At the footsteps of Toronto’s CN Tower is Canada’s own Ripley’s Aquarium. What makes this exciting and worthwhile is to investigate what Ripley is doing to eliminate all plastics from their environment.
At the entrance of the Aquarium, hanging above the water fountain, is a poster display that states:
- 50% of plastic bottles sold in Ontario are NOT recycled. Instead, they end up in landfills or in the environment
- Plastic bottles DON’T DECOMPOSE, they PHOTODEGRADE and break down into smaller toxic pieces that move up the food chain if they are eaten by fish and wildlife
- There are more than Six Million bits of plastic per square km in our Great Lakes. That’s similar to the Great Pacific garbage patch! ~ Environmental Defence
How and why is the elimination of all plastics possible?
To find out I interviewed, Education and Conservation Manager, Katie Mc Mahon. As we walked into her office I observed that she had a stainless steel water bottle on her desk. Our interview began with the discussion of the non-use of plastic straws and lids within the Ripley’s Aquarium Canada (RAC).
KM: “We have never had straws since the inception of RAC, 5 ½ years ago. This was an investment in the health and safety of the animals within the aquarium, and in turn outside the aquarium. We have many open exhibits, and although it is rare that litter makes it into our exhibits, though on the odd chance that it does, it is a high risk that one of our animals will mistake it for food. A straw in particular is dangerous, as it can make them sick from the toxins in the plastic itself. Sea turtles’ main food source are jellyfish, so they often mistaken plastic debris for food.” KM: “Secondly, the plastic that they are ingesting gradually fills up their stomachs, as they cannot digest the plastic which takes up valuable room in their system that they would normally use for food, so they eventually starve to death.”
“On the external perspective, straws are the most prevalent litter items that are found around the city. They are a short time usage item, they are light and small, therefore frequently escape from landfills and garbage receptacles. They are too small to be recycled, and much of it ends up on our beaches and waterways which is a risk to animals.”
“With lids, it is the same outcome as straws. It is a convenience and ingrained in us to use them, although not needed for cold beverages. We have them for hot beverages for safety concerns.”
Since only 50 % of plastic bottles are recycled, the other 50% are ending up in land fills, on the side of the road and in the environment in general. This wasted 50% are either not getting into the recycling stream in the first place, or for some reason, cannot be recycled in the recycling facility.
KM: “At the RAC, boxed water is sold as well as other beverage bottles for those people who wish to take it with them.”s
As I toured through the facility and came across the cafeteria, I noticed people drinking from paper cups with no lids nor straws. According to Environmental Defence Canada 12,000 plastic beverage bottles are discarded every 4 minutes in Ontario.
“ WE HAVE NEVER HAD STRAWS SINCE THE INCEPTION OF RIPLEY’S AQUARIUM CANADA”
“In partnership with Environmental Defence, some members came to RAC on Earth Day Weekend in 2018 as part of their ‘Cash it Don’t Trash it!’ program which is similar to returning beer and wine empties to The Beer Store in exchange for money, so they have a big advocacy campaign for plastic bottles. They collected over 12,000 bottles over a span of 3 days. Toronto Installation artist Rebecca Jane Houston collaborated with Environmental Defence in creating the sculpture for Pride Toronto 2018.
She reconstructed the sculpture for RAC surrounding a canoe to show the magnitude of plastic bottle use, naming it Over Our Heads.”
This is displayed at the end of the tour and the visual impact is startling. The mega large cluster of the plastic bottles surrounds a canoe, which is dwarfed in comparison.
“ PEOPLE NEED TO SEE WHAT 12,000 BOTTLES LOOKS LIKE ”
“People need to see what 12,000 bottles looks like. It is not easy to picture that in our heads. To know that many are wasted in 4 minutes is crazy!.”
“The idea is to have people walk out of the Aquarium and think to reduce single usage of plastic, whether is it straws, lids, plastic bottles, cutlery and plastic bags.
“We are trying to bring awareness to the issue, though it takes everyone to make an effort to make a difference.
We strive to be better as a company, to be better as a staff team, and we hope that our guests strive to be better environmental stewards.”
My perception of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s policy of ridding plastic straws, lids and bottles is responsible and motivating; from the inner community of the Aquarium rippling into our communities.
For further information on what Environmental Defence does, visit