How well is Canada handling plastics ? The answer is mixed

Last week, there were promising signs that Canada's environment minister was about to press on with a plan to drastically curb plastic use, but environmental groups say the actual strategy they released doesn't have enough teeth.

Photo : DARREN CALABRESE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

 

Last week, there were promising signs that Canada’s environment minister was about to press on with a plan to drastically curb plastic use, but environmental groups say the actual strategy they released doesn’t have enough teeth.

At a Friday meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in Ottawa, federal environment minister Catherine McKenna released a new “strategy on zero plastic waste” (which can be found here), and her provincial and territorial counterparts agreed to push forward on a plan to eventually produce no plastic waste at all, a vision that would, in principle, keep all plastics in a circular economy and out of the environment.

“Plastic pollution doesn’t know any borders. That’s why it’s so important that we tackle this problem together. We made important progress  with provinces and territories to protect our oceans and reduce plastic pollution in Canada. With the longest coastline in the world and thousands of communities and wildlife and that depend on our oceans, lakes and rivers, we need to beat plastic pollution together to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our kids and grandkids,” McKenna said.

BARK WITH NO BITE ACCORDING TO ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATES

The plan’s “aspirational” goal is to reduce the amount of waste each Canadian throws by 30 per cent by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2040. According to Statistics Canada, each Canadian currently throws away 1,500 pounds of all types of waste annually, much of it plastic and destined either for landfills or the incinerator if not the country’s lakes, rivers, streams and oceans.

But after the meeting, many environmental advocates are left wanting more in the way of actual plastic bans and legislation, and it seemed until the recent meeting that a national strategy or at least a draft version to deal with the plastics issue would be released. While they praised the ministers’ due diligence in recognizing the need to curb plastic waste, they say the proposed solutions don’t go far enough.

“The strategy document fails to commit to any concrete actions or set any targets except for an “aspirational” waste reduction goal. The strategy also fails to identify any legislative or regulatory tools that the federal, provincial and territorial governments intend to use to implement the vision of zero plastic waste,” a statement from conservation group Environmental Defence reads.

McKenna’s “Canada-wide aspiration waste reduction goal” also does not set a specific jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction target, the group says, instead merely complementing local waste reduction efforts.

Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada’s Senior Oceans Strategist, told The Weather Network most recycling efforts fall short, as does mandating increasing recycled content in products that are still one-time-use, along with voluntary agreements. Rather, King points to the growing number of bans that have helped reduce production and consumption of plasticin some jurisdictions.

“How many more whales full of single-use plastic trash need to wash up on shores around the world before our Minister of the Environment and Climate Change takes strong action to help curb the excessive production of throwaway plastic? We need real leadership from Canada like we’re seeing in other parts of the world, such as Europe, and this isn’t it,” added King.

MOMENTUM HAS BEEN BUILDING FOR MONTHS

At the end of October 2018, the European Parliament made huge waves banning a range of single-use plastics like straws, cutlery, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, along with other goals towards curbing plastic waste.

Many hoped that Canada would follow suit, and indeed, the country used its current presidency of G7 to try to become a major player in the plastic fight, convincing other G7 nations to sign a global plastics charter at the bloc’s summit in Charlevoix, Quebec.

In a meeting of the G7 ministers in Halifax this past September, McKenna went one further, pledging to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics within the federal government’s day-to-day operations and also re-use and recycle at least 75 per cent of all of its plastic garbage by 2030. She also announced a $12 million fund for plastic innovation.

“The strategy does promise a future action plan. That plan needs to be released as soon as possible, and it must contain commitments from all of the provinces and territories,” Environmental Defence says, urging Ottawa to release a consultation draft this  winter and finalize it by the spring of 2019.

In the meantime, Environmental Defence, along with other groups, are urging the federal government to move on the things that are within its power:

  • Bans on plastics that can’t be efficiently recycled, or that contain toxic chemicals;
  • Setting a legally binding 85 per cent recycling target for single-use plastics by 2025;
  • Establishing a 75 per cent minimum recycled content standard for single-use plastics, to drive the use of recycled materials in the creation of new plastic products;
  • Legislation that makes producers financially and operationally responsible for collecting and recycling their products;
  • Support for developing countries as they build the legal frameworks necessary to keep plastic out of the environment.

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