Over 4,000 people from around the world have been convening in Ottawa for the fourth round of negotiations on a Global Plastics Treaty and the urgency of reducing plastic pollution cannot be overstated. The world grapples with the devastating impacts of plastic pollution, waste and toxicity, including its dire contribution to the climate crisis.

But to address plastic pollution, we must first reduce plastic production. While Canada has pledged to end plastic pollution, the inconvenient truth remains: plastic production is not only ongoing but expanding, fuelled by government subsidies.

As the host country for these negotiations, Canada faces a critical choice: will it honour its commitment to end plastic pollution or will it succumb to the pressures of the oil and gas industry, sacrificing the health of its citizens and the planet for corporate greed?

The subsidies — which support oil extraction, pipelines and plastic-producing plants — to oil, gas and petrochemical giants like Nova Chemicals, Dow Chemical and Brookfield paint a stark picture of government involvement in perpetuating the plastic crisis.

Because of the massive failure of recycling, at the heart of the negotiations in Ottawa lies the need to reduce plastic production to enable solutions across the entire life cycle. This isn’t just about managing waste or improving recycling, it’s about addressing the root causes of the crisis. This means confronting the impact of plastic’s life cycle, which disproportionately affects communities near where it is produced and the environments from which its raw materials are extracted.

As Canada navigates its role in Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, it must confront the stark realities faced by Indigenous and marginalized communities.

In Canada, Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities bear the brunt, facing increased risks of cancer, water contamination and toxic air emissions due to plastic production, use and disposal. Shockingly, over 90 per cent of plastic waste in Canada ends up in landfills or the natural environment, often near low-income communities, exacerbating existing health disparities, hence the need for bills such as C-226 on preventing and addressing environmental racism.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southern Ontario exemplifies the devastating consequences of proximity to plastic production plants. Situated in "Chemical Valley," communities are subject to alarming levels of benzene, a hazardous chemical byproduct of petrochemical processing. Air quality reports reveal benzene concentrations up to 100 times higher than those found in major Canadian cities. Similarly, in Nova Scotia, African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaw communities face disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards, including plastic waste sites, leading to elevated rates of cancer and respiratory illnesses.

The negotiations in Ottawa present a pivotal opportunity for change, but they must be inclusive, especially of those most impacted by the plastics crisis. While at least 143 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists registered for the last round of negotiations, Indigenous community leaders, waste pickers and front-line groups found themselves marginalized. It’s a testament to the disproportionate influence of corporate interests in shaping policy. It begs the question: how many fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists will have swarmed this round of negotiations in Ottawa?

With 75 per cent of emissions occurring during plastic production, it could consume nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s remaining carbon budget by 2050, writes @SenRosaGalvez #INC4 #PlasticsTreaty #ClimateEmergency #HumanRights

The urgency to act on an effective treaty is underscored by recent findings from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which unequivocally link plastic production to the climate crisis. Plastics are not just a nuisance, current production levels are unsustainable and pose a threat to our very survival. With 75 per cent of emissions occurring during plastic production, if we continue on this trajectory, it could consume nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s remaining carbon budget by 2050.

To secure an effective treaty, we must address the full plastic life cycle, centred around the urgent need to limit the extraction of raw materials necessary to make plastics. This means limiting polymer production, stopping new plastic production infrastructure expansion, eliminating the most problematic plastic polymers and plastic products, and mandating disclosure and removal of hazardous chemicals. Recycling alone cannot solve the plastics crisis, we must fundamentally shift our approach to production.

Our goal must be to produce no more plastic than absolutely necessary, ensuring that any replacements meet stringent sustainability criteria. At home, the Canadian government needs to expand bans on single-use plastic and end subsidies for oil and gas, petrochemical and plastics production free from the influence of vested interests. We cannot afford business as usual, the stakes are simply too high.

As delegates from across the globe gather in Ottawa carrying the hopes and aspirations of millions around the world, they must choose courage over complacency and action over appeasement. The decisions made in Ottawa will reverberate for generations to come.

Canada and the world need a Global Plastics Treaty that addresses the entire plastic life cycle — from extraction of raw materials to production to disposal — and prioritizes the health and well-being of our planet and all peoples, above corporate greed. To do that, the world needs to turn its sights to the upstream parts of the supply chain where we can effectively secure ending plastic pollution. Only through collective action can we begin to mitigate the environmental injustices perpetuated by the plastic industry.

The time to act is now, and the world is watching.

The Hon. Rosa Galvez is a civil environmental engineer, an associate professor at Laval University, and an independent senator for the province of Quebec.

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It would be interesting to see how much government(s) subsidizes plastic production especially the Canadian and American governments.

I agree that we need to decrease plastic production. It is shocking how much more plastic is being produced now compared to even the year 2000. And we need to remove the most harmful chemicals from plastic products. And how do we limit the influence of the lobbyists from the plastics (oil) industry?

Thank you Senator Galvaz for your work on this issue.

Hmmm. Maybe we should have a ranked ballot referencum included in our next election, asking people to decide the 3 kinds of plastics we'll phase out completely by 3 stated target years.
This business of lobbyists "registering" to subvert conferences to decide on reductions levels is why we never get anywhere. Let them lobby the politicians far away from the conferences, and let the negotiators work for Us, instead of subverting what the citizens want.