Canada is taking action to reduce plastic waste. The government has listed plastic manufactured items as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is planning to ban six single-use products. Companies that profit from pumping plastics into our economy —and the environment—are suing the government while spreading disinformation to try to stop the new rules. Here’s the information you need to push back!
FACT 1: Banning unnecessary plastic items helps to stop plastic pollution
There is no better way to stop birds and other animals from getting strangled by unnecessary packaging than to ban plastic six-pack rings and other plastics that animals get ensnared in. Banning the checkout bags that are filling the world’s oceans and deserts is a crucial step in preventing whales or camels from starving to death with bellies full of plastic.
The federal government is proposing to ban six single-use plastics in 2021: six-pack rings, shopping bags, stir sticks, straws, certain take-out containers and cutlery. These items can either be replaced with safer alternatives or phased out of widespread use altogether.
The European Union is banning some of the same single-use plastic items this year and a growing list of countries is also implementing bans.
We already know that plastics bans work in Canada. A successful ban on microbeads in Canada came into effect in 2018 and put an end to that insidious form of pollution without killing the cosmetics industry or affecting people.
By banning single-use products, we can remove these unnecessary plastics altogether from our lives and our environment. It’s an effective way of reducing plastic pollution.
FACT 2: We can’t recycle our way out of the plastics crisis
Recycling has been around for more than four decades. During that time, the amount of plastics polluting our environment has grown substantially.
Recycling was originally created by the plastics industry as a way to greenwash its activities. Back in 1974, an industry insider admitted that recycling was never going to be economically viable — and that continues to be true today.
Yes, we can and should improve upon Canada’s dismal 9 per cent recycling rate for plastics. But better recycling is only going to go so far. The industry produces an ever-increasing amount of plastics from virgin fossil fuels and other additives in a wide range of formats that are simply designed to be thrown away.
The industry knows that recycling is expensive and in many cases impossible, which is why they lobby for low recycling targets and blame municipal recycling programs for the problem.
Even if a container has a recycling symbol on it, the reality is that most plastics are not easily recyclable and end up in landfills or incinerators — or as litter. Take, for example, polystyrene that’s often used in takeaway food containers. It mostly ends up in landfill because it can’t be recycled if dyed or contaminated by food or other waste. Oh, and it’s also linked to cancer.
The real answer is to produce less plastic overall and to commit to reusing the plastic we do use over and over again. That places “reduce” and “reuse” where they rightfully belong: priorities 1 and 2 of the 3Rs!
FACT 3: Investing in plastics is investing in fossil fuels—and that is a bad investment
The plastics industry is looking for handouts as part of Canada’s recovery from COVID-19. But subsidizing plastics production so they can pump more plastics into the environment is not the way to “build back better.”
Plastic production is part of the fossil fuel industry — oil and gas are its raw materials. And now as the world gets serious about fighting climate change, the industry wants to boost plastic production to try to save itself from extinction. But we don’t need and can’t afford a throw-away economy. And the government can’t justify investing in more plastic production while its own research shows we must tackle plastic use and pollution. Besides, fossil fuel investment is not an effective job creator. The government should invest instead in the kinds of environmentally-friendly programs that provide needed services and good jobs, such as healthcare, education and transportation.
FACT 4: The government was right to label plastics as toxic in order to regulate them
The plastics industry has launched an outrageous lawsuit against the government’s labelling of plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), claiming that the “toxic” label is wrong. But the federal government’s own scientific assessment confirms that plastic harms the environment and there is growing evidence that it affects human health too. It’s clear that the industry is putting its own bottom line above human health and the environment in fighting necessary environmental regulation.
Toxic substances are defined in the law as those that have a “long-term harmful effect on the environment; danger to the environment on which life depends; or danger to human life or health.” This definition clearly applies to plastic and we can’t shy away from calling it what it is. Labelling plastic substances as toxic allows for much-needed regulation of these materials that are far too prevalent in our lives and our environment. The industry must drop its shameful lawsuit.
FACT 5: Plastic pollution is NOT consumers’ fault
Yes, people should recycle and not litter. However, individual people handling their waste properly is not going to solve the world’s plastic problem or even Canada’s.
Plastics is a $4 trillion global industry that pumps materials into our lives that are not recyclable and easily make their way into our environment. Right now, the companies that make plastics and sell us ever more products in a huge variety of plastic packages don’t pay the costs of their pollution. They overwhelm households, municipalities and most especially the planet with stuff that is designed to be used only once and thrown away. Because there is such a wide variety in the content and form of plastics they use, it has been impossible — and way too expensive — to create effective recycling systems to turn the waste into something new. This is not on you. It’s on them.
To change things, we need to tackle the problem at its source. We need governments to hold industry responsible for the waste they create and profit from. Polluters must pay. One of the most important things we can do is make sure our elected representatives do what’s needed to stem the tide of plastics.
FACT 6: Canadians generate the most waste per capita of all countries in the world
Here’s the truth: Canadians generate the most waste per capita of all countries. Every year, 125 kg of plastic are introduced into the Canadian market for every person who lives here. That’s a massive pile that is mostly used just once and then thrown away.
Worse, some of our plastic-filled trash has been shipped to countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam and damaging the local environment and human health there. To add insult to injury, those countries have been wrongly targeted as the main source of plastic pollution in the world.
There’s no excuse for us not to take responsibility for our outsized contribution to global plastic pollution. Taking action to reduce plastic in our economy and our environment is a crucial, and doable, step to take.
FACT 7: Unnecessary packaging comes at a cost
Retailers have been saying that plastics regulations could cause the price of products to go up. What retailers are really saying is that if there are any costs associated with the new plastics restrictions, they will pass them on to us at the checkout counter. What they’re not saying is that we already pay the costs associated with their packaging.
We pay our municipalities to collect, sort, and dispose of or recycle waste. We pay the costs of pollution and cleanups. We pay the consequences of the greenhouse gases released during the lifecycle of plastics. One recent report estimates that these costs amount to $350 billion per year around the world.
If anything, less unnecessary packaging should make the goods we really need, like food, cheaper while also lowering the costs of dealing with litter, waste disposal and pollution. It makes no sense to subsidize plastic pollution in the hopes it makes groceries affordable. People are struggling to pay the rent and buy food because their incomes are too low and, often, their housing costs are too high. We need to address these problems directly at the same time as we put the breaks on plastic pollution.
FACT 8: The federal government isn’t planning to ban ALL plastics, only some single-use plastics
This one’s a doozy — but some folks out there are fear-mongering, claiming that banning plastic straws and the likes will lead to a ban on hockey equipment and IV bags. It’s absurd. The federal government has no plan to ban ALL plastics, despite what some pro-plastics lobbyists might say.
The government is proposing to ban some single-use products using a set of criteria to identify which plastic products should be banned. The criteria include whether the product is prevalent in the environment, known to cause harm, hampers recycling processes, and performs a necessary function. Environmental Defence and other environmental groups believe these criteria could be better defined to ensure they are applied properly. However, the proposed ban does not include essential items like medical or safety equipment.
Write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and urge them to get moving to rein in our ever-growing plastics problem.
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The Plastic Wall of Shame
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