Canary in the Coal Mine: Plastics Global Foot Print

Have you ever heard the expression “canary in the coal mine”? If you’re going to find the School the Bottle cause relevant, it’s important to understand the basis and etymology of this expression.

According to; “Canary in a coal mine” is an allusion to caged canaries (birds) that mining workers would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.

In other words, canaries are much more sensitive to poison gases, so when there was danger, these little birds would croak. When a canary fell to the bottom of their cage, it was a signal to the miners that the environment they were working in was becoming unsafe. The miners would have enough time to exit the mine and survive the poisonous gases, thus saving many lives.

Today, we don’t use canaries anymore, don’t worry! Now we have special detectors which warn us when levels are becoming dangerous.

The problem with pollution on a global scale is that it’s complex. Scientists cannot agree what levels of plastic are considered “safe” and what’s dangerous. Do you think any plastic floating around in the ocean is safe?

Well, these birds don’t.

Water fowl from all over the world have been showing up on beaches, dead, bellies popped open because they were so full of plastic and they just wanted to eat. They don’t know plastic isn’t food, so they keep eating it because it’s everywhere.

They aren’t often canaries, they’re everything. All bird species. Birds all over the world are showing up on beaches, killed by plastic bottle lids, plastic lighters, bottle fragments, home building supplies, plastic wrap and packaging, and more. The message is louder than before. It’s as big as a whale. Two of them, actually.


Image Credit: Geograph / Richard Humphrey

Recently even whales have been washing ashore, unable to eat because their giant bellies are full of plastic. (Article 1, Article 2)

Plastic bits take up so much space in their stomachs they can’t fit any food in them. They feel full, but they’re starving, and not getting the nutrition they need to survive. The malnutrition also leads to disease, so death is often slow and painful.

What can we do?

Most single use products that provide convenience come with a greater cost than what we pay for them. We aren’t lazy, we just don’t say no to it very much. Plastic is forever, we need to be diligent.

Reduce the amount of plastic you consume in your life. Use reusable cups, bottles, bags, and so on. Recycle as much as you can. Recycling doesn’t solve the problem, but it is most certainly a better alternative than more plastic being dumped into landfills immediately only to wind up polluting for all time, sooner.

At school, we encourage you to eliminate plastic waste by asking your school to implement water bottle refilling stations. Every drink of water is a bottle saved.

Video source: YouTube
Image source: Flickr

Have a “ban the bottle” story?

Let us know in the comments and we’ll feature your story!