EDITORIAL: Tackling our addiction to single-use plastics

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Plastic use in Canada is so casually ubiquitous that it will take a program that’s national in scope and ambition to put a halt to the incredible volume of material being landfilled after one use.

That includes drinking straws, grocery bags and the eating utensils that come with fast food, along with the grocery store clamshells that contain everything from vegetables to cookies.

The challenge is immense. Environment and Climate Change Canada reports that Canadians throw away more than 34 million plastic bags every day. Most of them are landfilled.

Plastic straws? Approximately 57 million are used every day and then tossed.

Those numbers are staggering, but what’s equally troubling is that, as of 2016, only nine per cent of our plastic waste was being recycled in Canada, leaving roughly 87 per cent to be landfilled. About four per cent of that volume is unaccounted.

It’s an issue that has been begging for leadership for some time. Some cities have taken on the plastics problem, as have some university campuses. And earlier this year the Ontario government suggested it was looking at a possible ban on single-use plastics.


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But the challenge is national in scope and merits a national response.

The Green Party of Canada has been advocating for a ban on single-use plastics for some time, but only in the last few months have they had more than one MP in the House of Commons, and both are from British Columbia. That could change in the federal election in October, but the Green Party’s legislative influence has so far been absent.

And so it’s encouraging that the federal government is at least getting involved. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising a Canada-wide ban on single-use plastics by as early as 2021. His promise is politically motivated, given the fact the Greens are growing in popularity and the NDP appear to be offering a comprehensive program that addresses environmental concerns. But it’s still a promise that, if kept, will begin to tackle an environmental problem that can no longer be ignored.

And hopefully any program from the feds will address our woefully inadequate recycling programs. The fact that just nine per cent of our plastic is being recycled is a national scandal. It’s not just a Canadian problem, either; the United Kingdom’s Royal Statistical Society cites statistics that, as of 2018, 90.5 per cent of all plastics are never recycled.

We have a lot of work to do. Up until several decades ago, most Canadians survived quite well without single-use plastics. But their introduction provided an element of convenience that was difficult to ignore, and now single-use plastics are so intertwined with our existence that our landfills are brimming with the excessive waste.

– Peter Epp

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