Canada has recently announced a plan to ban “harmful” single-use plastics, joining a global movement to significantly reduce waste. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the plan will go into effect as early as 2021.
Items such as plastic bags, straws, and water bottles will likely be barred under the new ban. When compiling a definitive list of banned items, Trudeau says the government will take “a science-based approach.”
Canada’s Plastic Problem
Currently, Canadians recycle only 10% of plastics. At this rate, Canadians will throw out around $11 billion worth of plastic goods annually by 2030.
“This is a big step,” Trudeau said. “But we know we can do this for 2021.”
According to the Canadian government, 1 million birds and more than 100,000 sea mammals worldwide are injured or die every year due to plastic pollution. “You’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos,” Trudeau said. “To be honest, as a dad, it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags?”
The prime minister says that the European Parliament’s sweeping vote to ban single-use plastics in March inspired the plan. The proposal included a ban of the top 10 most common single-use plastic items present on European beaches by 2021. Additionally, it includes an ambitious goal to recycle 90% of plastic bottles by 2029.
In May, the UN agreed on a landmark deal preventing plastic waste from entering the world’s oceans. Around 180 countries decided to crack down on waste management with a legally binding agreement to regulate plastic waste exports. The United States, the third highest plastic exporter in the world, was not among these nations.
China Tackles Plastic Pollution
This comes around a year after China announced a ban on waste plastic imports. Formerly, China accepted a majority of the world’s shipments of recyclables from other nations including the United States. Consequently, unrest ensued among foreign markets now questioning where to divert their plastic waste.
American Involvement Against Plastic Pollution
Although environmental policy has been largely partisan within the American government, ocean pollution is an issue met with bipartisan agreement. Earlier in October, President Donald Trump signed legislation aimed to control plastic pollution in oceans.
While many agree this measure was a step in the direction, critics insist more change is necessary. Trump has historically excluded the U.S. from being among countries to “blame” for excessive waste damaging oceans. Instead, he has mainly cited countries like China and Japan for contributing to the issue.
However, some individual states have imposed plans of their own to curtail ocean degradation. Recently, Oregon lawmakers voted 17-12 to prohibit single-use plastic bags.
The state’s Senate decided restaurants and grocery stores will no longer be able to provide plastic bags, but will instead give customers the option of purchasing recyclable plastic and paper bags for 5 cents. Governor Kate Brown is poised to pass the bill, after voicing her support for it previously.
In 2015, the EPA reported that the United States produced more than 126 billion plastic bags that year. However, Americans only recycled 12.8% of those bags. If the Senate approves the bill, Oregon will join New York, Hawaii, and California in the fight against plastic pollution.
“Something we use once shouldn’t be able to pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow said.
Across the world, government officials have attempted to foresee the future of the world’s oceans—and it’s not promising. Plastic pollution has been empirically harmful toward ocean habitats, and a staggering amount of marine organisms have died or been injured as a result. That’s why Canada’s plan is such a major victory in the battle for environmental action and justice. To truly provoke meaningful change and save the planet’s oceans from complete degradation, it cannot be done without the support of nations.