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Canada's Plan to Ban Single-Use Plastics and Make Corporations Responsible for Waste Welcomed as 'Step in the Right Direction'

A Greenpeace campaigner said the country ultimately "needs to move towards phasing out all non-essential plastics" for sake of the planet

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Greenpeace activists gathered waste for World Clean-up Day in 2018. (Photo: Greenpeace Canada/Twitter)

Environmental campaigners on Monday welcomed the Canadian government's new plan to ban certain single-use plastics as early as 2021 and work with provinces and territories to make corporations responsible for their plastic waste.

"Ultimately Canada needs to move towards phasing out all non-essential plastics if we are going to truly reduce the awful plastic legacy we are leaving for future generations of all life on this planet," Sarah King of Greenpeace Canada said in a statement. "The federal government's announcements marks the first step in an essential journey to break free from plastic."

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter, who also praised the plan in a statement, said that "bans on single-use plastics will help address the growing threat of microplastics in our food, water, and air—the health effects of which are unknown. They also send a powerful signal that the world does not welcome more climate-damaging fracked gas to create plastic."

Pointing to a Food & Water Watch report released last week that detailed how the petrochemical and other industries help drive fracking for natural gas, Hauter explained that "there is a symbiotic relationship between plastic manufacturing and the fracking industry. Any regulation that curbs one industry will help decrease pollution from the other."

A statement Monday from the office of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described widespread plastic pollution as "a global challenge that requires immediate action" and outlined the broad goals of the government's plan. Across Canada, people throw away more than 3 million tons of plastic waste per year, and about a third of all plastics are single-use items like straws and shopping bags.

"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. "We have a responsibility to work with our partners to reduce plastic pollution, protect the environment, and create jobs and grow our economy. "We owe it to our kids to keep the environment clean and safe for generations to come."

Trudeau's government intends to work with political and business partners throughout the North American country to:

  • ban harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021 (such as plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks) where supported by scientific evidence and warranted, and take other steps to reduce pollution from plastic products and packaging; and
  • work with provinces and territories to introduce standards and targets for companies that manufacture plastic products or sell items with plastic packaging so they become responsible for their plastic waste.

The prime minister spoke about the plan in a speech Monday at the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, outside Montreal. CBC reported:

Trudeau said the government will research the question of which items it should ban and follow the model chosen by the European Union, which voted in March to ban plastic items for which market alternatives exist—such as single-use plastic cutlery and plates—and items made of oxo-degradable plastics, such as bags. (Oxo-degradable plastics aren't really biodegradable; they contain additives that cause the plastic to fragment without breaking down chemically.)

Greenpeace Canada—noting that the government's statement mentioned a few specific single-use products that may be banned—called for phasing out all "problematic and unnecessary plastics," including PVC, bags, bottles, straws, utensils, expanded polystyrene, cups and lids, multilayered wrappers, and take-out containers.

"We know the science and real-world evidence is clear that single-use plastics and waste is toxic, infiltrating food chains and even the air we breathe," said King. "Acting now to ban the most problematic and unnecessary plastics while holding corporations accountable for the waste problem they have created can set us on a better course. But the government must act as quickly as possible so this announcement isn't a single-use election promise."

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