Dozens of environmental groups say if Canada wants to be a leader in getting the rest of the world to kick its plastics habit, it has to start by setting the bar for recycling plastics far higher at home.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants this week's G7 leaders summit in Quebec to include the signing of an anti-plastics charter, setting international targets to cut down on the use of plastics and finding ways to include more recycled materials in the plastics we do use.
Estimates show up to 10 million tonnes of plastic garbage ends up in the oceans each year, and across the oceans there are multiple islands of trash, including one in the Pacific that rivals the size of the province of Quebec.
The G7 plastics strategy is to have four main components: targets for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced around the world, domestic strategies to meet those targets, working with industry to develop better products to replace plastic or make plastics more easily recyclable, and assistance for the developing world to adopt better waste management.
But Canada is going into the G7 without a national plan to address plastics, and more than 40 non-governmental organizations released a declaration on Monday calling on Trudeau to set national targets for how much plastic Canadians should recycle and what percentage of new products should be made from recycled materials.
"We're challenging the Canadian government to work with provinces, territories, Indigenous governments, municipalities, to put together a plan to ensure that Canada achieves zero plastic waste," said Ashley Wallis, program manager at Environmental Defence, one of the organizations that signed the declaration.
Current Canadian plastic recycling rate only 11 per cent
By 2025, the groups want Canada to increase its plastic recycling rate so 85 per cent of single-use plastic items like water bottles and take-out containers are recycled. Currently Canadians recycle about 11 per cent of all plastics. They also want Canada to implement a rule requiring all single-use plastics to be made of at least 75 per cent recycled material.
Other items on their list are legislation to require producers of plastics to pay to collect and recycle the plastic they produce, and a regulation to ban any plastics or additives to plastics that are toxic or difficult to recycle. They also want Canada to implement policies for federal procurement that require anyone selling or providing a service to the federal government to have a plan to recover all plastics used, and that the plastics used contain at least 75 per cent recycled content.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna launched consultations for a national plastics strategy in April, but has set no deadlines for when one might be produced. Wallis said having at least an outline of Canada's domestic plans by the time McKenna hosts G7 environment ministers in September would allow Canada to credibly consider itself a leader on this file.
McKenna has previously said establishing a national strategy is complicated by the fact recycling and waste are usually governed by provincial legislation and carried out by municipalities. Wallis noted Canada overcame similar issues for climate change by developing a national framework and setting national targets and then allowing provinces the room to develop local policies that would meet those targets.
At least an outline of domestic plans by the time @ec_minister McKenna hosts #G7 #environment ministers would allow Canada to credibly consider itself a leader on the anti-plastics file, says Ashley Wallis of @envirodefence
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities echoed that sentiment Saturday when municipal leaders voted in favour of a resolution calling for a national plastics strategy, including targets to help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. Vicki-May Hamm, the new FCM president, said municipalities know Ottawa can't act alone to manage plastics — but neither can municipalities.