04/17/2019 14:03 EDT | Updated 04/17/2019 17:11 EDT

Ontario Should Be Next In Line To Ban Throwaway Plastics

And it should go beyond plastic bags and straws.

If you had to name the one premier you wouldn't expect to ban single-use plastics, who would that be?

Well, believe it or not, Doug Ford's government is flirting with just that.

The Ontario government recently released a discussion paper on Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities that seeks feedback from Ontarians on how to best address the waste and pollution crisis in the province. Until April 20, the people of Ontario can participate in this public consultation to tell the government that they not only want but expect the sort of bold action that is required to reduce plastic pollution at the source: banning throwaway plastics.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador just took a first step in that direction. This week Newfoundland and Labrador became the second province after PEI to announce a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Watch: Greenpeace Canada names top 5 plastic polluters. Blog continues below.

Public feedback for the new waste-reduction strategy is critical to ensure that strong measures to reduce plastic production and pollution are included, and that concrete reduction targets are set. Support for the recent announcement that the Ontario government is contemplating a ban on certain single-use plastics, including bags, straws, cutlery and water bottles, is vital. Nearly a tonne of waste is generated each year per person in Ontario, and it is estimated that 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the Great Lakes annually.

Yet it's no secret that the current Ontario government's track record on the environment is dismal. This government failed to consult the public when it ended Ontario's cap-and-trade program, which limited the carbon emissions companies could emit. Ontario is currently fighting Ottawa's carbon tax and has cancelled electricity conservation programs. With that in mind, proposals to tackle plastic pollution in Ontario must be carefully examined. Green is definitely not Doug Ford's favourite colour.

Plastic production, predicted to increase globally by 40 per cent in the next decade and quadruple by 2050, makes it clear that we will not solve this crisis through recycling.

In fact, despite Environment Minister Rod Phillips' recent announcement that the government is considering bans, in the actual discussion paper, bans are barely mentioned, which begs the question: if a government is truly considering them, shouldn't there be more details provided? In the discussion paper, unlike other proposed approaches to tackle the plastic waste crisis, there are no details on what types of bans are being considered by the government. The possibility of bans on single-use plastics is only raised in the question section, which is easily overlooked. It is time to ensure that they become reality in Ontario and not just empty words.

To truly tackle the plastics epidemic, governments must pass legislation to set guidelines and reduction targets to ban single-use plastics. The sheer scale and volume of plastic production, predicted to increase globally by 40 per cent in the next decade and quadruple by 2050, makes it clear that we will not solve this crisis through recycling efforts. It is clear: single-use plastics must be banned.

© Nandakumar S. Haridas / Greenpeace
"Dump site" of plastic waste from more than 19 countries — including Canada — in Malaysia.

The clean-ups, improved recycling, bottle deposits and public education proposals contained in Ontario's discussion paper are good, but all Band-Aid solutions if plastic production is not immediately reduced. According to the government's statistics, the current Blue Box Program Plan in Ontario recovered only 28 per cent of all plastic packaging generated in 2017, with the rest ending up in landfills or as litter. When one company like Coke admits it produces 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year — equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute — how could we ever keep up with capturing all of it? Companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé must do their part to drastically reduce their plastic production at the source. To clean up the litter, we must stop the litter from being produced in the first place.

The way forward is clear.

We all know that there is simply too much plastic invading every aspect of our lives and our planet. For Ontario to truly tackle plastic pollution and reduce our waste, we need a ban that does not merely target one single-use plastic item, like bags or straws, but a comprehensive policy that bans the most problematic plastic items like single-use packaging, plastic bags, cutlery, straws, coffee and beverage cups and lids, and polystyrene containers that are most often found in the environment and in our Great Lakes.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Soft drinks move down a production line at a Coca-Cola bottling plant.

We don't have time for more Band-Aids or scary false solutions, like thermal treatment and chemical recycling noted in the discussion paper. How many more images of destroyed communities and wildlife choking on plastic do we need for governments to realize that while we can't reverse the damage, the one thing we can do is stop the flow of this pollutant into our communities and ecosystems?

This is our chance to tell the Ontario government to stop allowing plastic producers to create single-use plastics that continue to fill up our world. Right now this is the number one way for individuals to make a substantial difference in plastic waste. It only takes a few minutes to participate in the consultation. During that time, the equivalent of about three truckloads of plastic will enter our oceans.

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