternatives (Wells, 2020). A second redesign with potential, was created by a German startup that utilized sunflower seeds to create a biodegradable replacement for plastic that is already being molded into anything from office furniture to recyclable transport (Wells, 2020). Another is unusual but if implemented in the correct way, could dethrone fossil fuel plastics. “A UK initiative called MarinaTex, (has) begun using fish scales and red algae to make a compoundable plastic alternative” (Wells, 2020). The creator, Lucy Hughes, who invented the bioplastic in her final year of graduate school, claims the polymer creates a stronger packaging than the conventional plastic bag, successfully counteracting the narrative that bioplastic alternatives lack strength and durability.

Lucy Hughes holding up her bioplastic alternative!


A solution to this crisis is within our grasp. At our best, people are inventive, creative and ingenious beings who collectively have the power to change the course of environmental distress and the horrors of plastic pollution. I see hope written into the brilliance of these startup companies and their biodegradable plastic alternatives. These redesign options must be implemented, they must be encouraged, they must be funded and companies who have continued to make billions of dollars off of a substance that has become a threat to our natural environment and to humanity itself, must be regulated and held accountable. Without the complete discontinuation of single use, fossil fuel-based plastics, our world cannot hope to see a future free of its pollution.


C. Wabnitz. W. Nichols. (2010). Plastic Pollution: An Ocean Emergency. ResearchGate.

R. Walker. (2021). (Micro)plastics and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Current Opinion and Green and Sustainable Chemistry. Vol 30.

H. Ritchie. M. Roser. (2018). Plastic Pollution. Our World in Data.

B. Watson. (2017). The Troubling Evolution of Corporate Greenwashing. Chain Reaction #129.

D. Welle. (2020). 5 Sustainable Alternatives to Plastics. EcoWatch.

WWF. (2019). Could you be eating a credit card a week?

J. Oliver. (2021). Plastics: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. LastWeekTonight.

eia. (2021). How much oil is used to make plastic? U.S. Energy Information Administration.

5 views0 comments

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)! Social Root Consulting is a women owned and run consulting agency and we are dedicated in operating from a feminist intersectional lens. We are grateful to be able to collaborate with so many amazing women and allies in the communities that we work in. This year, we are following up with last year’s IWD panelists Josie Osborne, Teresa Ryder, Michele Mateus, and Manpreet Dhillon to hear their reflections on 2020 and their thoughts about this year’s IWD theme Choose to Challenge.

To check out last year's panel discussion, click here.

Josie Osborne

Josie was elected as the Member of the Legislative Assembly in 2020 and is currently the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

1) What has been your proudest moment/accomplishment in 2020?

In 2020, I made the decision to run for provincial office, and was elected Member of the Legislative Assembly in my riding of Mid Island-Pacific Rim on October 24. A month later, I was thrilled to be appointed by the Premier as Minister of Municipal Affairs. It is an incredible privilege to serve as MLA, and having the trust and confidence invested in me to further serve as a cabinet Minister is a responsibility I am honoured to step up to.

2) What has been the most challenging moment for you in 2020?

There’s no doubt that leading a community as mayor during a pandemic has been one of the challenging experiences of my life – let alone just in 2020. March 13 was the day I woke up with a sinking yet somehow relieving feeling of acceptance of what we all hoped to avoid – that the Covid-19 pandemic was truly here and was going to fundamentally change our lives. With that acceptance came the pivot to what responsible leadership required. On March 18, I met with a group of community and business leaders and uttered the words, “We need to ask visitors to stay home, and not come to Tofino.” It was almost inconceivable for a town so reliant on tourism to ask visitors to postpone their trips, yet we knew in our heart of hearts it was the best action to take to protect the health of our community members. Those were very hard days.

3) This year's International Women's Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. Given this year's theme, what message would you like to share with people who are advocating for women's equality?

Growing up, I didn't see politics in my future - in fact, I chose a career as a biologist. But other people urged me to consider running for elected office, because they saw skills and abilities that I didn't necessarily see in myself. Even the decision to move from local government to provincial office came from others encouraging me and telling me I was ready and completely capable. #ChooseToChallenge is not just about women challenging themselves - but for all of us, regardless of gender, to support, encourage and urge women in our lives to challenge themselves, then to support them as they do it. And in the world of politics, #ChooseToChallenge is not just about challenging the status quo - but also challenging women to get engaged in all aspects of political decision-making so we can do something about the status quo. Achieving gender equity in political institutions is how we will change the system itself, eliminating the systemic and structural biases that currently exist.

Teresa Ryder

Teresa is of Musqueam descent, born in the Lower Mainland and raised on Vancouver Island. She is currently the Director of Business at the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada(ITAC).

1) What has been your proudest moment/accomplishment in 2020?

Professionally, this was without a doubt one of the most challenging years but with challenge comes opportunity! My team delivered a $16M relief program to support Indigenous tourism operators in maintaining or adapting their tourism experiences through the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was relief for 680 businesses - 33% of them owned by Indigenous women - to help them manage through a truly trying time in the industry. At the end of the intake, I didn't know if I wanted to laugh or cry, but being in the trenches with the rest of my team to deliver was one of the biggest accomplishments of my career.

Personally, this past year has been a year of great change for me. A normal year would mean an insane travel schedule, touching down in various cities (sometimes even my home to give my fiance and my dog a kiss) before jetting on to the next city. This year has allowed me to focus on my overall health - adding yoga, eating better and having a better balance (most of the time) has been a great accomplishment for me.

2) What has been the most challenging moment for you in 2020?

I don't think that I could sum this up to a particular moment - but for me, I realized how challenging it is not to have in-person connecting to the people and community I care about. I am usually a super busy person, out there connecting, hugging and laughing amongst friends and colleagues. This year has really made me aware of how much in-person interaction is what I need to be successful. I am a huge family person, and not being able to see those closest to me has hurt - however we have found ways to share laughs as a family through FaceTime, virtual cook-offs and games nights to connect. My dog, Harlow, probably disagrees that I need to be more social (we are now fully co-dependent) and the next challenge will be weaning her off my side when we go back to "normal."

3) This year's International Women's Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. Given this year's theme, what message would you like to share with people who are advocating for women's equality?

As an Indigenous woman, I feel this theme is so relevant to the conversations happening globally through movements, social media and commitment to a better future. Choose to challenge invites us to open our eyes and make sure that the tables we sit at, the teams we work with and the organizations to make sure we are finding ways to balance the decision making through many lenses. For me, advocacy and awareness of this imbalance is so important for all to understand. This year, I was able to take in a presentation that focused on women in the workplace during COVID-19 and I was struck by the statistic that women are overwhelmingly outpacing men in leaving jobs during the pandemic to support the needs of their households (including children and elders). I hope that we don't lose footing in the fight for gender equality as a result of COVID-19 and that strategies for recognizing gender imbalance become a part of organizational practice as we normalize post COVID.

Michele Mateus

Photo credit: Vivian Klein

Michele is an award winning professional photographer, whose work is centred around human connection.

1) What has been your proudest moment/accomplishment in 2020?

Launching a new brand to my business focused on Intimate & Empowering portraits for women! While building a sub brand to my main business was a dream, and it did come true, doing it during a pandemic for sure created hurdles but I am pleased to say the hurdles did not stop me!

2) What has been the most challenging moment for you in 2020?

Moment, I would say MOMENTS plural! Trying to run a business, home school, keep my home together and have me time which is something I REALLY need. We all need time to renergize, regroup, and sometimes even rethink. For me this time alone is necessary. While that might seem ironic as we are all tired of time alone, the difference is that with the collective anxiety and well people home all the time it is hard to carve out the mental time alone to truly shut things out and just be. For me that was challenging.

3) This year's International Women's Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. Given this year's theme, what message would you like to share with people who are advocating for women's equality?

I would say that we need to advocate more that women should feel safe to express themselves how they want to. There is so much shaming that happens to women, from their body shapes and sizes to the clothes they choose to wear to their body hair! There is endless criticism of women and I would love us to stop and celebrate each and every woman.

Manpreet Dhillon

Manpreet is the Founder the CEO of VEZA Strategy. Her work centres around creating spaces for equal opportunities for women of culturally diverse backgrounds.

1) What has been your proudest moment/accomplishment in 2020?

My proudest moment in 2020 was being named #15 worldwide on the EmPower Future Minority Leaders. It was a surprise to be named so high out of 100. What made this recognition more valuable was that I had stood up for something I believed in and was recognized for speaking my truth.

2) What has been the most challenging moment for you in 2020?

The challenging moment the abundance of time to self which meant deep reflection as to what is important to me. I was privileged with having a growing business and the capacity to help others through the change whereas I almost felt guilty that I actually welcomed this year as I needed to heal from minor brain injury. I was given the space and time to do exactly that.

3) This year's International Women's Day theme is Choose to Challenge. Given this year's theme, what message would you like to share with women and men who are advocating for women's equality?

We hear it all the time however the best thing each of us can do is champion each other by supporting women to new positions and putting their name forward to new opportunities.

55 views0 comments

Updated: May 19, 2020

I am going to go out on a limb and say that anyone living in the Alberni Valley considers themselves lucky, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. The community has demonstrated its heartfelt appreciation for those who are considered essential workers, we have come together as a community to support those in need or who are facing significant impacts, and lastly I think we all recognize the ample space available to us by just living in a smaller community. However, COVID-19 has dismantled our economy, and impacted several anchoring and growing economic sectors in the community. One sector that we have seen impacts by COVID-19 is the tourism industry, this industry and its stakeholders will now need to face the decision of how to build a strategic path towards tourism regeneration.

Like many, I feel that a positive impact of the unexpected reduction in visitation caused by COVID-19 is the opportunity to change the mindset focussed around growth, and shift towards more responsible, more meaningful, more innovative and less damaging tourism in the Alberni Valley. Traditionally, the tourism industry operates within a growth economic model, and we measure success by visitation numbers and revenues attached to each person. This has led to obvious impacts within the industry and we can see the many negative social and environmental impacts around Vancouver Island. Growth in visitor numbers should not be perceived or defined as success, especially in emerging destinations where local communities and small businesses are often not the ones who benefit.

This is our chance to shift our ‘ways of doing normal’, and consider and embrace how to create change in our tourism systems! The rise, momentum, and recognition for solutions in sustainable travel and tourism over the last decade has created a needed movement, and a timely opportunity. Although there are many ways to approach and understand sustainability, I urge our decision makers to acknowledge this paradigm shift. Without getting too outside the scope of this article, I would simply put that at the very least it is vital to protect and support the health of our residents, community, culture, and environment (the makeup of a destination). Weaving strategic plans around sustainable initiatives post-COVID is how we become resilient. This is the path to our new normal.

Based on the wide range of current online discussions, analyses, reports, surveys, thought-pieces as well as case studies from various destinations on the responses to COVID-19 from the tourism industry, I have listed several opportunities that are particularly relevant for a sustainable tourism industry in Port Alberni.

Responsible Tourism Products

The new normal will be one where visitors and customers seek experiences and products that are ethically sourced, environmentally conscious, and contribute to a greener economy. These travellers are also going to be more careful in choosing destinations that meet safety and health standards as well.

This is an opportunity for Port Alberni, as visitors will likely be looking at places that are more secluded in order to avoid the crowded places. Additionally, visitors will be more aware of their travel behaviours and will likely be choosing longer amounts of time in one destination. For Port Alberni this could translate to products and experiences that focus on cultural tourism, nature-based tourism, and agri-tourism.

Activating & Connecting with our Destination Management Organizations

We can see the work that our DMOs are doing in real-time, look at the regional program that Tourism Vancouver Island has recently launched, Destination Think! DMO group, as well as the local program called Pa Together for Tourism. These programs are primarily supporting the local industry through open communication, providing tools, resources, and information to help businesses weather the crisis. But, there is more than could be done! This is an opportunity for the DMOs in Port Alberni to step up their efforts in order to support and elevate to recovery of our industry. Like Diane Dredge from the Tourism EcoLab has said “the real vision and tourism leadership is going to come from destinations that offer something more, deliver purpose driven tourism, transformational visitor experiences and benefits to all stakeholders”. Now is the time to focus on building a resilient and thriving community with the appropriate systems and infrastructure rather than just promoting the idea of a community.

I can imagine that this suggestion may stir the pot - I am fully aware of the limited resources and other challenges that the DMOs face. But this article is about the opportunities to regenerate tourism, so why not respectfully share our truths?

Appealing to a Local Market

The need for the Port Alberni City and DMOs to shift their attention on developing domestic tourism is an opportunity to encourage Port Albernians to stay within their communities and support the local tourism businesses, and to get to know their beautiful area.

I have lived in Port for 5 years now and I have met many residents who do not generally explore the area. This pandemic is a perfect chance to discover, or rediscover, the Alberni Valley and build a deeper connection with the surrounding area. The recent McKinsey report on the consumer behaviour changes post COVID-19 further supports this push towards local markets. The report highlights the hesitations that visitors have towards returning to international travel, not to mention nervousness in even interprovincial travel.

Maintaining Trust and Relationships

Now is the time to listen and communicate better with the local industry stakeholders and the community members. This will build much-needed trust that will benefit the community when tourists return. This is particularly important, because lack of cooperation and communication between private and public sector on planning and implementation of tourism in the regions as well as lack of trust are one of the key challenges in tourism development. I think Jeremy Sampson from the Travel Foundation says it best “Communities belong at the center of tourism. Now, we can make a choice to put them at the heart of recovery planning”. This brings me to an opportunity that is also an urgent necessity to local tourism recovery efforts: the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.

From a local and global perspective, we all understand that tourism is resilient but “this crisis is like no other and requires strong and coordinated action” (UNWTO, 2020). Any plan for recovery and for building a more resilient, more sustainable tourism industry in Port Alberni will require a coordinated approach and cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders: government, business, academics, SMEs, associations. It is imperative to resist the temptation to ‘return to normal’ because the ‘normal’ was damaging for this community and for the natural environment.

To quote the authors of the ‘Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19’ article recently published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism “With the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need not to return to business-as-usual when the crisis over”. I echo that statement and hope that this article has provided some insight to the realities of our local economy, community, and general state of environment. COVID-19- as awful, damaging and scary as it has been – can be seen as an opportunity to redefine tourism in the Alberni Valley.

129 views0 comments
bottom of page