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Must-have toy of the season bad news for the environment

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, November 17, 2017, 2:59 PM - The holidays are quickly approaching and the frenzy to get the hottest toy of the season has begun.

This year's must have (and hardest-to-get) trinket is the LOL Surprise! Big surprise. The "big surprise" comes inside a 3-pound ball which houses 50 smaller, individually-packaged toys that have to be unwrapped, dropped in water or popped open.

The toy -- which retails for around $100 in Canada -- is flying off store shelves. "Unboxing" videos have sprung up online, like this one, which has been viewed more than 7 million times:

Online reviews of the toy are generally positive, but a few bloggers and customers have noted it generates an unusually large amount of plastic waste:

Isn't plastic recyclable?

Contrary to popular belief, not all plastics are recyclable, and the types of plastics that are recyclable varies from community to community, according to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA).

Manufacturers divide plastics into 7 groups, with those labelled 1 and 2 the most widely recyclable.

"CPIA completes an annual “Access” study of about 400 recycling programs across Canada to find out exactly what plastics municipalities collect for recycling," The CPIA says on its website.

In the most recent study, we characterized 24 types of plastics containers and non-containers and found 70% of Canadians have access to programs that accept most plastic packaging containers – HDPE, PET, LDPE, polystyrene and PVC. More than this, 95% can recycle PET bottles (like pop, water and juice) plus HDPE (detergents, milk jugs and other cleansers) ... it's important to find out what you can recycle and check back because this can change."

Plastic waste a big problem

Plastic is an inescapable component of modern society, but this "miracle material" has a downside.

It's estimated that 8 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s and research suggests it will take up to 500 years for some forms to biodegrade.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 in the U.S. actually made it to recycling plants. The other 92% was shuffled off to landfills or found its way into the water.

Plastic in the ocean

A study published in December 2014 by U.S. and U.K. researchers suggested there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes currently swirling in the world's oceans.

The largest source of plastic was from discarded fishing nets, but a heavy presence of plastic bags, toys and bottles was discovered as well.

Smaller pieces appear to be getting eaten by fish and travelling up the food chain.

The study only measured plastic found floating at the top of the ocean, and not the additional trash littering the seabed.


Plastic in the ice

Plastic isn't just swirling in the water: A study published in May 2014  discovered there could be trillions of pieces of microplastics lurking in Arctic ice.

As the ice it melts due to rising global temperatures, it could flood the ecosystem with an unprecedented amount debris.

"Arctic sea ice from remote locations contains concentrations of microplastics at least two orders of magnitude greater than those that have been previously reported in highly contaminated surface waters," the study's author's write.

"Our findings indicate that microplastics have accumulated far from population centers and that polar sea ice represents a major historic global sink of man-made particulates."

The research team believes that Arctic ice is trapping floating microplastics as it freezes. By citing current melting trends, the team estimates that 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released in the next ten years.


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