Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Open Letter to Toby Keith and His Disposable Red Cup

This is a cross-post from the Save Our Shores blog, Into the Blue.

Dear Mr. Keith,

When I first heard your new song, “Red Solo Cup”, I thought it couldn’t possibly be real, but I was unfortunately mistaken. I understand that it’s supposed to be funny; I get where you were trying to go with it (an ode to your favorite beer receptacle), I really do. That said, there are so many things wrong with this song, I’m having a hard time deciding where to begin. I would like to preface this letter by saying I like beer and fun maybe even as much as you do, but in spite of my affinity for a good time, I still have some issues with this song that I’m not able to excuse right off the bat.

As someone who spends quite a lot of time picking up trash at the beaches and has seen firsthand the damage single-use items can cause, I have to object to your love affair with plastic.

Plastic, even in the form of a beer-holding receptacle, is NOT your friend (although the plastic industry may like you to think it is). It’s not friends with the ocean, either, or with wildlife. Contrary to your lyrics, red solo cups are not decomposable in 14 years (in fact, they can take hundreds of years to decompose completely). Plastic never goes away; it only breaks down into smaller pieces that absorb toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife, and enter the food chain (ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, anyone?).

And I’m guessing you also didn’t know that the state of California alone spends around $72 million per year to collect and dispose of one-time use disposable cups (*ahem*, red solo cups) and bags? I know that political correctness isn’t exactly your thing, Mr. Keith, but I sincerely hope you weren't aware of these facts when you wrote this song. After all, I can’t imagine that you would encourage people to purchase and use items that will directly harm wildlife and the health of our environment… Just check out the stomach contents of this bird that died after consuming tiny pieces of plastic that came from sources like your red solo cup.

Although I know it wasn't your intent to promote unnecessary plastic use at the expense of the oceans, that’s exactly what you've ended up doing. I think we’d both agree that you’re no expert on the decomposition rates of plastic, but your fans are still going to take your word for it.

I’m trying not to think about how many Toby Keith fans are going to think of your song the next time they go shopping for their “beer receptacles”… but since your video is averaging around 100,000 views a day on YouTube, the number is going to be very high (and I mean panic-attack inducing high). Your song, which was intended to be fun and silly, has potentially influenced people to make a harmful and dangerous choice.

I would like to humbly suggest that in the future, you be aware of the far-reaching (and unintentional) effects that your lyrics can have. Your fame gives you a unique responsibility (and opportunity!) to have a wide-reaching influence. By doing just a little more research and being a tiny bit more attentive to the message you’re sending, a song like this could end up sending a positive message about using less plastic while still shining a spotlight on your fun-loving side; the proverbial “kill-two-birds-with-one-stone,” if you will. I mean, red solo cups aren’t even all that great! Reusable cups are way, way better (and they even come in red)!

I hope you will join me in reducing plastic use by becoming a part of the solution!

Sara Cannon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toronto fin ban - aiming for a K.O. in the T.O.

Earlier this month, with Governor Jerry Brown's signature, California enacted Assembly Bill (AB) 376 banning the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins. In so doing, California became the fourth and largest state in the U.S. to enact a legislative ban on shark fins.

While we're celebrating the victory for sharks here in California, we're also supporting the effort in Canada's largest city – Toronto.

After a disappointing and discouraging report from Toronto's Municipal Licensing and Standards Division, I decided to attend the next City Council Licensing and Standards Committee meeting where they would be reviewing and considering the implication of that flawed report.

To that meeting last Thursday (13 October), I brought several perspectives, including that of someone who grew up with shark fin soup, and that of someone intimately involved in the legislative processes of several States "south of the border", as they put it. We saw a number of similarities between the shark fin ban in California, and the one proposed for the City of Toronto.

    Christopher Chin and esteemed municipal attorney Geoge Rust-D'Eye
before the City Council's Licensing and Standards Committee
(photo: Laura Bombier)

COARE's Executive Director offering testimony/deputation in support of shark fin ban
(photo: Florentine Leloup, ©2011 Vision'R)

Since there were so many speakers/deputants interested in addressing the committee, speaking times were limited to three minutes. However, because of the great interest in my perspective and COARE's experience in the western U.S., many of the committee members and guest Councillors posed questions. All in all, my three minutes turned into well over twenty – much more than any other speaker enjoyed.

mredia statements following deputation
(photo: Laura Bombier)

In the end, the committee voted unanimously to continue the process and recommend the ban to the full City Council. We are extremely pleased by the strong message that this vote sends.

The City Council will consider this issue this Monday, 24 October 2011. While we are optimistic that this will see favor in the full Council (especially in light of such a strong committee recommendation), it's still important that we reach out to the Mayor and Council members to encourage them to support the measure as well.

If you live in the GTA, and especially if you live in Toronto proper, please be sure to contact the Mayor and the City Council. At a minimum, you should contact the Mayor and the Councillor for your ward.

You can find the full list of Councillors here, but for your convenience, we'll include the list of (most of their) e-mail addresses here:

Please also consider sending a note to the following Councillors who supported the motion at the Licensing and Standards Committee meeting:

Michelle Berardinetti
(Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest)

Glenn De Baeremaeker
(Ward 38 Scarborough Centre)

Chin Lee
(Ward 41 Scarborough-Rouge River)

Gloria Lindsay Luby
(Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre)

Frances Nunziata
(Ward 11 York South-Weston)

Cesar Palacio
(Ward 17 Davenport)

Anthony Perruzza
(Ward 8 York West)

Kristyn Wong-Tam
(Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale)

Your message to the Mayor or your Councillor need not be detailed; simply include your name and address (so they know you're one of their voters), and indicate that you want him/her to support the shark fin ban. Use your own words, or feel free to draw from this sample message text.

Remember, your two minutes can help save millions of sharks!

Lend a hand to save some fins!℠

 - Christopher Chin
   Executive Director