Canada is taking aim at banning single-use plastics as early as 2021 and will require plastics manufacturers and companies using plastic packaging to be responsible for the collection and recycling of the materials.
The government did not announce specific products that will be outlawed, saying it will examine scientific evidence to identify the most harmful plastics.
Making the announcement in in front of a scenic lake in Mont-Saint-Hillaire, Que., about 50 minutes southeast of Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said whales, birds and fish should not be dying from the plastic they’ve ingested.
“To be honest, as a dad, it’s tough to explain to my kids.”
Trudeau says plastics are found at the deepest points of ocean, 36,000 feet down, and families going to the beach struggle to find a stretch of sand not littered with plastic bags, straws and bottles. He urged Canadians to reflect on memories of camping, cottaging, canoeing or fishing and then imagining being surrounded by dead birds and fish, shopping bags and coffee cup lids.
“That’s the fate of our kids if we don’t act.”
Shifting the burden for plastics recycling from municipalities to corporations will be more cost effective, boost recycling rates and better protect the environment, says the prime minister.
Large corporations will be held responsible for the full life cycle of the products they produce, says Trudeau. He acknowledged there could be challenges for small businesses, but said the government’s focus will be on holding large manufacturers, “the Coca-Colas and Unilevers of the world” responsible for the plastics they produce.
Less than 10 per cent of plastic used in Canada gets recycled and without a change in course, Canadians will throw away an estimated $11 billion worth of plastic materials each year by 2030, according to a statement by the federal government.
“We’ve reached a defining moment, and this is a problem we simply can’t afford to ignore.”
Canada is acting on a commitment made at last year’s G7 Summit, joining France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union in signing the Ocean Plastics Charter. Only the U.S. and Japan declined to take part.
Trudeau says 21 countries have signed the charter and it was a central pillar of Canada’s presidency of the G7 in 2018.
That charter includes a commitment that by 2040 all plastic produced in their countries would be reused, recycled or burned to produce energy.
An estimated 150 million tons of discarded plastics are dumped into oceans worldwide annually, according to the federal government. To put that in context, that’s one garbage truckload of plastic entering the ocean every minute and that rate is growing.
About one-third of the plastics used in Canada are for single-use or short-lived products and packaging, including up to 15 billion plastic bags used every year and close to 57 million straws used daily.
It’s estimated that one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals worldwide are injured or die when they get entangled in plastic or mistake it for food.
“We’ve all seen the disturbing images of fish, sea turtles, whales, and other wildlife being injured or dying because of plastic garbage in our oceans,” said Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
“Canadians expect us to act.”
Shopping bags, straws, plastic utensils and take-out containers make up more than a third of Canada’s plastic waste, the government says.
New Canadian research has even found plastics in the air we breathe. North Americans eat, drink and inhale tens of thousands of tiny plastic particles every year, according to a University of Victoria biologist.
But the plastics industry is also big business in Canada, accounting for about $35 billion in sales and close to 100,000 jobs.
“I think it's an excellent opportunity for them to innovate and create new products that will be environmentally friendly while also bringing convenience to the Canadian consumer,” said Jordan Keenan of Plastics Oceans Foundation Canada.
“It’s long overdue. There’s a lot of work left to be done.”
The federal government says tackling plastic waste can generate billions in revenue and create about 42,000 jobs. Trudeau says there are many innovative companies working on new materials that will replace harmful plastics.
The EU and the U.K. have already committed to outlaw single-use plastic cutlery, straws, stir sticks and cotton swabs by 2021.
“With the longest coastline in the world and one-quarter of the world’s freshwater, Canada has a unique responsibility– and opportunity – to lead in reducing plastic pollution,” the government said Monday.
Sarah King, who heads Greenpeace Canada's oceans and plastics campaign said the government must act quickly.
"Every day until a ban comes into effect, millions of throwaway plastics are produced, consumed and disposed of, with massive costs to Canadians and wildlife. The federal government’s announcement marks the first step in an essential journey to break free from plastic.”
Greenpeace is calling for an ultimate phase-out of all non-essential plastics, including PVC, bags, black plastic, oxo-degradable plastic, bottles, straws, utensils, expanded polystyrene, cups and lids, multilayered wrappers and take-out containers.