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How a 10-year-old Canadian girl is fighting to eliminate grocery store produce stickers

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She may have only been on this Earth for about a decade, but Maya Thiru is already making it her mission to care for the environment.

To further tackle single-use plastic waste, 10-year-old Thiru is leading an initiative, ‘Maya’s Plastic Pollution Campaign’ supported by Friends of the Earth, a Canadian environmental advocacy organization, which aims to build awareness of the harm of plastic stickers on fruits and vegetables in grocery stores.

“Maya is part of the upcoming generation of environmental activists dedicated to protecting people and the planet,” said Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, in a press release. “All of us here at Friends of the Earth Canada are inspired and excited to be working with such a bright and dynamic young woman.”

As of December 2022, the Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations (SUPPR) came into effect, meaning single-use checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks, and straws, as defined in the regulations, are no longer allowed in grocery stores and other establishments.

While this regulation is seen as a big win in the effort to reduce Canada’s plastic waste, Thiru’s campaign is taking it one step further.

After visiting the grocery store with her mother, Thiru was shocked that every produce item - from avocados to apples - had a little plastic sticker on it.

They’re called price look-up codes (PLUs) and they are for for inventory and check-out purposes, but their impact on the climate can be consequential.

“They are just little bits of plastic but they are on everything and cause lots of problems for the environment,” Thiru said in a press release.

In video for her campaign, Thiru urges people to make sure those stickers end up in the garbage, so as to not contaminate the compost. If they do end up in the compost, the PLUs will end up at a municipal composting facility where sorting those tiny stickers takes time and costs money to do.

Maya’s Plastic Pollution Campaign also aims to get the attention of the Canadian government, to spark real change.

“During the month of March, we encourage everyone to collect their PLU stickers onto our sticker sheet and at the end of April to give them to the parliament,” Thiru says in the video. "The goal of this campaign is to bring awareness to PLU stickers and to gain the support of our minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault.”

PLUs are typically made of vinyl, a plastic product or paper coated with vinyl, which don’t break down and end up polluting the earth's soil and water, the campaign says.

As PLUs are thin and small, they run the risk of passing through screens which are made to catch small non-compostable items and divert them to landfills.

This is a real concern considering Canadians already throw away more than three million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

The stickers can also make their way through wastewater treatment plant screens, meaning they could end up in bodies of water, putting fish and wildlife at risk of ingesting them.

Thiru’s campaign is taking place over March and April, and asks people to sign the pledge form and collect their PLU stickers.

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