MONT-SAINT-HILAIRE, Que. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday the federal government’s intention to ban harmful single-use plastics by as early as 2021.
Speaking at a nature reserve in Mont St-Hilaire, south of Montreal, Trudeau said the specifics of the ban still need to be worked out, adding Ottawa will conduct research to determine a course of action grounded in science.
“A real solution needs to be nationwide — we need to cover all of Canada with this decision — and that’s why the federal government is moving forward on a science-based approach to establishing which harmful single-use plastics we will be eliminating as of 2021,” he said.
The prime minister acknowledged companies that produce plastics or use them in packaging will be responsible for the collection and recycling of the waste.
“Whether we’re talking about plastic bottles or cellphones, it will be up to businesses to take responsibility for the plastics they’re manufacturing and putting out into the world,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister added the situation of plastic overflowing in landfills and polluting oceans and waterways has reached a breaking point, and action is needed.
“As parents, we’re at a point where we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn’t littered with straws, Styrofoam or bottles,” he said. “That’s a problem, one that we have to do something about.”
The details of how such a ban would be implemented remain unknown, but the government will conduct research to determine the best course of action, which it says will be grounded in scientific evidence.
Less than 10 per cent of plastic used in Canada gets recycled, and without any change in habits, Canadians will be throwing out $11 billion worth of plastic products by 2030.
Canada promised to act
The products could include such single-use items as drinking straws, water bottles, plastic bags, cutlery, stir sticks and fast food containers.
At the last G7 summit, Canada and four other leading economies signed a charter pledging that by 2040 all plastic produced in their countries would be reused, recycled or burned to produce energy. (The United States and Japan stayed out.)
The federal government intends to work with provinces, territories and municipalities to set standards for companies that sell such products.
The idea is to come up with a comprehensive plan to prohibit the production and sale of specific, toxic plastic products within a couple of years.
“Where the best solution is to ban, it will be banned,” said one official familiar with the plan.
The proliferation of single-use plastic packaging such as water bottles, drinking straws and food wrapping is sending massive amounts of plastic to landfills. More blows into waterways and drifts to the sea. Giant reefs of plastic are showing up in the oceans and fish and sea mammals are eating plastic objects thinking they’re food.
Canada, with the longest coastline in the world, has an important role to play internationally, another official said. “I think people really want to see us take some real action.”
We want to make sure we get it right, and there are adverse effects on the economy.Unnamed official familiar with the plan
The Canadian Press granted the government sources anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly prior to the announcement.
“Nothing’s happening overnight. But we’re announcing the intention to get there as early as 2021,” one of the officials said.
“We’re not specifically listing products. We’re going to be looking at the best evidence that’s out there and conducting studies to determine what the products are that make sense.”
However, plastic straws and foam food containers are the sort of items that could be banned.
“We want to make sure we get it right, and there are adverse effects on the economy,” a source said. “But the problem has now kind of reached a breaking point. It’s just so harmful to the environment.”
Potential for new jobs
Under the plan, an expedited review of certain plastics products would take place through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act process.
In addition, the government is working toward making producers of plastic packaging ensure it is recyclable or reuseable. However, this must happen in concert with provinces and municipalities.
“We want it to be comprehensive. We’re not looking at just one specific sector, we’re looking at the entire problem,” one official said.
“We also think that there’s the opportunity for tens of thousands of jobs to be created through innovation and research and development.”
Similar announcements are being made Monday by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in Toronto and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in British Columbia.