Spring is here and Canadians are getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus in historic numbers. As we safely pour out of homes into our streets and parks, Canadians from coast to coast to coast are once again being greeted by our hardy springtime perennials — sunshine, pollen and … plastic pollution.
Plastics litter our beaches, parks, streets, shorelines and other places Canadians value. They collect in our oceans and waterways, harming marine life.
Canadians dispose of more than three million tonnes of plastic every year — the vast majority of which ends up in landfills and in the natural environment. That represents a waste of about $7.9 billion worth of plastic resins annually.
That’s a serious problem that requires serious leadership.
The harmful impacts of discarded plastic on nature and wildlife must be addressed. A science assessment published last October by the government of Canada found that plastic pollution, in both macroplastic and microplastic forms, is everywhere in the environment. Macroplastics are plastics larger than five millimetres in size, and are known to harm animals and their habitat. Concerns exist regarding the potential effects of microplastics — pieces of plastic smaller than five millimetres — on individual animals, the environment, and human health, although the data here is less clear and requires additional research.
That is why the government of Canada is taking swift action to ban harmful single-use plastics that can’t be recycled, or are difficult to recycle. We are also working to ensure producers will be responsible for preventing waste and promoting design that aids recycling and managing materials.
This isn’t about banning plastic, which will remain a useful part of our lives. It’s about responsibly managing plastic so it stops polluting our environment. By moving to a more circular economy to manage plastic waste, we can reduce 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, generate billions in revenue, and create approximately 42,000 jobs across the country by 2030.
On May 12, as the next necessary step in our ongoing process to eliminate single-use plastic waste from our environment, we added “plastic manufactured items” to Schedule 1 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Listing manufactured plastic products under CEPA is required to legally regulate the cleanup we all recognize is so desperately needed.
We’re also taking action to hold producers responsible for their plastic waste and developing recycled content standards. Plastics that can be easily recycled can and should continue to help our society, a fact recognized by many responsible industry leaders who are also taking action to address this issue. Developing and enforcing recycled content standards — just as banning single-use plastics — required listing under CEPA.
However, some in the plastics industry would rather litigate than work with government and other partners to correct long-standing practices and improve environmental outcomes. We saw this recently when some members of the plastics industry launched a lawsuit against government efforts to curb plastic pollution.
This isn’t about banning plastic, which will remain a useful part of our lives, says @JonathanWNV. It’s about responsibly managing plastic so it stops polluting our environment. #Plastics #Waste #Canada #Federal Government
Certainly there is a history of some entrenched companies in other industries that have worked to maintain the status quo long after health and environmental science have clearly shown that a change in behaviour and practices is required. We saw it with lead in gasoline, with asbestos, with microbeads and even with carbon dioxide causing climate change.
These products and their manufacturers didn’t start out with the intent to cause harm. But over time, we clearly experienced that they could create harms, and governments had to act for the good of our health and of our natural environment — often in the face of deeply entrenched opposition from commercial interests.
There is broad public support behind our efforts to address plastic pollution, including, for example, the development of recycled content standards that will drive innovation and create jobs in a more circular economy. There is also significant support and constructive engagement on the part of thoughtful members of the plastics industry.
Enough is enough. Canadians expect action on an environmental issue that is so clearly prevalent in our daily lives.
Jonathan Wilkinson is Canada’s minister of environment and climate change and has served as the member of Parliament for North Vancouver since 2015.