Canada is taking steps to ban “harmful” single-use plastics by 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday, making the country the latest to join a growing movement around the world to halt the use of materials deemed damaging to the planet.
Speaking at a nature reserve in Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, Trudeau said that while an exact list of items that will be covered by the ban has not been determined, it will be “grounded in science.” A government statement said that it could include such items as bags, straws, plates, cutlery and stir sticks.
“You’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos, and to be honest, as a dad, it’s tough trying to explain this to my kids,” Trudeau said. “How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches around the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags?”
In Toronto, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced the ban surrounded by people holding photos of garbage-strewn beaches and oceans, and turtles and birds entangled in plastic waste and fishing nets.
The measure also will make plastic manufacturers and companies that use plastic packaging responsible for the collection and recycling of the materials.
Roughly 13 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean, where it kills nearly 100,000 marine animals each year, according to the United Nations. Some plastics can take centuries to degrade.
More than 3 million tons of plastic waste — or $6 billion worth — is chucked out by Canadians each year, according to government statistics. Without steps to crack down on the problem, that number could increase to roughly $8 billion a year by 2030.
In Canada, which has the world’s longest coastline, less than 10 percent of all plastic used is recycled each year, according to government statistics.
Canada is not alone in trying to clamp down on plastic pollution. Its move follows those of the European Parliament, which voted this year to ban several single-use plastic products. Countries such as Taiwan and India have pledged to implement similar bans, and several jurisdictions around the world have announced plans to ban some single-use plastic items, including bags and drinking straws.
Last year, Canada used its turn as president of the Group of Seven nations to put finding ways to deal with ocean pollution near the top of its agenda. At the Group of Seven summit in June 2018, Britain, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany and Italy endorsed a nonbinding agreement that included a pledge that all plastics in those countries be recycled, burned for energy or reused by 2040.
The announcement comes on the heels of Canada’s protracted diplomatic dispute with the Philippines over more than 100 containers of Canadian waste that were shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014. The containers were labeled as recyclable plastic scraps, but an inspection by customs officials found that many of them were filled to the brim with used adult diapers and wires.
Trudeau promised on multiple occasions that a “Canadian solution” was in the works, but the waste continued to sit in ports near Manila. Canada agreed to take back the waste last month, but the Philippines recalled its ambassador and envoys to Canada after the country missed a May 15 deadline to reclaim the garbage.
Trudeau’s announcement also comes just months before a federal election in October, in which climate change and the environment are expected to be front and center. The prime minister has made protecting the environment a key tenet of his government’s mandate, but it hasn’t been easy.
This year, the federal government imposed a carbon tax on provinces that had not yet introduced their own equivalent carbon plan. The “tax on pollution,” as the Trudeau government calls it, had been scaled-down to address concerns from the business community about competition and attracting overseas investment.
Trudeau has also frustrated environmental campaigners, lawmakers and indigenous groups because of his government’s efforts to shore up the country’s energy sector by constructing pipelines.
Last year, a federal court of appeals ruled that the government had failed to adequately consult with indigenous groups and halted the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which would nearly triple the amount of western Canadian crude moved from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. The government spent $4.5 billion to buy the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan last year and said it would continue to consult with indigenous groups on the expansion.
A decision on the fate of the pipeline is expected before June 18.
Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, told reporters in Ottawa that the ban was an attempt by Trudeau, who faced a leadership crisis this year, “to change the channel.” Scheer, who has not yet introduced a climate change plan of his own and has promised to repeal the carbon tax as prime minister, said Trudeau’s plan lacked details about how it would affect the economy or consumers.
“This is clearly a government clutching at straws,” he said.