From plastic bags to straws, single-use plastic products have worn out their welcome in Canada. Today, the Canadian government announced that it plans to “ban harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021” in an effort to reduce the 3 million tons of plastic waste tossed out by the country every year.
According to the Canadian government, 15 billion plastic bags are used in Canada every year, along with 57 million plastic straws every day. Not only that, but only 10 percent of plastic waste in the country actually gets recycled. And since China stopped importing plastic recycling last year, Canada’s plastic problems (and recycling problems) have taken on a new urgency.
Canada isn’t alone in confronting the plastic juggernaut. Plastics are now just about everywhere on Earth, from the deepest parts of the ocean to the frozen wilderness of Antarctica. Fish, birds, and other creatures can get caught in plastic trash or eat plastic particles instead of food, often with tragic results. Once plastic makes it to the ocean, it is incredibly difficult to clean up. One of the best ways to prevent plastic from getting into the ocean is to stop using so much of it in the first place.
The plastic ban announcement brings Canada in line with a global movement to ban single-use plastic products, including bags and straws. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the European Union’s recent decision to ban single-use plastics as the inspiration for Canada’s ban.
Exactly which plastics will be banned and how the ban will be enforced hasn’t yet been decided. The government recently commissioned a scientific report on plastic pollution, and it will make formal decisions about individual items once the report is released. But some products are likely to make that final list. In the news release announcing the proposed policy, “shopping bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks” were all mentioned as examples of what could be on the chopping block.
Of course, there are some cases where single-use plastics are really useful. Plastic straws are vitally important to some people with disabilities, and plastic gloves and packaging are often necessary in medical and scientific settings. As it develops its plastic policies, the Canadian government will have to reconcile those needs with the health and environmental effects it’s trying to address. The government has committed to public consultations before making a ban official.
“Canadians know first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution, and are tired of seeing their beaches, parks, streets, and shorelines littered with plastic waste,” Trudeau said in a statement. “We owe it to our kids to keep the environment clean and safe for generations to come.”