This post originally published May 5, 2014
Toronto’s annual Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival drew to a close this past weekend. I was fortunate enough to be able to see about 10 movies in the course of the festival, and spent my days and nights pondering everything from youth homelessness to the conservative movement in Japan to the wonderful personal story of the one man who has played the character of Big Bird on Sesame Street for its entire history. Of these wonderful films, however, one film stands out. Director Kris Kaczor’s Divide in Concord (http://divideinconcord.com/) has inspired me to meditate on the themes of civic responsibility, consumer awareness, and how the choices we make impact the health of our bodies, our environment, and our communities.
Divide in Concord follows the work of octogenarian and Concord, Massachusetts resident Jean Hill and her neighbours as they gear up for the third annual town meeting at which they attempt to pass a ban on the sale of water in single-serve plastic water bottles in town. The film allows the groups that are both for and against the ban to make their case to the audience, and sets the debate against Concord’s historical role as the birthplace of the American revolution and the setting for Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. For the townspeople, the debate ranges from the impacts of the ban on the health of Concord’s citizens, to the effects of plastic on the environment, to consumer freedom and American constitutional rights. Spoiler Alert! At the third town meeting at which Jean puts forward the banning by-law, it passes by a landslide. It was encouraging to see the citizens of Concord engaging in local politics and exercising their civic rights, and taking responsibility now for the health and safety of future generations and the planet. The point was made several times that a revolution can start with the actions of one small town.
At one point, the film shows Jean as she attempts to convince a reluctant townsperson to support her initiative. This person makes a statement that she knows that change needs to occur, but that she doesn’t think she needs to be part of it. It is a frustrating moment, especially because something as simple as banning single-serve plastic water bottles from our own lives is an easy yet incredibly significant change we can all make. It is a change that can have a major positive impact on our health, communities, and the environment. Here are my top reasons why we should all make the conscious decision as consumers to ban the plastic single-serve water bottle:
- Canadians recycle… but we don’t recycle enough. Take Ontario for example – in 2010, Ontario citizens produced 697 kilograms of waste; of that, waste, only 207 kilograms were diverted from landfills. This means that only 30% of Ontario’s waste is being recycled. Water bottles that are not recycled are not biodegradeable, and clog our landfills.
- Plastics find their way into the oceans and, because of ocean currents, amass in large ocean garbage patches. For example, in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, scientists have collected up to 750,000 bits of plastic in a single square kilometer (or 1.9 million bits per square mile). Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and consume them; birds consume plastic water bottle caps and get tangled in the plastic rings that hold pop cans in 6-packs. If you don’t believe me, I would encourage you to watch the short video that can be found at www.midwayfilm.com.
- Plastic in our waters bioaccumulates up the food chain and into our bodies, storing itself in our fat deposits. Plastics have been linked with cancer, birth defects and miscarriages, and immune system deficiencies, among other health issues.
- Bottled water is often just municipal water placed by industry into bottles. Then you pay for it. What you could do is fill up your re-useable water bottle with municipal water from taps – it’s usually free.
- Drinking municipal water encourages our municipal, provincial, and federal governments to accept the responsibility of providing clean drinking water for all citizens – not just those who can afford to buy bottled water.
For more information: http://www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts/
Environmental Defence: Glossary – Resources, Bisphenol A. Online at: http://environmentaldefence.ca/issues/resources/glossary. 2014-05-05.
National Geographic: Education, Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Online at: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/?ar_a=1. 2014-05-05.
Statistics Canada, Disposal and diversion of waste, by province and territory. Online at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/envir32b-eng.htm. 2013-11-25.